Written by S. Bowyer



1. Counsellors give advice.

     Counsellors aren't advice givers. The qualified counsellor's job is to help you explore the issues you're having, how they affect your life, where the issues came from, and how these problems might be deleted or simmered down. This comes from discussions and trying to make connections between your thoughts, feelings and/or actions. Decisions that need to be made will be yours. When you've thought of some ideas, your counsellor will then help you analyse why each might or might not be appropriate for you. Sometimes a counsellor might add an idea or two to the list, but the ultimate decisions is always yours.

     If you do have a counsellor trying to give advice or trying to tell you what to do, ask them why they are doing it. Typically, trained counsellors shouldn't be.


2. I can see a counsellor ongoing as long as I want.

     Incorrect. The life of a counsellor is about giving people wings. It's our job to assist you in your difficulties, help you strengthen against them, then fly off back into your world with this new-found strength and confidence. Counselling agreements made between counsellor and client normally have ending dates, which is when the goals set are achieved. If a client has to return at a later date to review their situation, or address another problem, that's fine, but counsellors are not ongoing resources without cancel dates. The reason for this is the industry believes this would cause someone to become dependant on the counsellor. We don't want that. You are a human being and deserve your independance. Our job is to get you back flying solo.


3. A counsellor with fix all my problems for me.

     A counsellor works with you to address your problems, and it will take some time. Often the catalysts are deep in your thoughts or the starting point happened a long time ago. We will assist you in finding where these hooks are, but we can't remove all the concerns you have quickly. There is no quick fix. If there was, it'd be advertised in a magazine and probably on sale for $19.99! Will all your problems be solved? No. Will we fix everything for you? No. Counselling is a 2-person (or more if couples' or family counselling) journey that consists of exploration, analysis and discovery. It's the insight gained that helps change the situation or the person for the better.


4. Counsellors know everything and are an authority figure.

     A counsellor should never behave as if they know everything or they are your parent. They aren't. We are simply human beings trained in facts about how the human brain works, and how to help people discover their true selves and the emotional shackles they're in. We are not Gods; we are not superheroes. Deep down we are human too, trying to relate to you, understand you and find any little connections you might have missed. That doesn't make us authorities or perfect -- it's just a case of seeing a different perspective with our training to assist us.


5. All therapists are the same.

     Therapists are different. We often have different training, we use different approaches to counselling, or our job description gives us different limitations. For example, a help-line counsellor will speak with you 30 minutes and refer you somewhere else if you require further help, which they do because they have other urgent calls to get to, whereas a private counsellor will sit down with you for a designated time and help you fully explore your issues with follow-up appointments planned. These are two different things. Then, within counselling are different approaches:

     Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is to consider if our issues were formed from mis-information or myths about ourselves, normally from the environment we're in, or the influential people in our lives. For example, "Women are meant to be difficult" is a common phrase in our society. It could have influenced a female client so she always feels like asking for small things is just her being difficult for her partner.

     Solution Focused Therapy is the understanding that sometimes problems aren't necessarily the case of finding the starting point of emotional discomfort, but the planning of how to change things within your life to remedy them. For example, Jasmine is in debt because she travels constantly to avoid being alone. The counsellor who practices SFT might not address the issue of her loneliness, but instead help Jasmine find other ways to involve herself in social activities without spending a lot of money.

     Person-centred therapy is based on the theory that our issues are the lack of cohesion between what we want/need to exist, and what our social peers expect. Sometimes people seek therapy because they are frustrated when what they want is not acceptable to their family -- even if it isn't illegal or physically harmful. For example, Jake has come out and was thrown out of his family home because his parents cannot accept their son is gay. He feels torn because his family were very close, but he is unable to hide who he is any longer.

    Behavioural therapy is based on the idea that sometimes our problems are based on habit and can be treated with diversion or learning new habits. For example, Alice has a tendency to pull out her hair when she is stressed. Half of her scalp is bald. The stress she is going through is varied, so cannot necessarily be eradicated (we all have stress!), but the counsellor decides to help Alice learn to break this habit by finding a different, less-harmful way to expel her uncomfortable emotions.

     These are just some of the approaches counsellors use, and sometimes a counsellor will use a blend of several. The choice of approach can be based on their specialised training, as some counsellors only practice one form, or several forms by an eclectic counsellor who chooses their approach based on the client's needs and what is to be achieved.

6. Drugs are the quickest way to get better.

     Sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren't. However, counsellors do not prescribe medications. This is normally done by a General Practitioner (GP) or a psychiatrist. A counsellor might refer the client to speak to one of these professionals about medication, but they cannot write a script.

     Drugs can sometimes delay recovery. For example, Emma lost her father to cancer a month ago. She is placed on medication to relieve her pain. However, she still misses her father. When she comes off her medication, she begins to feel her loss much stronger than before. His armchair is still empty, she can still smell his cologne, and she still misses her conversations with him. In her case, the medication dulled her emotions and so she was unable to feel her grief and process the loss. Now she has been taken off her anti-depressant, she now has to deal with her reality that her father is gone. Medications do not reverse what events have taken place in our lives, but sometimes they help the person cope a little easier.


7. I don't have the time.

     Sometimes this might be the case. You have to feed the family, work a long shift, babysit the kids, fix something in the house, help care for elderly parents -- any and all of the above. However, counsellors, particularly mobile counsellors, attempt to give you a choice with alternate times outside the typical 9-5pm.

     That said, calculate how much of your day you spend worrying about your issues, or how often you are slower at getting something done because you are distracted by an issue. Does it equal up to an hour a week? It might. Taking an hour a week to see a counsellor to get the issue sorted might actually save you time.

     What is your happiness worth to you? How would your change in mood or attitude affect your family? Is there something affecting your daily performance you'd like to work on?


8. The Counsellor might think I'm not normal.

     The modern counsellor doesn't diagnose people as "normal" or "abnormal". Instead, we look at how you are functioning. What is working for you? How might your actions be better tuned to serve you better in your daily life?

     Sometimes people believe if they don't act like everyone else, there is something wrong with them. As counsellors, we instead seek to find if this "abnormal" behaviour serves you well. If it does, why change it? If it is affecting your daily functioning, then we consider why you behave that way, what it tries to solve, and what other options you have to working out the issue you were trying to remedy.

     For example, Brenda has 25 cats. Her neighbourhood doesn't understand as she keeps to herself. The kids in the street call her the crazy cat lady and throw eggs at her house. Brenda reluctantly goes to her local therapist, thinking they will think her strange too. Upon meeting, the counsellor gets to understand that Brenda lost her husband several years ago and started caring for lost cats to feel like she had a purpose in life. The counsellor notes that the cats are well taken care of, and Brenda has the correct licensing to keep them. While rumours state Brenda is crazy, the counsellor understands that having 25 cats is "normal" to Brenda and helps her in her every-day life. There is no harm to Brenda or her 25 cats, so there is nothing to be concerned about. Instead the two of them talk about Brenda's other concern, that she never learnt to read and would like to attend school because she always felt second-rate not knowing how to read. One of the main reasons Brenda has kept to herself is because of several embarrassing incidences when she couldn't read signs or drive a car.


9. Counsellors aim to put people into institutions.

     Not true. As counsellors, we do our best to help people avoid those places, by teaching them better coping mechanics, helping them realise their needs that aren't being met, and helping them create opportunity to fulfil those needs. We want to see people prosper.


10. Counsellors are just like life coaches.

     Counsellors and Life Coaches are somewhat different. Trained Life Coaches have a different viewpoint and so communicate with their clients differently, but have a similar educational background as a Counsellor. That said, educated Counsellors and Life Coaches should not be confused with untrained professionals. A recent exposing TV program of American Life Coaches showed people who had clients depend on them to write them lists, channel spirits from the dead to give advice, or even train their clients to become life coaches themselves, in a pyramid-type scheme. A professional in the mental health industry will not do these things, and certainly doesn't allow their clients to become dependant on them.


11. Therapists are in it for the money.

     I did not become a counsellor for the money -- neither did any of the people I have trained with or worked with. I can't speak for all therapists, but in a majority of cases, their motivation is not money. When we are trained, we take on an oath of caring for other people and we are held responsible for our actions by several governing bodies. We deal with people's real emotions, and there's no visualisation of dollar signs when someone is crying their hearts out over something that really pains them. We are normally watching the person, thinking about how we can assist them in improving the situation, understanding how much pain they are truly in. You'll often find counsellors also work volunteer somewhere to give further to their community. Many trained professionals I know get involved in non-paying events and activities.


12. Therapists are always focused on your childhood. The first thing they'll ask is how your relationship with your mother was.

     This is only true for some therapists and some situations. Some counsellors are trained and specialise in the theory that your childhood determines your actions as adults, and may ask you to describe your early relationships. Then again, your issues might be centred in present day so your childhood won't be discussed.

     For example, Julie was always a very social, able woman who has a successful career in childcare. However, recently she has stopped going out because her boyfriend is abusive and beats her for making arrangements with other people outside work hours. He believes she is his property and doesn't want her associating with others, where other men might pay her attention. Is this problem based in her childhood? Probably not. Julie grew up very sociable and until meeting her partner, she was a well-adapted, happy individual. Instead the counsellor would focus on getting Julie out of the situation, and what motivated her to stay with this person as long as she has.

13. My friends are my therapy.

     Friends can be a great way to voice your opinion on things, and a great comfort, however there is a difference between your friend's responses and a counsellor's. While your counsellor aims to understand you and feel for you, we have the liberty to be honest about things your friends might not want to say. If you have a serious issue to address, complete honesty will serve you more than a diluted form from friends.

     For example, Jessica recently had a boyfriend break up with her. He wouldn't say why. She speaks to her friends about it and they tell her he's a jerk and she's better off without him. What Jessica wasn't told is her boyfriend found her jokes very off-putting and insensitive. Do her friends tell her? No, the don't want to hurt her feelings. However, upon going to the counsellor she makes several of these jokes in the session and it's discovered that she makes jokes when she's nervous, blurting them out without thinking. Instead of being offended, the counsellor realises the pattern and brings up the topic with Jessica and they discuss it.The counsellor then works with her on her nervousness around strangers and they work out an action plan for Julie to use when she's feeling nervous to calm herself down and improve her relations with others. Would the same have been achieved with her friends? No.

14. Only weak people need therapy.

     Saying somebody is weak for going to therapy is like saying a crying child with their first tooth growing through is over-reacting. People are in pain; they need help. Asking for help is often the most courageous thing to do, because society tells us in order to be mature we're meant to do everything for ourselves, that needing assistance is weak. It's not. Having the guts to go against that and saying, "hey, I think I need asisstance," is a very brave thing to do. Change is a very difficult thing sometimes, so signing up to counselling and being willing to change shows great strength.


15. Counsellors do their job because they want to make themselves feel better than others.

     A counsellor's motivation is a personal thing. Some do it to contribute to the bettering of humanity, some want to save others from bad experiences they went through, and some want to counsel because they find it easy to connect to people and want to make the most of that talent. We all have our own experiences and traits that encouraged us to choose this profession.  Do we do it for an esteem boost? No. We might feel good when a client has improved, or overcome one of their obstacles, but we rejoice in it because we understand the hard work they had to go through. Our input into the success isn't important compared to the happier existence the client now has.

16. Counsellors aren't responsible for the outcome of my life.

     We are. While someone is in our care, it's our responsibility to ensure both the long-term and short-term results are for their best interests. Counsellors abide by a code of ethics that require we do.

     As an example, if Joel comes to us and says he wants to drive his car off a cliff because his wife has left him, then it's our job to do all we can to diffuse the situation enough that Joel doesn't do it. Unfortunately, Joel may still do so, and the counsellor might blame themselves, thinking they should have done more. Their supervisors might have a meeting with them to discuss what could have been done different, or how the chance of it happening could have been further lowered. It's a counsellor's job to do all they can to stop disasters happening to the client within the industry guidelines, and to ensure the positive results of counselling persist after the sessions have ended. We are armed with tools that assist us in changing the situation -- or the person within the situation -- so the disaster is as unlikely as possible to occur. Our industry peers require us to take as many steps as we can, or they might question our future practice techniques.



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