Counselling can be a very difficult experience, for both client and counseller, especially if you are new to the profession. Here is some basic information about the process and theory of counselling. With the aim to support those thinking of being counselled and those who are starting out on the road to be a counseller. Either way I hope this information makes your journey  easier and calmer.

Defines counselling and gives examples of what is not counselling.

“Counselling is an activity freely entered into by the person seeking help, it offers the opportunity to identify things for the client themselves that they are troubling or perplexing. It is clearly and explicitly contracted, and the boundaries of the relationship identified, the activity itself is designed to help self-exploration and understanding. The process should help to identify thoughts, emotions and behaviours that, once accessed, may offer the client a greater sense of personal resources and self determined change”

(Russell, Dexter and Bond, 1992).

This definition of counselling is very detailed as to the counselling process, however it does not make counselling sound very welcoming. The impressions of counselling and counsellors I took from this definition are that counselling is rushed, straight to the point of the issue the clients have in mind, you solve the problem and then your ok. The picture which I imagined was a production line. The definition gives me the belief counsellors are not there to listen, be understanding or even care about your problems, they are there to fix you. The problem with these first impressions is that counselling is not any of these things, however when I evaluated the definition I read through it again and began to notice the words and phrases like “offers the opportunity”, “help” and “may offer greater sense…”. I believe this definition may defer some people from participating in counselling.

The key features of counselling include:

*Counsellors need to be qualified to diploma level.

*A written or oral contract between counsellor and client needs to be established.

*Boundaries need to be discussed and agreed on.

*There is an ethical framework/ code of practice

*Counsellors need to have supervision.

*Goals and aims should be established.

*Counsellors should participate in personal counselling.

*Counsellors should receive ongoing professional development.

These features differentiate counsellors from any other helping profession.

Other forms of help are advice, guidance and befriending. These are different from counselling as guidance and advice influence, instruct and give an opinion these are skills which must not be used in counselling.

Befriending is support which is meant to stop or lessen a persons social isolation. Advice and guidance are mainly one way exchanges from the adviser or guider and although befriending is a two way exchange befriending does not seek to support clients through their issues or self healing. Befrienders, advisers and guiders would not base their practice on the key features of counselling.

Different types of counselling

Here we will discuss three theory based approaches to counselling, the Behavioural approach, the Psychodynamic approach and the Humanistic approach.

The Behavioural approach is also called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This approach had two main theorists, Skinner and Watson. The basis of this approach is that every one is in charge of their own future that with support everyone is able to unlearn some behaviours and re-learn others to support self healing, for example if a client had an obsessive compulsive disorder the counsellor may use this approach so the client can unlearn these behaviours and learn a new routine. The theorists of this approach believed the human personality was developed only through what the human had learnt through life. A basic principle of this theory is that behaviour is a set of responses triggered by outside incentive, this sees behaviour to have a specific goal. A basic principle of this type of practice is to set goals, often in small steps, and these are achieved through reward. Theorists believed new learning requires reward. This approach may also be helpful to people with phobias.

The Psychodynamic approach was developed by Freud, this approach focuses on the clients past/ childhood and the counsellor helps the client to discuss past issues which may be effecting their current behaviour or feelings. The theory behind this approach is very complicated but some of the basic beliefs are that Freud believed there were three domains of mental activity and three areas of the human personality.

Three domains of mental activity:

*Unconscious - this is the area Freud says is inaccessible, which only presents itself through symbols such as dreams or saying something we did not mean to, commonly called Freudian slips. These kind of mistakes were related to Freud’s theory as he did not believe in accidents he theorises everything we say, think or do has a goal even without knowing ourselves. Freud said only through psychoanalysis can the conscious mind begin to interpret these symbols. This domain is chaotic and obeys no laws of logic.
*Pre-conscious - the domain which can be accessed through memory.

*Conscious - full awareness, the area which is governed by logic and laws of reason.

Structure of human personality:

*Id - is instinct, the area we are born with which seeks gratification and is needy.

*Super-ego - this is our conscious, developed around the age of five, it is knowledge, understanding and the development of morals.

*Ego - is the area that works out consequences, checking Id impulses with reality. Ego uses unconscious to balance the Id and the Super-ego.

The type of clients who may benefit from this are those who suffered abuse.

The Humanistic approach also known as Person centred counselling was developed by Rogers. He believed the core of each human was good and

everyone has an instinct to develop their full potential and self heal. When using this approach the counsellor should focus on the person and try to take on their role, must offer a non threatening environment and remember every person has a unique view of the world. This type of counselling maybe useful to those who have committed an immoral act e.g. abusers.

Skills used.

Open and closed questions - both are useful in counselling closed questions may be necessary when you need a specific yes or no answer e.g. “would you like to talk to me again?”. Open questions allow the counsellor to help the client identify which area they want to explore e.g. “how do you feel?” if they are feeling sad or unhappy the counsellor can open up this area of the clients concern by asking more open questions and a focus for the session can be established. When asking questions the counsellor must ensure they do not ask too many and that they are relevant to the clients progress.

Summarising - summarising is useful to the counsellor as it allows them to repeat what they have heard and that they have heard correctly. The purpose is to clarify contents and feelings of the session e.g. Jonathan has come to a counsellor for help with low confidence and anxiety when he goes to work, he has recently divorced and needs more money for his new home. He is not having trouble with any one at work. A counsellor may summarise, “ so, to recap what we have discussed so far, you feel you have no confidence and become anxious when you get to work but you do not feel  you are having problems with any one at work. Because you have a new home you need extra income and you have recently divorced". This should help 
the client to continue discussing an area he found relevant through the recap he may say “yes, it’s all her fault, this divorce has ruined me” or “my main issue is…”.

Paraphrasing - this skill also gives the counsellor opportunity to clarify understanding, to briefly feedback to the client what they have just said, the meaning the counsellor took from their message e.g. the client might say “I get anxious when I am around lots of people” the counsellor may say “ you have been finding it difficult to relax in social situations?” the client may correct the counsellor “no when I am shopping or walking down the road.” or “yes but only with people I hardly know I am fine around friends and family.”. The counsellor may have put words into the clients mouth by changing “around lots of people” to “social situations” a better paraphrase may be “ you worry/get nervous with large groups of people” but paraphrasing assists the counsellor to fully understand their client and it is useful that the client has the opportunity to correct the counsellors understanding.

Russell. J, Dexter. G and Bond. T. (1992). Differentiation between Advice, Guidance, Befriending, Counselling Skills and Counselling.