Why do People Choose to Talk to a Counsellor Rather Than Family or Friends?

What is so special about talking to a counsellor? What can a counsellor offer that family and friends can’t?

A concept that sums this up for me is that of “Temenos”. Temenos is a Greek word meaning sacred space. The space created in the counselling room is a psychological safe space where a person can search inside themselves to locate what hurts and consider why that is. The counsellor’s role is to be both a witness to the person’s pain and a guardian of the safe space. When someone is able to talk about what hurts (externalise it), it is made real and tangible. It’s hard to then discount what has been made real, it needs attention. It takes energy to do this work and if a person had to guard their own boundary this energy might be deflected. When a trusted counsellor can hold the safe space all the person’s energy can be focused on themselves.

What stops someone from talking to family and friends?

  • Fear – often this is fear of judgement (judgement induces shame)
  • Guilt – people feel bad about burdening others with their problems
  • Lack of trust – will that person tell someone else?
  • Sometimes when family members or friends listen to a person’s problems they struggle with the feelings they have in response. This can lead to them trying to fix the problem by distracting, dismissing, minimising or rushing to practical solutions (taking control)
  • Once something is said it can’t be unsaid. Things that are said in the counselling room remain there
  • They aren’t good listeners – Relationships with family members and friends are mutual so they will want to express what they think and feel – which takes the focus away from the person with the problem. The sole focus in the counselling room is the person with the problem
  • Family and friends might have their own agenda, whereas a counsellor is impartial
  • They are the cause of the problem

I have found that the counselling space is one of discovery without fear of getting it wrong. Feelings and thoughts are validated and ideas are creatively tried out – always with the idea that they can be abandoned or revised. Even after counselling finishes the safe space remains both externally (sometimes people choose to re-enter counselling) and internally (the memory of how we worked together).

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