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What is counselling and psychotherapy?

Counselling changes lives

Counsellors and psychotherapists play a crucial role in improving the health and wellbeing of our society. They help people to talk about their feelings, think about their choices or their behaviour, and make positive changes in their lives. The counselling professions include a range of different titles and specialisms, with practitioners working in a variety of settings. For example, a psychotherapist working in a hospital is likely to be more concerned with severe psychological disorders than a colleague working in private practice. Counsellors working in voluntary agencies deal mainly with everyday problems but may be qualified to offer what would be called psychotherapy in any other context.

Why do people have therapy?

People seek counselling to help them resolve emotional, psychological and relationship issues. They may be experiencing difficult and distressing events in their lives, such as bereavement, divorce, health issues or job concerns. Or they may have more general underlying feelings of anxiety or dissatisfaction with life. Some clients feel isolated and have no one else to talk to, but even people with supportive family and friends can find it difficult to talk to them about feeling anxious or depressed. Or they may just find it easier to talk about personal, family or relationship issues with an independent and professional therapist.

What happens in therapy?

Counselling involves a series of formal sessions where the therapist and the client talk about the client’s issues and feelings. Even short term therapy typically involves six to 12 sessions. The sessions take place at a regular, agreed time and in a ‘safe’ private place where the client and therapist will not be overheard or interrupted. Therapy may involve talking about life events, feelings, emotions, relationships, ways of thinking and patterns of behaviour. The therapist will listen, encourage and empathise, but will also challenge to help the client to see their issues more clearly or in a different way. Counselling is not about giving advice or opinions, nor is it a friendly chat with a friend. The therapist helps the client to understand themselves better and find their own solutions to resolve or cope with their situation.

Where therapists work

Therapists may work with individuals, couples, families or groups, and may provide counselling face-to-face, over the telephone or online. They can work in a variety of settings, such as schools, universities and colleges, GP surgeries and hospitals, in the workplace, addiction agencies, disability support groups or private practice. Therapists may specialise in specific fields, such as addiction or relationships, or may work with clients on a wide range of issues. Some counsellors have dual roles, such as counsellor and teacher, welfare and advice worker, co-ordinator and nurse. Others work on a purely voluntary basis, with many helplines staffed by people with counselling skills.

Types of therapy

There are many different ways of working with clients, usually referred to as 'theoretical approaches' or 'modalities'. These range from the original psychoanalysis to humanistic psychotherapy, based on personal growth and self- development, and the behavioural therapies used for specific phobias and anxieties. Therapists usually train in one model of therapy but may use different techniques where they think it would be helpful for a client, or use specific approaches for specific issues.

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