Mental health continues to be neglected at the expense of physical health. Mental illnesses are shrouded in prejudice and myths that make it difficult to differentiate true and useful information from incorrect information. The lack of discussion in the public space, as well as education at school or at home, about our psyche makes most of us clueless when it comes to our psyche. We make mistakes in basic terms such as psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy and psychological counselling, which we use as synonyms, even though they are completely different concepts. In what follows, we will clarify one of the least understood terms in the mental health sphere, namely psychological counselling.
What is Psychological counseling?
The word counseling originates from the Latin word “consulere”, which means to advise. Psychology is the science (logos) that investigates and explores the human psyche. Thus, psychological counseling is a branch of psychology that combines scientific information and training in this field with the provision of advice and support. The aim is for people to change their behavior and to find solutions to the problems they face. In other words, a psychological counselor puts psychological theory into practice, translating it into advice, exercises and assessments that help clients solve their problems.
Psychological counselling can only be provided by psychologists. According to American Psychological Association, psychological counseling focuses on how people function both on their own and in relationships at all ages. Psychological counseling addresses a variety of issues. From social and professional, to school-related or physical health problems.
Psychological counselors help people improve their well-being, reduce their stress levels and resolve crises in their lives.
In other words, psychological counseling is for almost anyone, as its focus is on common life problems, obstacles we all face, such as stress, loss of job, loss of a loved one, conflict, or illness.
How did psychological counseling come about?
Psychoanalysis, which is the first documented form of psychotherapy, was developed by a psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud. Thus, its medical influences are noticeable, as it attempts to provide an almost clinical framework for this talk therapy.
In contrast, counseling did not emerge as a continuation of psychoanalysis and psychiatry. It appeared in opposition to them. The humanistic psychology founded by Abraham Maslow (best known for his pyramid of needs) was also known as higher psychology. That’s because its goal was to explore what people can achieve when they reach their best. This approach was radically opposed to psychoanalysis, also called depth psychology. Psychoanalysis explores the depths of consciousness, and the darkest corners of the mind.
Carl Rogers, one of the founders of humanistic psychology, first used the term ‘counseling’. He described a new, different approach to his psychological current. At that time, psychotherapy could only be practiced by those with medical training. As Rogers was a psychologist, he was not entitled to be a psychotherapist. So he invented a new term to define a new profession, which belongs to psychology but not to medicine.
Thus, counseling was basically an ingenious solution to the impossibility of practicing psychotherapy.
But more importantly, Rogers stressed once again that medicine and psychology are distinct sciences, and should be treated as such. He was disturbed by the way psychoanalysis treated people’s life problems as pathologies and them as patients. And this is one of the central features of psychological counseling today.
Psychological counseling is not aimed at people with mental health problems who want to cure them.
It’s for people who think they have difficulties, and need help to solve them.
Rogers argued that every person is born with the natural tendency to explore, grow and reach their true potential. What is regarded as mental illness in medicine is rather the impairment and arrest of normal development by harmful social conditioning processes. He pioneered this perspective on mental health and development.
His conception remains today, an unpopular opinion for doctors who tend to pathologize any deviation from normal. Thus, counseling, in Rogers’ view, is a support to help people derailed from their natural path by external forces.
It’s not about healing or change, it’s about accessing your own resources and removing adverse environmental influences.
How is psychotherapy different?
One of the most common confusions people make is about counseling and therapy, using the terms synonymously. Although the two have much in common, they are different processes with specific characteristics. It is important to know the differences between them. This way we can make an informed decision on which of the two suits us better and can help us at a particular point in our lives.
- The therapists, regardless of their training, often use psychiatric terms to describe the problems their clients face (depression, anxiety, phobias). When counseling rejects the pathologizing of different human experiences, so it doesn’t put those labels;
- to be a psychotherapist you have to undergo training. This consists of a series of courses, varying in length and lasting up to several years, where you learn to practice the type of therapy you want. There are many types of psychotherapy in which a therapist can train: psychoanalysis, Jungian analysis, dialectical-behavioral therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and the list goes on and on. This training determines the method they use, and therapies are usually focused on treating specific conditions. In contrast, psychological counseling training is of one type. All psychological counselors undergo the same type of training.
- The counseling is mainly aimed at people in an existential impasse and is client-centred. Psychotherapy can also be used for curative purposes. (exposure therapy, for phobia healing; dialectical-behavioural therapy to relieve symptoms of borderline personality disorder).
- the process of psychotherapy is often quite long. Depending on the type of therapy, the duration can vary from months (cognitive-behavioral therapy) to years (psychoanalysis). Counseling is usually of short duration, a few weeks or months.
- The psychotherapy generally explores the past, and how it affects the present. Counseling focuses more on the here and now.
- Psychotherapy goes deep, identifying hidden beliefs, thought patterns, past traumas and deep-seated patterns of behavior. It accesses them to heal the client and organically change their behaviour. Counsellng focuses predominantly on concrete problems, rather than analysing the mechanisms that produce them. It’s focused on solutions and practical advice on how to solve them.
- Psychotherapy focuses on emotions and their processing. Counseling focuses mainly on action and behavior.
- psychotherapy is generally non-directive. The psychotherapist does not give advice, but leaves the client to draw their own conclusions from the exploration during the sessions. Counselors, as the name suggests, are advisers. It is their job to offer suggestions, opinions, to guide customers.
What problems can psychological counseling sessions help you with?
- difficulties adjusting to work or school;
- problems in romantic or family relationships;
- you can no longer cope with the stress and negative events you face;
- adapting to a physical or physical disability;
- you fail to organize your schedule effectively;
- learning disabilities:
- resolving states of anxiety
- you are unable to make decisions about your career or private life, and you need a guide to help you find answers and solutions;
- you have difficulties created by mental illness.
What is a counseling session like?
- in terms of the relationship between counselor and client, and therapist and client, they are very similar. The relationship is completely confidential, professional and based on mutual respect;
- a counseling session is basically a problem-solving session. So be prepared for concrete, pragmatic, action-oriented and solution-oriented discussions. Don’t focus on reminiscing or splitting hairs;
- The counselor can provide you with psychoeducational information to facilitate self-discovery and insight;
- You can work out together a concrete plan to achieve the goals; with milestones to be reached and changes to be implemented;
- the meeting lasts 50 minutes;
- the counselor has an accepting and non-judgmental attitude. Don’t be afraid to be honest and open so you can get the help you need.