Counselling and Choice
Elections and therapy may at first sight seem to be very different. One has a wide societal focus across many varied aspects of civic life whereas the second looks into the emotional world of an individual. Yet there is one strong link between the elections and therapy and that is the element of choice.
When we enter the polling booth we are for that moment free to make a choice between candidates competing for our vote. That freedom to choose is also evident within the counselling process.
Choice is present at the outset of any counselling work. Difficult situations arise, emotions are in flux and our thoughts on a personal issue become disturbed. There can be discussions with friends or family. A period of reflection and internal debate. Then as pressure mounts, a decision is made to talk to someone else. To engage with someone outside of the usual frame. And the choice is made to contact a therapist.
It is then that the choices intensify. Which counsellor to contact, which therapist to see and what about issues of age or the gender of the therapist. And of location. All these factors and more will be important to the client in making that selection about who to talk with.
As this is an important decision I always encourage clients to meet with me, for an initial discussion and to then have some moments of reflection before making a definitive choice. There is something about sitting in the room, of gaining a sense of how it feels to be talking with this person which can help a decision to emerge.
But in addition to the individual therapist, what about the content of the therapy? Just as the ballot paper seems to become longer as more fringe parties compete for our attention at elections so perhaps the same is true for therapy.
‘I just want someone to listen. I just need another view from someone who is not involved’.
These are understandable comments. Yet rather than meeting these concerns with a straightforward response, we as therapists may want to provide the potential client with ideas about different approaches. We may refer to strategies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychodynamic work, or solution focussed therapy. We can even start to talk about existential therapy which can really start to evoke clouds of confusion.
There is a profusion of choice in therapy and sometimes that may threaten to become overwhelming. Some counsellors may feel it is not right to expect the client to understand these different ways of working in the therapy room. And yet I think it is very important to talk with clients about ideas and options.
In a democracy the hope is surely that electors will make an informed choice. I think the same should be true within the counselling world.
I am concerned when politicians talk down to voters. The electorate is not there to be patronised. Again I regard my clients in the same way. Perhaps this is about making sure that we as therapists always respect the other person in the room. It is important that a client is able to identify the therapist who can support them in the way that will work best for that particular client. That in turn requires information to be given by the therapist in an open and engaging way.
Whether the client then decides to talk with me in my office on the outskirts of Basingstoke or with another therapist elsewhere in Hampshire or Surrey, is not important. What is key is that the client is able to make an informed choice as to what feels right for her or him.
Therapy is about choice. To choose to ask for support, to choose who to work with and to then to choose together with the therapist, when it is appropriate to bring the work to a close.
Of course these are often agreed choices. Nevertheless choice is an ever present within the counselling process and we should acknowledge that. This should however be an informed choice. And that means ensuring at the outset of the process that clients are able to have open, relaxed, initial discussions with therapists who remain willing to talk and explain. That enables informed choice.
Democracy as a political philosophy trusts the voter to make the right call. I trust my clients to do the same with regard to their choices on counselling and therapy.