When I sat down to write this, the first thing that came to mind was a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, titled, “How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43).” The opening line says, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” and continues to explain in great detail, all the different ways the subject loves the other. This is how I feel about counselling and its importance – there is no simple way to summarize why counselling is important because, in my opinion, the importance of it is endless in usefulness and application. So, I’ll offer three reasons counselling is important to start the conversation off.
Reason #1: Safety
Many of us have wonderful families, friends, and colleagues. But, how often do we feel completely safe discussing our innermost difficulties, the things we’re struggling with, the things that we’re afraid of, or perhaps the things we’re ashamed of? The reasons people come to counselling are many, whether it’s anxiety, depression, addiction, relationships, or otherwise, sometimes we just can’t bring ourselves to talk about these things with the people we have in our inner circle.
This is one reason counselling is important – a place of safety. By coming and entering the counselling room, you are entering into a space that was set up specifically to provide safety; the ambiance of the room, the highly trained professionals ready to engage in dialogue, the confidentiality provided by the interaction, and more. If we are to wrestle with our deepest longings, we need to feel safe and this what counselling provides.
Reason #2: Empathy
Empathy is key to our wellbeing and our functioning. In order to feel safe and feel connected to others, we need empathy. This is different than sympathy, which I’ve covered in previous articles because sympathy drives connection away. Empathy is healing, change making, and supports the re-wiring of our brains.
Empathy helps us feel known, understood, and validated; many times, this is what is missing in our personal lives. Sometimes this is because we are not surrounded by people who are capable, or willing to provide this for us; other times, it’s because we’re not in a place personally where we’re able to open ourselves to this possibility and this is where the skill of the counsellor comes in. Through counselling, we can experience empathy in a 1:1 relationship with the counsellor, evaluate our relationships, and if there are things preventing us from accepting empathy from others, work through these things will a skilled professional.
Reason #3: Guidance
When I went through my clinical training, one thing that was impressed upon us is that we’re not here to give advice. While I don’t disagree that this is not our primary function, I do disagree that we never do this. Sometimes counsellors are there to give advice. Depending on the client’s cultural background, they may actually be quite frustrated by not getting advice at times. What a counsellor is more apt to do on a regular basis, however, is to give guidance. Sometimes it’s guidance on a specific issue (i.e. school counselling, career counselling), and sometimes the guidance is in the form of a sounding board, offering alternatives to how the client is thinking about different issues.
Sometimes the guidance is more pointed – in my work I often see clients who have been through the various mental health systems without success and my clinical expertise and knowledge of the system is helpful in navigating next steps in looking for treatment and recovery.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this is just scratching the surface of why counselling is important, but I hope it’s a good introduction for you. In future articles, we’ll explore in specific detail how counselling is important for specific issues. If you have any questions about this, feel free to send us a message through the contact form and we’ll be happy to answer your question in a future article.