Separating fact from fiction
As counselors, we recognize a rational fear of going and telling a stranger about our problems. Most of us have been in your seat at one time (and still seek help for ourselves!) and have felt this same fear. We also respect the skepticism with which you may enter our room. But classifying what counseling is and is not may help eliminate some fear and skepticism for you.
What counseling is not:
A time to judge
Judging does no one any good. We, as counselors, have no desire to judge; we have a desire to help you change. Therefore, if we are assessing something you are doing or saying, maybe addressing inconsistencies in behaviors, we are not judging. Because we care, we desire to present truth with grace to you for the sake of change.
Often clients come into our offices in extreme pain. Some of the first words we hear are, “Just tell me what to do!” But that’s not our job, nor is it helpful to the hurting. Many times people seeking relief from pain use defense mechanisms, not coping skills. The difference? Defense mechanisms are a natural response we have developed early in our lives. For instance, avoidance or disconnect. It is a way to help us survive. However, coping skills allow us confidence in being able to tolerate difficult feelings and situations without avoiding or disconnecting. They enable us to ground ourselves, handle our emotions and produce a positive belief system in which we can work.
So, back to why we are not advice-givers: That doesn’t build coping skills for you. There is more power for you in knowing YOU overcame something with your own tools rather than just following advice.
When people are hurting due to another’s behavior or maybe marriage partners are trying to “prove” the behavior of another, it is common for the individual to seek a “reason” for the other person’s behavior or try to prove that the other person is lying, etc. However, we, as counselors, are not detectives. Our goal is not to create an interrogation room for anyone. We desire to create an environment full of truth and grace. Therefore, we may point out inconsistencies or observations we see, but we don’t interrogate. That defeats the trust, empathy and unconditional positive regard environment we are trying to develop so that a person can trust us enough to tell us the truth.
Magic answer/Magic cure-all
I often tell clients, “You’re not responsible for what you don’t know, but once you’re given the knowledge, you’re responsible.” Counseling provides you tools to explore difficult life and personal issues, but it also requires you to be responsible for implementing these tools. I use the analogy of being in Home Depot. You’re surrounded by tools. But unless you use them, whatever you are trying to build/fix won’t get built or fixed. Counseling is a 10/90 percent work environment. Counselors do 10 percent of the work, and clients do 90 percent. You have to determine whether you want to be responsible to do the work necessary for healing.
What counseling is:
A collaborative effort
No counselor can “make” you do what is necessary for your healing. Nor do we want to. We want to empower you to implement healthy coping skills which lead to change. We desire to work ourselves “out of a job” because you have found healing and met your goals. We deem that a success!
A hopeful connection
Counselors provide a nonjudgmental environment for you to research yourself. We allow you a place to ask the difficult questions as well as say the hard and scary things you’re feeling without you needing to worry about how another person may respond or feel. We help you discover a connection to hope even amid the hard and uncomfortable things.
As stated previously, counseling is not a cure-all or a magic answer. What we provide is a safe place for you to walk whatever journey you are on. We cannot, nor will we attempt, to take your journey from you. The journey you are on is yours, and you are the only one who can walk it; however, we can be beside you as you walk through the pain and help you see the glimmers of healing you are seeking.
Often people worry that others will find out what they said in session. What you say to us is confidential, with three exceptions: if you are harmful to yourself, someone else, or someone is harming you. We do not tell your mom, dad, friends, others or even your dog about what you said. If we feel others should know about a disclosure made that does not fall in the exceptions category, we will mention that to you and give you options for telling them or telling them together, but we will not tell them without your consent.
We desire counseling to be a place of healing for you. In knowing what counseling is and is not, maybe you will find peace in sharing your burdens with someone else. Maybe you will have the opportunity to experience peace and hope.
Peri Gilbert-Reed is a licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist. She also is an EMDR specialist for children and adolescents. She is a doctoral candidate at Liberty University.