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Let's address the elephant in the room, "What is counselling?"

What is counselling? Who are counsellors? What really happens in a counselling session? Is the information I share in a session kept confidential? What is counsellor Supervision? How should I prepare for my session? Umm...Session fees? Can I be friends with my counsellor? Do I need counselling?

If you are somebody who has heard of counselling and had these questions or more then it is safe to say that you are on the right path to being aware of information around you. In a time where we mental health professionals are struggling to bring about awareness among people, it is a huge relief to know that people out there are actually aware and curious. Now, you could find amazing content online pertaining to all these questions and I urge you to find out more but what I am trying to do here is to make this simpler.

What is counselling?

Well, let me start with what it is not. A counselling session is not where a counsellor gives you advice or solves your problems or has solutions to your problems or tells you how to live your life or makes decisions for you. I do not know if that is disappointing to hear or a relief but I have had numerous clients approach me with the above intentions. Now, counselling is really just a safe space where you are free to express your feelings, your experiences, your beliefs and your thoughts to a person who has been trained to listen to you, to empathize with you, understand you without judgement or condescension and revert it back to you so as to help you gain insight. This is as simple as I can put it. Counsellors train in specific therapies with the use of which they, along with you, figure out problem areas in your thoughts or beliefs and bring it to your awareness to help you work on it. Therefore, counsellors more or less work on your thoughts, beliefs, emotions and experiences. Now, let us break it down to make sense of it as a sum of its parts.

Who are counsellors?

People who have a minimum degree of Masters in Psychology or Counselling Psychology or Applied Psychology are eligible to become counsellors. Some pursue a PG diploma in certain counselling courses and are also eligible to counsel. A certificate of the above degrees is definitely essential to determine if the person is eligible to counsel. Now if just a degree was enough to pursue any profession then pursuing any career would have been risk free but that is obviously not the case. Therefore, when you find a counsellor for yourself these are some things you should consider:

· Your counsellor must be certified.

· Your counsellor should be non-judgemental, if you feel judged then address it in the session. No matter any discomfort, address it in the session.

· Your counsellor should be empathetic and understanding. They should listen to you completely and not give their opinions.

· Your counsellor should not advice you but only help you explore your thoughts, feelings and beliefs.

· Your counsellor should create an environment, which is stress free and comfortable for you to be able to share your thoughts and feelings.

There are many things for you to consider before you jump in to have a counsellor - client relationship. If one counsellor does not seem right for you then change your counsellor, wisest decision you will ever make. Since, your counsellor seems to be making sure everything works out for you; it is common curtsy that you also maintain decorum. We will talk more about this as we go on.

What really happens in counselling?

Once you find a counsellor for yourself, either through online methods (Google them you will find numerous) or referral (Ask somebody who has been, it helps when somebody gives you a positive feedback about a counsellor), you will need to book an appointment. These appointments are unlike your doctor's appointments because here you are not made to wait nor is it okay for you to miss them or walk in late. These appointments are to the dot, each session is of duration of one hour i.e. 50 min for the session, and 10 min for the counsellor to summarise the session and write notes. It is mandatory for you to inform your therapist 18-24 hours before your session in case you want to cancel else it will be charged, although, emergency reasons are taken into account.

Once you reach the counsellors office for your session you'll be given an intake form which asks you your basic details and then an informed consent which says that you are consenting for counselling from this particular counsellor (Ethics!!). After this, your sessions begin. Sessions can vary with each person, it can take anywhere between 3 to 30 sessions and are scheduled once a week or twice a week depending on the clients. The clients can take appointments when required but it is advisable to give at least 3 days gap between one session and the next.

Is the information I share in a session kept confidential?

Counselling comprises of many factors of which the most important is ETHICS! Since a counsellor-client, relationship is such that the client shares a lot of personal information about themselves it is of utmost importance for the counsellor to maintain the safety of the client in all ways. That is where confidentiality comes in. Confidentiality is where the counsellor and the client have a session and the details of this session is not shared with anybody unless you agree to express it or under exceptional circumstances such as legal reasons or risk of harm to self or others. This gives the client the confidence to share information with their counsellor and feel safe.

What is counsellor supervision?

Counsellors are required to take supervision from senior counsellors or practitioners. This is to give the counsellor a chance to reflect on how they are working, be sure of their ethics in practice, verify their tools and techniques they are using and ensure that their personal perspectives are not affecting their counselling practice. In supervision, while the counsellor talks about the client, care is taken to maintain confidentiality and to make sure that no identifying information is disclosed.

How should I prepare for my session?

Just make sure your counsellor has the qualities mentioned above and that you are comfortable with them and leave the rest up to them. They will guide you and help you gain insight through talk, exercises and various methods, which will require your equal participation.

Umm...Session fees?

Consider this, you are in distress, it is causing a great deal of discomfort and unrest in your everyday life and nothing seems to help which is why you think you need counselling but you are not sure because it probably seems expensive or not really worth it. My advice (just this once, I swear!), do not think about paying the counsellor every week, pay them once and see if it was worth it and then you can think about going for another session or not. Trust me 9 times out of 10 you will walk out feeling like that was the best financial decision you made for your life. However, in case you do not like it, you are free to terminate whenever you want, no questions asked. If you find it hard to afford session payment then you can always talk to your counsellor, some provide a sliding scale option and some are willing to provide Pro Bono work. We are trying to make this as easy for you as possible; all we ask is for you to give counselling a chance.

Can I be friends with my counsellor?

There are numerous ethics that counsellors follow and that's a whole other blog still in the making but one thing to remember is that this relationship you share with your counsellor is strictly professional (The irony, I know!). You cannot be friends with your counsellor, or invite them for a date or parties or introduce your friends or family or bring them gifts or work for your counsellor. This is essential because if another relationship is created along with a counsellor-client relationship (dual relationship), then there will be no therapeutic healing in the session as it would get complicated.

Do I need counselling?

Counselling is not just for people with mental disorders, it is for anybody experiencing intense emotional discomfort or problems with their mental well-being in general. Counsellors do not deal with diagnosis or prescribing medications because that is not what we do. In simple words, clinical psychologists diagnose and psychiatrists prescribe medications. Let us say you are in a relationship which is pretty perfect and yet you aren't happy or you can't seem to talk confidently with people or you can't seem to get along with your mother or you aren't able to get over a break up or sometimes you seem to just hate yourself or the thought of getting up and going to work ruins your whole day, etc., it could be anything, the common factor is that it's causing you discomfort and disrupting your days. Counsellors deals with just that. You just have to be aware.

One more thing I need to leave you with and I can't stress the importance of this enough - choosing the right counsellor. Make sure you do your research and find the right therapist for you. Check their information, their website and then approach them. If you do not like them, change your therapist until you find the right one for you. If you need to know more about me, check here. If you have, any more questions then let us know here and we will answer you to our best faculties. Best of luck!

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