5 Ways counselling has the potential to be an ineffective therapy

Mar 13, 2024Counselling, Other

5 Ways counselling has the potential to be an ineffective therapy

Counselling- Sigmund Freud

If you have never had counselling, you might wonder if this talking therapy could be harmful or ineffective in some way, especially if you choose to find a private counsellor.

Well, the first thing that must be clear is that most counsellors enter the profession to help people feel better and develop their lives. Many people find this very helpful, but some might not.

You might say I am biased because I have been practising as a counsellor for over 20 years, but I believe I have had time to evaluate counselling!

What is counselling?

Let’s start by discussing counselling and what it is and isn’t. This will help you evaluate it, as many people think it’s just a chat when it isn’t.

Counselling is difficult to describe as so many factors will influence it, including the type of counsellor and the issues, and of course you.

So, what is counselling?

Counselling is a talking therapy that helps people understand their thoughts, feelings and behaviours and then choose to make any changes or accept the problem.

People of all ages can have counselling. It can be delivered in groups, couples, online via video, through texts or emails or commonly one to one.

According to the National Health Service (NHS)

Counselling is a talking therapy that involves a trained therapist listening to you and helping you find ways to deal with emotional issues.

Sometimes, the term “counselling” is used to refer to talking therapies in general, but counselling is also a type of therapy in its own right.’

Counselling is not about giving advice, although some forms of counselling might suggest coping strategies to try at home.

Counselling is not a cosy chat and a cup of tea. It’s quite different because the counsellor is trained to help you see your ‘blind spots’ and to guide you to an awareness or solution.

However, good rapport and talking to a trusted friend will help so it may sometimes feel like a chat with a friend.

What counselling training do UK counsellors get?

In the UK, counsellors undergo extensive training and must also gain 100 hours of practice in a voluntary placement before they qualify.

However, it is not a regulated profession, so anyone can train to be a counsellor, and training can vary across the country.

Some counsellors choose to go up the academic route when training. They might go to university and gain a diploma, a degree, a master’s degree or even a PhD in counselling and psychotherapy.

Other counsellors choose to go up the vocational learning route, so they will attend colleges and private institutions to gain counselling qualifications. These organisations are often monitored and quality assessed by accrediting organisations that are part of the Professional Standards Authority, an independent organisation.

People who go down the vocational route are usually set to level 4 or 5 to be able to practice.

There is also the choice of training with an online company. Nevertheless, most counsellors consider that this learning method requires additional practical skills on top of level 2 or 3 online qualifications. Furthermore, insurance companies and professional bodies expect at least a level four training to practice as a counsellor.

Because counselling isn’t regulated, anyone could theoretically call themselves a counsellor and practice. However, they would not get insurance and struggle to meet industry standards.

Let’s now consider the five ways counselling could be ineffective or harmful.

1. The counsellor is ineffective as they aren’t trained.

Some people find talking easy, so they might think they would make good counsellors. This could be true, but counsellors need to be trained, as they should understand confidentiality, the principles of good practice, and the law.

Counsellors are trained to listen actively and to discuss things helpfully. For example, they might reflect on what you have just said so that you know they were listening properly. Or they might use clarifying, questioning, and summarizing skills.

Counsellors must also be aware of their prejudices and address their personal problems.

As counselling doesn’t have mandatory regulation in the UK, some counsellors may never have trained or only had minimal training.

This will result in their ineffectiveness because they may lack good listening and questioning skills and not understand the importance of ethical practice.

Always check a counsellor’s credentials. You can do this by asking if they belong to a professional body and looking them up.

2. The counselling approach doesn’t meet your needs.

There are about 300-400 different ways to counsel people.

But they can be divided into:

  • Psychoanalytical
  • Psychodynamic
  • Humanistic
  • Cognitive
  • Behavioural
  • Integrative/pluralistic/holistic

It all started with psychoanalytical therapy by the famous therapist Sigmund Freud. He believed that your past experiences caused the presenting problem. It is a process of bringing the unconscious mind to the conscious mind. The psychoanalytical process usually takes a long time.

Today, a mixture of approaches, such as Person-Centred Therapy, Solution-Focused Therapy, Gestalt, Transactional analysis or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), is commonly used.

It’s a good idea to ask your therapist how they work before commencing therapy.

If you have found counselling ineffective before, it might be worth seeing another therapist as they may have a better approach for you.

3. You can feel re-traumatised by the therapy.

Talking about traumatic experiences can sometimes make you feel that you are back in that situation. Although some people believe it is good to go back to the cause of the problem, you might feel worse before you feel better. If you can’t handle this, the sessions will be ineffective for you.

Feeling better could take many more sessions, especially if you keep returning to the problem, so you must be prepared.

Sometimes, it is useful to return to the root problem; however, I choose a more solution-focused approach unless the client feels that exploring the past will benefit them more.

Trauma therapists may also bring other techniques, such as EMDR, into counselling.

If you have traumas you may need to discuss this with your counsellor first.

4. You don’t like the counsellor.

We can’t like everyone.

Therapy will not be effective if you don’t like your counsellor. You need to trust them and know that they care for you.

So it’s okay if you decide you can’t work with the counsellor initially. Perhaps they remind you of someone you don’t like, or maybe they just seem the wrong person for you to talk about emotions with.

It is worth noting that the relationship between the counsellor and the client is very important. It’s part of the core conditions of counselling.

Counsellors are trained to be non-judgemental and respect differences and the pain of your problem, no matter how silly or embarrassing it may seem.

I offer a free initial consultation so people can ask me questions and decide if they want to work with me. It’s a free, online 30-minute Zoom call that I call ‘my getting to know you session’.

5. You don’t complete the counselling.

One problem with counselling is that we never know exactly how many sessions a client will need to address a problem. We might have an idea, but as every client is different and may not have disclosed important information at the assessment, we can’t be sure about the number of sessions required. Furthermore, as one problem is addressed, you may wish to discuss other problems as they come up.

Depending on the approach, the problem, and the client, some issues may require weeks, months or years of counselling.

If you get counselling through the National Health Service, the number of sessions will probably be restricted to six or fewer, and there are long waiting lists unless a psychiatrist and mental health team are looking after you.

Other charitable organisations may also restrict the number of sessions provided, even if you are paying for the service. Unfortunately, they may also have long waiting lists for counselling.

With my service, I suggest most people consider six sessions to start with. But I also make it easier for them to pay and stop sessions if they want to by paying for reduced-price blocked sessions. Some people like to start with three sessions and then continue by booking further sessions as we get into the work.

Stopping counselling sessions too early may result in ineffective counselling because you have opened up the problem and have not had the time to deal with it. This is worth considering if you are paying privately, as you want sufficient funds for your counselling.

Additional things to consider

Some forms of counselling are outlawed today. For example, conversion therapy is a form of therapy that tries to change someone’s sexual orientation. This is considered a harmful practice.

A specialist counsellor might be more appropriate for you. For example, a couples counsellor, a sex counsellor, or someone specialising in a theoretical approach, such as a CBT practitioner.

I’m Linda from Awaken the Change. I specialise in helping people with stress and anxiety issues and bereavement and loss. Contact me and book a free consultation to find out more.

Awaken the Change is about Focusing Minds for Positive Results

Awaken the Change is a self-help service providing education and information.

Linda sees clients at her practice in Bournemouth, in the UK. She is also happy to provide online help via webcam for hypnotherapy, counselling and supervision. Counselling and supervision can also be provided by telephone.

Linda is an accredited trainer and supervisor.

Linda Witchell
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