One of the things people often think about before starting a relationship with a counsellor or therapist is: what’s going to happen in counselling or therapy? It’s a very good question and one that takes a little bit to answer.
Often people start therapy because they have a problem they’d like help solving. While at times a therapist may offer an opinion or suggest a course of action, for the most part the intent of therapy isn’t to have a problem solving session. That isn’t to say that problems don’t get sorted out, of course they do, but our job is to help you uncover the answers within yourself rather than to instruct you on what needs to happen. After all, you have to live in your own life and it doesn’t really make a lot of sense (even if it seems easier at the time) to let someone else decide on the big things for you.
In order to help you get to the heart of your solutions, we need to have a relationship of trust that takes time to develop. You need to be able to sit with discomfort and be able to wade through the tough stuff. In reality, we ask for help sorting these things out because they’re hard decisions wrapped up in so much that’s important: family, our history, our personality, and the image we have of our self.
Sometimes the problem that’s brought us to therapy is a problem we don’t have words for. It can be a sense of something just not right within our self, or a part of our self we’d like to address or change. In those situations, the relationship between the therapist and participant is even more important. Delving into looking at yourself on that deep level can leave a person feeling very vulnerable and you must truly trust the person you’re doing that work with.
People also ask why they need to do this work with a therapist, and why they can’t do it with a trusted friend or another person. In training, therapists learn to be aware of how the other person’s story or experience is impacting them, how to keep their own opinions and feelings in control, and how to manage the feelings that can come up for them in the course of therapy; as well as learning different ways at looking at what the person is presenting that might help with understanding. Therapists should also belong to a governing body (mine is the BC College of Social Workers) that requires ongoing professional development and supervision. What’s most important is that anyone you’re working with be open to a conversation about their training, their credentials, and their continuing education.
I suppose this is the long way of saying each person’s experience is different because it reflects the need that brought them into therapy and the relationship that develops between them. The most important thing to take away is that you should enter into the relationship feeling safe and comfortable and like you’re partners in the work; from there, anything is possible.