Welcome to my blog. In these posts you will find my own thoughts and opinions about counselling and psychotherapy and also those of some of the many theorists who have informed the study of psychotherapy over the last hundred years and more. I hope that these posts will be informative and help you to understand more about how therapy can work for you. I believe that the synthesis of theory and practice and a knowledge of emerging research helps in the understanding of what lies behind people’s presenting problems so I make no apology for citing a bit of academic literature!
How does counselling/psychotherapy work?
This is an enormous and constantly discussed question and one that is particularly difficult to research due to the individual and confidential nature of counselling work, and the different theoretical approaches from which therapists choose to work.
From my own perspective, effective therapy is all about providing a safe and supportive space in which you can explore distress, bringing thoughts, feelings and behaviours into awareness, leading to acceptance and healing. Crucial to this is the quality of the therapeutic relationship. As Irving Yalom famously states (1989, p.91), ‘it’s the relationship that heals, the relationship that heals, the relationship that heals’ and I will write more on this in a future blog post.
I do not judge or offer advice, but help you to re-learn to think for yourself and work towards autonomy. I believe it can be beneficial to share theory to aid this and to help to work towards continued personal growth after therapy ends.
By examining what might be at the root of behaviours, ‘blind spots’ can be revealed, leading to greater self-awareness. Often I will reflect back verbal and non-verbal language to encourage deeper exploration and it can be as much to do with sensory and bodily experiences as with verbal and cognitive processes (Stedmon and Dallos, 2009).
It is important to acknowledge that sometimes therapy can temporarily make you feel worse, before you feel better. By digging deeply into emotions, painful feelings can re-emerge, but as Van Deurzen-Smith states (1988, p.x), ‘brave acts are seldom committed without anxiety’. A good therapist will endeavour to make you feel as safe and supported as possible through this process, allowing you to take things at your own pace.
Therapy can be particularly effective when someone really invests in it and research has shown that that motivation plays a big part in successful outcomes (Norcross, 2011: Wampold, 2001, cited in Sills et al., 2012). My own experience of clients who have arrived saying ‘I’m really ready for this’ backs this up. There is truth in the rather old therapist’s joke:
Q: How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Just one, as long as the light bulb really wants to change.
Sills, C., Lapworth, P., Desmond, B. (2012) An introduction to gestalt. London: Sage.
Stedmon, and Dallos, (2009) Reflective practice in psychotherapy and counselling. Berkshire: Open University Press.
Van Deurzen-Smith, E. (1988) Existential counselling in practice. London: Sage.
Yalom, I. (1989) Love’s Executioner and other tales of psychotherapy. London: Penguin.