ACTS of therapy require great courage — in both the giving and receiving of counsel. Going to counselling could be about as enjoyable as going to the dentist.
The point is made, however, that when either are needed only great detriment occurs when we put it off.
Here is a small list of possible things a counsellor might want to say a client, yet may struggle to:
1. Don’t leave it until the damage is done to see me – counsellors want to say, be proactive. Take ownership of your mental and emotional health, marital conflicts, etc. The truth is some couples leave it too late, some individuals cause themselves deeper heartache by delaying action, and some children are harmed greatly because parents / guardians sat on the fence. Always escalate (overreact) as far as seeking help, then moderate back.
2. Own your feelings, thoughts and actions – sometimes there are opportunities to coach clients, i.e. when they’re in a safe emotional place. Yet so many hear repeatedly the need to own one’s own feelings, thoughts and actions and never do anything about it. They could actually solve a lot of their issues sheerly from taking responsibility, and learning how to absorb hurts.
3. Listen to me, listen to each other, listen to yourself – counsellors say this ad nauseam, but one thing they cannot say is why are you still not listening? It must be the rarest practiced relational skill. Listening alone could solve most of all our relational problems. Add accepting to that, and a great deal of mental, emotional and spiritual mastery is in our own hands.
4. I’m not sure I can help you any further – some counsellors, when they get to this point, may struggle to say these words, because they don’t want to inflict despair. The truth is they’ve equipped the client with the information they need to apply techniques, and for some reason, occasionally the inability to learn or be honest, there is little more the counsellor can do but repeat themselves.
5. You’re not as good as you think you are – it’s true. None of us are. Pride is the great ‘vindicator’ of the foolishness that refuses to see from another’s viewpoint. If others say you don’t listen well, or you talk over them, or you criticise and condemn, their perception is one important part of the overall truth.
6. You’re not as bad as you think you are – again, it’s true. None of us are as bad as we often think we are. Guilt and shame make up for most of our maladjusted past. Be honest, yes, we could have done better. We have to accept we cannot redo our past. Thankfully counsellors can and do say this, but they may also have to deal with clients who mask feeling bad, like, “Oh, I really don’t have such a poor self-esteem” when they perhaps do.
7. Don’t think or do that thing you always do and probably cannot stop doing – sometimes counsellors see something in a client that probably cannot be overcome. It usually isn’t anything fatal. Because they go gently, the counsellor accepts the limitations within the relationship. They have to. They take no risks where there is risk of harm.
8. I strongly disagree with you – this depends on the effectiveness of the counselling relationship. This is about polarised views in the counsellor and client in terms of entrenched belief systems. The counsellor will most likely leave these types of issues in the too-hard-basket, accepting the diversity, and choose to work on other areas of influence. As the client it’s good to respect the fact they respect the differences between you.
9. I think you’re dreaming – again, the counsellor will approach this sort of thing very gently, unless there is a great working rapport evident.
10. You make me feel awkward / uncomfortable / unsafe – occasionally counsellors feel something in a counselling relationship that is less than ideal. Theirs is the task of bringing it into the conversation if it cannot be overcome. Sometimes counsellors must end relationships abruptly.
These ten points can be overcome in a counselling relationship, but many of these situations require great skill and care to negotiate.
The client can be very proactive in the counselling relationship simply by asking if there is anything the counsellor would like to say but feels they can’t. That takes great courage to ask, and a lot of humility to listen to. But the client can only prosper having asked and listened.