Counselling and Therapy – Does the method matter!
When a client makes initial contact my usual response is to suggest an informal discussion here in central Chichester. Although the emphasis for that first meeting is very much on an ‘informal discussion’, a key task is to develop an understanding of what brings the client into the counselling room. It is helpful for us to consider whether the way in which I work is likely to prove useful to the client at this time. This first meeting also provides an opportunity to look at the counselling strategies to be used during the counselling sessions.
Each client is unique but counsellors also differ in approach and style. That variation can apply to the actual techniques used by the therapist in the counselling room. If the counselling work is to be effective it is important for both client and counsellor to take time at the start of the process to check if the likely approach to the work, feels right as well as assessing the personality fit between client and counsellor.
I believe that clients will often sense intuitively if the therapist is someone they are likely to be able to talk to. Evaluating different counselling techniques can be a little more challenging.
As far as the different types of counselling are concerned therapists will work in diverse ways for very different reasons. Some counsellors may just focus on one specific therapeutic approach such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) perhaps because CBT was the focus of their training. Others will have undertaken a broader training and want to bring very different therapeutic techniques into the counselling room to find that way of working which will fit with each individual client.
That is certainly my approach. I am driven by the belief that each individual is unique and that uniqueness should be acknowledged in the counselling work.
Certain aspects of personal stories can have some commonality but the overall narrative and life story is specific to each person. I am uncomfortable with a ‘one size fits all’ approach. My concern is always to start with client needs rather than my personal skill set. That can even mean on occasions being prepared to step away from the work if the client requires some specialist support that I am not able to provide.
Clients may want to work in very different ways dependent upon their personal style. From my experience some clients are happy to work with a structured and methodical approach which may suggest a CBT focus. Others may prefer a reflective way of working which could involve a more discursive approach in the room.
Some clients will want to look at all the very different aspects of their life including past, present and future whereas others may prefer to have a far more solution focussed approach to sessions. For some clients counselling is just about problem resolution whereas for others the work is about self-exploration. There is no right or wrong approach but a case of finding a way forward that fits for each client.
It is therefore helpful for client and counsellor to spend some time together talking about possible methodologies to be used in the room. There is however a counter argument put forward by some observers. This argument is that given some of the rather complex terms adopted by the therapy world, the approach to be followed should just be left to the therapist to decide. After all is not the professional expertise of the therapist exactly what the client is paying a fee for.
I am not certain that I agree with that viewpoint. It is perhaps a little patronising. There is something around respecting the client and acknowledging the importance of informed consent. That suggests to me that clients should have the opportunity to understand and consider even in a very broad brush way, what approaches or methodologies are out there and what may work for them.
This is not to suggest that too much time needs to be spent examining the minutiae of different therapeutic methods. Nevertheless a competent therapist (whether specialist or pluralist) should be able to give a very brief overview to clients of at least some of the different counselling techniques which abound in a way that is easily understood. That will assist the client in making her or his choice on who to work with and also what to expect from the sessions.
So what how does this answer the question I posed at the top of this note? Does the counselling method used in the room matter or is it just about the fit between therapist’s personality and the client?
I think the approach does matter. The method used is important to the outcome as well as the counsellor/client personality fit. The client will want to feel comfortable with the therapist as an individual practitioner. Clients should however also be able to have at least an outline understanding of what they will be doing in the room and why a specific approach may be helpful for them now.
There is a discussion on counselling approaches to be had at the start of any work and it can be an interesting as well as an important discussion. This is a conversation that both client and counsellor should be ready to engage in before the sessions are planned and the real counselling work commences.
For clients, counselling represents an investment in terms of time, money and especially emotional energy. It is important that clients are able to quickly move to a position where they are able to gain the most from that personal investment in the therapy room. A brief discussion on therapeutic approaches is in most cases likely to aid that process.