Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page
People don’t always know why they’ve come to counselling. Sometimes they do have clear ideas about what they want to achieve: to give up smoking; to manage their anger better; to deal with the loss of a loved one. Other people arrive with much more vague ideas: to understand themselves better; to improve their relationship; just to explore.
All these reasons are equally valid, though they may change during the course of counselling. People with only a shadowy idea of why they’ve chosen to come for counselling will often find that their objectives become clearer over time. Those with a clear idea of what they want to achieve will sometimes find that their ideas change as counselling progresses – that the issue they thought was central turns out to be peripheral.
People have many levels – and so too, counselling can have many levels. Let’s take as an example the client who wants to give up smoking. It can be helpful to talk about alternative strategies – “When I feel like having a cigarette, I am going to say no, and instead…..”. It can be helpful to have goals and rewards – “I am going to aim to stop smoking for a month, and then I will have saved enough money to buy….”. These, and other techniques, focus on changing behaviour, and this can be enough to help people break the habit of smoking – and once the habit is broken it can become much easier to “stay stopped”.
Working at the top level is enough some of the time, but often it’s necessary to go down a level – or more, typically by asking “why?”. To continue with the smoking example, this is about understanding the reasons why you smoke – in what way does in help you emotionally? – how does it fit with your beliefs about yourself? Going down a level offers the chance to make deeper changes – by exploring and understanding your motivations you can begin to change the way you look at yourself, and the stories you and others may have about you, for example.
I remember working with a couple – let’s call them Dave and Sue – where these different levels were starkly apparent. Dave and Sue agreed that the relationship was not working and one of the issues they identified was that they didn’t make the best use of the time they had together. Dave felt that Sue spent too much time watching TV and wanted more “quality time” with her. Sue asked him what he meant – how much TV was too much? How much time per evening should they spend together, in his view? Sue was attacking the issue at the top level – just thinking about changing their behaviour enough to make things better. Dave’s response was that he wanted her to want to spend time with him, rather than watching TV. Working at the top level was not enough, they needed to go deeper and ask “why?”
The “why?” question can be revealing – but in order to reveal ourselves we need to feel safe – most of us will not choose to try walking a tightrope without a safety net. Counselling can provide that safety net, where it is safe to explore the “why?” question, it is safe to delve down a level or more, and it is possible to give ourselves the opportunity to make deep and lasting changes.