The counselling hour – whose session is it?

As a counselling professional of many years’ experience, I have heard the following debate many times: Should counsellors focus on alleviating painful memories from childhood, or should they work in the present, focusing on things as they are today and how to change them? For me, if a counsellor is trying to answer this question at all it suggests they may be missing something very important about the nature of a counselling endeavour.

I say this because whichever option a counselling professional chooses; it suggests they believe that they know what is best for you perhaps more than you do or that they know what is hurting – and why. Worst of all, it suggests that believe they know something about you that you don’t. The idea therapists direct clients towards what they should be focusing on at all, is, in my opinion not how it should be done.

Every person is unique. Each set of experiences and feelings stem from different origins despite how it appears at first glance. Long term depression might be a leftover from a difficult childhood or it could just be a case of being in the wrong job for the last 10 years. Whether a difficulty you are struggling with today stems from childhood trauma or not, each individual has the right to choose how they would like to approach it. Not everybody will benefit from a deep, belly button staring expedition into their childhood, and for therapeutic workers to automatically delve there doesn’t give the individual the respect that every counselling client deserves. By the same token, certain practitioners of CBT are guilty of the opposite crime, which is to deny clients the opportunity to speak of childhood issues when they clearly want to. Probably the biggest complaint against CBT as a therapeutic method is the tendency for CBT counsellors to work only in today – insisting that a client’s painful experiences of life can be changed just by thought change alone.

My long term philosophy is that each client has, somewhere deep within them the knowledge of what is hurting, and a reasonably good idea of why. Whilst the latter often changes over the course of counselling, it is because we have arrived at different answer together and not because of any preconceived diagnosis about their difficulties from me. Allowing each client the power of choice in where we go, how far we go and at what speed we go is the cornerstone of my therapeutic practice.

In my opinion, counsellors should not be deciding the direction of counselling prior to your arrival at your first session (simply because that what they always do). Rather, clients should be allowed the respect and intelligent time with a qualified professional to indicate whatever corridor they may wish to travel down – no matter how dark it may turn out to be – whilst always remaining a firmly supportive, non-judgemental guide with a torch at their side.