Counselling is a type of talking therapy that allows a person to talk about their feelings, needs and problems in a safe, structured, confidential setting. The foundation of effective counselling is providing clients with a professional therapeutic relationship based on non-judgmental respect and offering empathic understanding. Counsellors may employ a number of additional ways of working to further support their clients’ healing and development.
Counselling can help with all sorts of different issues
It can help with positive events such as choosing a direction in life or reaching your full potential. Perhaps you are feeling a ‘bit stuck’ and would value the viewpoint of a counsellor. There may be things from your past that you would like to tackle or there may be things in the present that you want to try and change. Perhaps you are experiencing significant events in your life such as getting married and starting a family, leaving home for the first time or coming to terms with the death of a loved one.
Counselling services may be able to help with all of the above and issues such as those listed below:
Counselling will give you a safe space to talk about either a planned, or a previous abortion in complete confidence. Your counsellor will not tell you what to do – they will give you the chance to talk through your thoughts and feelings.
- Abuse – Emotional, Physical, Sexual
Abuse means that you have experienced behaviour that is harmful to you. It may be in the past or in the present and can be physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Talking to a counsellor will help you to identify how this abuse is affecting you and help you feel positive about your life now and in the future. The confidential nature of counselling means you can safely talk about difficult events or relationships.
- Addiction (e.g. Alcohol, Computer games, Drugs, Food, Gambling, Sex, Smoking)
If you are Addicted to certain behaviours or substances – it is likely that something that you originally did for enjoyment or to feel better now feels out of your control. It may affect all areas of your life in a negative way. Talking to a counsellor will be a first step towards identifying how to build coping skills to help you regain control of your life.
There are many different changes in a young person’s life as they move from childhood to adulthood. From mood swings and frustration to all the pressures of social media – although adolescence is something everyone experiences – those experiences are different for everyone. You may not want to talk to your family or friends – and it can be very reassuring to talk to a counsellor to share your feelings.
If you are an adopted child or adult you may have unresolved feelings about being adopted – you may want to talk about decisions you want to make to explore your past and plan for the future. If you are hoping to adopt a child – it can be helpful to have a third party you can talk to in confidence about any feelings or concerns that you have. Only counsellors and psychotherapists who are registered with Ofsted as part of an Adoption Support Agency can legally offer adoption counselling.
- Ageing and related issues
Ageing is a natural transition that is likely to cause changes in a person’s life. People may find it difficult to adapt to their life once they retire from employment; some may face feelings of isolation and loneliness; changes in physical health and decreased mobility may also have an impact. Having someone to talk to, and share feelings that you may not want to talk about with your partner or family can be very beneficial.
- AIDS / HIV
Many advances have been made in the treatment of HIV/AIDS and people are able to manage the condition and stay healthy and live longer lives. Counselling can be helpful if you want to talk in confidence with someone who can empathise with you and offer support.
- Anger Management
If you are aware that angry emotions and behaviours are having a negative effect upon your life and those around you it can be very helpful to talk about the causes and how you can identify and manage situations where you experience excess anger. Some people ‘lash out’ verbally or physically and others suppress their anger and may not have the words to express their feelings. Talking to a therapist can help you realise that although anger is a normal emotion – if it is starting to negatively impact upon your life there are ways to help you ‘manage’ your anger.
Anxiety may occur in response to a particular situation – or may be feeling that seems to be there all the time. As well as feelings such as apprehension and worry ‘expecting the worst’ you may also experience physical symptoms such as sleeplessness, ‘pounding’ heart, sweaty palms, and even panic attacks. Everyone can relate to the anxiety experienced in an activity like ‘public speaking’ – but if that anxiety seems to be there all the time it makes life feel very difficult.
A therapist can help you identify the source of your anxiety and give you various skills to use to deal with anxiety as it occurs.
- Assertiveness / Self-confidence / Self-esteem
Whether it is in a work situation or in your personal life – some people find it difficult to express themselves and get their point of view across. There are all sorts of techniques and exercises that can help you learn how to be assertive and this will in turn increase your self-confidence and help to build your self-esteem.
- Autism Spectrum / Neurodiversity
Autism is the central condition in the group of difficulties known as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). They are neurodevelopmental disorders – this means that they are caused by abnormalities in the way the brain develops and works.
Children and their families can be helped in many ways for example:
- being given information about the condition
- managing behavioural difficulties
- developing social communication and emotional skills
- Bereavement / Loss
The death of a loved one or the loss of anything that is significant in your life (a pet, a relationship, even a job). You may feel lost and full of conflicting emotions - anger, grief, hopelessness. You may not want to talk with friends and family and there is nobody to tell you what to expect and how to cope. Nobody can replace what you have lost but it can be comforting to have somebody to talk to at such times.
Bullying can affect both children and adults and can make you feel very alone and frightened. It may make you feel as if you are powerless and there is no solution. Social media can mean that the bullies can seem to follow in to the safety of your own home – it feels as if there is no escape. Therapy can allow you to talk about what is happening and get support in the current situation and skills to change the future.
It is important that you speak to a trusted person who is experienced in dealing with bullying so you are not trying to cope alone while feeling vulnerable.
A diagnosis of cancer will impact upon the patient and all those around them. Treatment can be arduous and a person is likely to feel afraid of just what the future holds. Physical changes such as hair and weight loss, weakness and debility can all impact upon a person’s emotional state.
You may have lots of questions, and are likely to want reassurance - being able to speak with a knowledgeable and compassionate person can be a great help throughout a difficult time.
As a carer for a family member or a loved one you may find yourself feeling unsupported and exhausted. You may feel angry and abandoned yourself at the same time as having to be strong and capable for the person you are caring for. Perhaps you are having to cope with issues about finances and benefits and perhaps have other dependents as well. By talking to a counsellor you can talk about you and your feelings and seek help in creating coping strategies to share the load.
- Cultural issues
We live in a multi-culture Society and for some people this is a life-choice and for some people events have forced them to move from their homeland to a different country. Understanding how to negotiate cultural differences and customs is much easier if you have someone who can share advice and experiences with you. Helping immigrant parents to negotiate the world that their children are growing up in, understanding customs about dress and modesty, accessing support in a place where everything may literally be a ‘foreign language.’
Depression is an illness that can affect anybody, at any stage in their life. Some people become depressed as a reaction to a specific life event and others find that for no apparent reason a ‘low mood’ becomes something more pervasive. It is important to talk to your GP if you are feeling depressed and they can help you decide the best course of action. They may recommend a course of counselling – cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can also be helpful by giving you techniques to challenge your negative thought patterns.
‘Disability’ can mean different things to different people and for some people they may have been born with or completely accepted/adapted to any change in the way they interact with the world. For those who experience a ‘disability’ later in life such as following an illness or an accident, it may be difficult to reach an acceptance and come to terms with such changes. For example, those who have served in the armed forces may suffer life changing injuries and as well as any physical impact this can have an emotional impact upon the individual concerned and their families. Having the opportunity to talk about such feelings and emotions with a counsellor can be a way of working through any unresolved issues.
- Divorce & Separation
The breakdown and end of a relationship can be difficult and painful for all concerned. By the nature of the circumstances the person you would normally turn to for support and help is not available. Talking to a counsellor either individually or as a couple can be helpful. To help with difficulties within your relationship and how best to move forward, talking to a counsellor may be useful.
- Eating disorders
Eating disorders can cover a whole spectrum of behaviours relating to an individual’s choices around food for example anorexia and bulimia. The physical effects of eating disorders can be very harmful to an individual and in extreme cases may be fatal. Counselling can help with identifying the underlying issues that may be causing the issues – for example body image and the pressures of social media. A person may not know why they have an issue with eating and they may feel unable to help themselves. Counselling can offer emotional support and comfort on the journey to recovery.
Families will change and grow along with each individual family member. The behaviour of each family member may affect the whole family. Natural change such as the birth of a new child, the illness or death of a family member and even something such as the ‘empty nest syndrome’ will affect the dynamic of the family group. Talking to a therapist can be helpful and some therapists are trained to work with families as a group and help all members understand how events that affect one can affect all.
- Financial difficulties
If you are experiencing difficulties with managing your finances, or find yourself falling into debt, it will help to talk to a debt counsellor or agency. They will help you work out a plan to make changes and be able to link you to different agencies that can offer support.
- Gender identity
If you are confused about your gender identity, sometimes called gender dysphoria, it may be helpful to speak to a specialist counsellor who has done additional training in transgender and sexual diversity issues.
- Generally unhappy with your life
Perhaps there is nothing really wrong with your life but you just feel generally unhappy and want to talk to someone about your feelings and maybe get help with making changes. The opportunity to talk with a therapist can give you a ‘sounding board’ to help you identify why you are feeling unhappy. The chance to reflect on you and your feelings can be a very useful exercise to help you acknowledge your achievements and talk about ideas and plans for the future.
- Illness and dying
Acute or chronic illness and the end of life will impact upon the individual concerned and their loved ones. Practical support from nurses and carers may be available and the hospice movement offers invaluable support. People may feel depressed, angry and confused (both the patient and those around them) and counselling gives the opportunity to explore these feelings. A person may want to ‘protect’ their loved ones and not talk about their feelings – counselling can provide a safe and non-judgmental space to talk.
Mindfulness practice is a way of learning how to identify your thoughts and control your mind. A therapist trained in this area will give you the techniques to help you do this and for many it becomes a life-long practice that they do for themselves.
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
If you cannot stop recurring, negative thoughts coming into your mind; or you have to have to touch or count things or repeat the same action like washing your hands over and over you may have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). To feel safe and to relieve your feelings of anxiety you develop ‘rituals’ to help you cope. For example when you leave the house you may need to check numerous times that the front door is closed, you may need to count your steps – and if you miss one start all over again.
Counselling can be helpful to identify the source of your anxieties and learn techniques to help you change your the obsessive behaviours. If you speak to your GP, they will help by referring you to a counsellor and may prescribe medication.
- Parenting skills
Most people will use their own experience of childhood and the parenting that they received as a basis for parenting their own children. Some people never have the opportunity to experience ‘good’ parenting and even if they have they may benefit from extra support in enhancing their parenting skills. It may be practical skills; it may be understanding your child’s behaviour and your own reactions. Parenting skills can help you to ‘stand back’ from a situation and ask for help to change outcomes.
A phobia is an extreme fear that may seem irrational to others but is very real to the person who has the fear. In extreme situations a phobia may have a negative impact upon an individual and their family. Counselling can help you explore why you have the phobia and how you can take control of your feelings and reactions to the fear.
- Post-traumatic stress (PTSD)
After a serious traumatic event people are likely to feel distressed and can experience symptoms for some time. It is common to feel anxious, angry, emotional, and to have difficulty putting the event out of their mind. Some people develop a more severe condition called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. They may experience:
- Flashbacks and nightmares – they relive the event in their mind, again and again.
- Avoid thinking about it - by keeping busy and avoiding anything or anyone that reminds them of the event.
- Feeling ‘on guard’ – they stay alert all the time, can’t relax, feel anxious and can’t sleep.
- Physical symptoms – aches and pains, diarrhoea, irregular heartbeats, headaches, feelings of panic and fear, depression.
Consulting a GP in the first instance is important. Therapy may help. For example, CBT can help a person to think differently about their memories and teach relaxation techniques. Eye movement desensitisation & reprocessing (EMDR) uses eye movements to help the brain process flashbacks and to make sense of the traumatic experience.
- Pregnancy related issues
Counselling can be helpful when there are difficulties relating to pregnancy. Difficulties in conception, difficulties during pregnancy and birth and in the period after the birth of a child can affect both the mother and other family members. Being able to talk to a counsellor in confidence may help with any of these issues.
Relationships with family members and with friends are an important part of life. When there are problems or when relationships ‘break down’ it can be helpful to talk to a counsellor to help move forward. Some people find it difficult to form relationships with others and the ‘therapeutic relationship’ offered in counselling can be very helpful in such cases by providing a safe space in which to learn and practice relationship skills.
People may self-harm by taking tablets, cutting, burning, piercing or swallowing objects. It is more common in young people, women, gay and bisexual people. Some people self-harm regularly - it can become almost an addiction.
Talking to a therapist may be helpful to help you understand and explore your self-harming behaviour. You should really see someone who has a lot of experience of helping people who self-harm, and who knows about mental health problems. Your GP should be able to refer you.
- Sexual Identity
Some people are more comfortable in same sex relationships and some in opposite sex relationships. This may change during a person’s life and can be very fluid, or it may be more fixed. It may be helpful to talk to a therapist if you want to explore your feelings about identity.
- Shyness / Social Phobia
Shyness is a fairly common feeling - if it's mild, it doesn't really spoil life. A lot of people worry about meeting new people but once they are with them they can relax and enjoy the situation. If you have a social phobia, you get extremely anxious when you are with other people.
A long term social phobia may create other mental health issues such as depression or drug and alcohol abuse. Some people may develop agoraphobia and feel unable to leave the house.
A therapist may be able to help by helping you with social skills training; or with a therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which can help you change the way you feel about yourself and other people.
Some counsellors, for example those following a Jungian or Psychosynthesis approach, include a spiritual emphasis in their work. Pastoral counselling is also available for people following a particular religion. In addition to established 12-step programmes for alcohol and substance misuse, new approaches such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for the treatment of stress, anxiety and depression (MBCT), compassion-focused therapy and forgiveness therapy are now being actively researched and supported. Spirituality often becomes more important in times of emotional stress, physical and mental illness, loss, bereavement and end of life.
- Suicidal feelings
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts and feel that you may harm yourself or want to take your own life it is important to tell someone and get help.
If your thoughts around suicide are consuming, there are a number of options for keeping safe:
- Talk to someone you trust and ask for help
- Call 999 and ask for an ambulance
- Go to your nearest A&E department
- Talk to an advisor at the Samaritans.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts but do not feel that you will take any action we advise that you contact your GP for further advice.
For further information and/or advice about immediate help please visit:
If you are experiencing suicidal feelings and feel that you may harm yourself / take your own life you may want to phone and talk to an advisor at the Samaritans. If you are experiencing suicidal feelings generally but do not feel that you will take any action, then it will be good to speak to your GP for advice and they may well refer you for counselling.
If you have experienced any sort of very dangerous or stressful event that made you feel both frightened and powerless, you may find that you feel unsafe and vulnerable and unable to cope with day to day life. Events such as major accidents, natural disasters or being the victim of a mugging or other violent attack may leave you feeling unable to cope. Even once any physical affects have healed you may still experience emotional and psychological trauma and not understand why you cannot ‘get over it’. Talking to a trained counsellor can help you to explore your feelings and help you to heal ‘on the inside’ as well as the outside.
- Violence / Victim support
For a person to either directly experience or even to witness a violent event will likely have an ongoing negative influence on their lives. They may feel fear, disbelief and anger (as well as any physical effects) and may find that they no longer feel confident about carrying on with life as before. People may want to protect their loved ones by reassuring them that ‘everything is ok’ and they may suppress their true feelings.
- Young people and children
Some counsellors have trained specifically to work with children and young people and will have many techniques (other than talking) that may help a child deal with difficult events and their feelings. Any event or trauma that affects a family may also have an effect upon a child and they may not understand or be able to express their feelings – a trained counsellor can help them work through their issues. A number of schools offer counselling services and your local GP is a good point of reference. CAMHS
Last reviewed on: 08/07/2021
Next review due: 08/07/2022