Is counselling a magic solution?
Uma, 58, is a teacher in a college. She has been having major problems in her marriage for many years and says she hates her husband. She also says that her grown children do not care about her at all and that she is completely neglected at home. She has isolated herself from her family and friends and has no one to confide in. She hears that a counsellor is available and decides to come for a session. She begins, in a resigned manner, by saying ‘I don’t know how you can help me. This is all just a waste of time. You can’t give me any solutions to my problem that I haven’t tried already’.
Just that one sentence sums up what many people who come for counselling in India understand counselling to be –giving solutions. They might come because they are facing a crisis in their lives, something they feel they can no longer handle and as a last measure decide to resort to counselling. Many are skeptical when they enter and many more don’t return after the first session. Understandably, we all want immediate help when we are facing a problem. When our family, friends or colleagues cannot help us and we cannot help ourselves, we look to outside sources to tell us what to do. A counsellor is viewed as an expert of the mind, much like a doctor is an expert of the body. Therefore, it is natural for many to assume that a counsellor can give us some solution, like a doctor can give medicines, to cure our emotional problems. For this reason, many people are quite disappointed after their first session as they find no concrete, immediate solution to their problems forthcoming. What they expect and what they actually find in counselling are two very different things. Many choose not to return because they feel it might be a waste of time. Some might understand that the process of counselling takes time and are willing to continue making the effort of coming to sessions over time, in the hope that it will help them. It might help us to remember that problems can take a long time to build up. Therefore, it stands to reason that the way to deal with such problems cannot be figured out in an hour or two either.
Counselling is a process in which the relationship formed between the counsellor and the client helps the client develop more awareness and better understanding of himself/ herself. Any process will take time. Initially, much of the counsellor’s time is used to understand the client’s story and and learn to look at things from the client’s perspective. Only after this is done does serious work begin in counselling. Throughout the counselling process, the counsellor tries to avoid giving suggestions or advice.
Here are some of the main actions a counsellor takes during the counselling process:
- A counsellor’s job is to reflect the client’s behavior back to him/ her in a clearer manner, somewhat like a ‘mirror’. What the client chooses to do with this understanding is completely left up to him/her.
- A counsellor does not or at least should not force his/her clients into making decisions which he/she thinks is right.
- A counsellor provides a safe, non-judgmental environment for the client to open up and explore his/her self, feelings, emotions and behaviours.
- After getting an accurate understanding of a client’s way of thinking, a counsellor might try to help the client see the issue from a different perspective, from which the problem no longer looks so insurmountable.
In many ways, this gradual process produces longer lasting results than any advice or solution-giving because the person with the problem learns the skills to solve his/her problems on his/her own. Such learning is applied not just to the present situation but to any problems that arise in the future as well.
If you would like to read more about the process of counselling and associated myths or ideas, you can visit our website at TalkItOver.