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Seeking counselling is a healthy and proactive way to manage life’s many challenges. It can give you more control over your life, help you to make better decisions, and significantly reduce stress and anxiety levels so you can overcome obstacles and develop into a healthier, more resilient person.

Unfortunately, because of the many misconceptions around professional counselling, people often hesitate before getting help. It is important to seek support before what is a challenge escalates into a crisis.

This section provides a comprehensive overview about counselling psychology, and how it can benefit individuals, couples, families and organisations. If you’d still like to learn more about counselling, there is also a Self Help Resources page that directs you to further information about this topic.

What is counselling psychology?

Counselling psychology is a broad specialisation within professional psychology. It integrates psychological principles with therapeutic process to help people improve their well-being, alleviate distress and maladjustment, resolve crises, and increase their ability to live more highly functioning lives. Counselling psychology is unique in its attention both to normal developmental issues and to problems associated with physical, emotional, and mental disorders.

What do counselling psychologists do?

Broadly speaking, counselling psychologists use psychological theories to help people overcome problems and realise their full potential. They assist individuals, couples, families and organisations to:

  • Manage stress and conflict at home and work
  • Deal with grief, loss and trauma
  • Overcome feelings of depression, anxiety and fear
  • Manage mental health problems
  • Deal with problems related to alcohol and drug use
  • Navigate career shifts
  • Cope with separation, divorce and remarriage
  • Resolve interpersonal work conflicts
  • Facilitate staff relationships
  • Manage staff with behavioural problems
  • Improve their transition between school, work and retirement
  • Manage physical disabilities, disease, or injury

While many counselling psychologists provide remediation, other career paths are also available such as research, teaching and vocational counselling.

Who do counselling psychologists work with?

Counselling psychologists work with four main categories of clients: individuals, couples, families and organisations. To learn more about how they work with each client group, see the respective sections of the website.

Where do counselling psychologists work?

Counselling psychologists practice in diverse settings. Some are employed in independent practices to provide counselling, assessment and consultation services to individuals, families, groups and organisations. Others are employed in schools and universities as teachers, supervisors, researchers and service providers. Counselling psychologists can also work in settings such as health care centres, family services, organisations, corporations, and private and public hospitals.

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Individual counselling aims to facilitate positive change by helping you deal with and overcome issues that are causing pain or making you feel uncomfortable. In most cases, you and your therapist will meet on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.  These sessions can provide a safe and regular space for you to talk about and explore difficult feelings, experiences, and behaviours.

Counselling psychologists work with individual clients of all ages such as children who have behavior problems; late adolescents with educational and career concerns or substance abuse problems; adults facing marital or family difficulties, career shifts or overcoming disabilities; older adults facing retirement. Counselling psychologists can also work with people dealing with a wide range of mental health issues. Counselling psychologists can help individuals to:

  • Manage stress and conflict at home and work
  • Deal with grief, loss and trauma
  • Overcome feelings of depression, anxiety and fear
  • Increase self-esteem and confidence
  • Enhance personal relationships
  • Deal with problems related to alcohol and drug use
  • Manage chronic pain
  • Recover from eating disorders
  • Manage obsessions and compulsions
  • Deal with sexual concerns
  • Manage anger or violence
  • Make significant life transitions with as much ease as possible
  • Clarify their career path
  • Cope with redundancy or work-related stress
  • Explore issues such as sexual identity

How can counselling help?

Counselling aims to help you overcome personal difficulties and work towards positive change. During your counselling sessions, you will be encouraged to talk about your feelings and emotions freely. This includes expressing difficult feelings such as anger, resentment, guilt and fear in a confidential environment.

Your therapist often does not give advice, but will help you to find your own insight and understanding of your problems. This process may involve talking about difficult or painful feelings and, as you begin to face them, it’s possible to feel worse in some ways. However, with the support of your therapist, you should gradually begin to feel better. The UK’s National Health Service maintains that in most cases, it takes a number of sessions before the counselling starts to make a difference, and a regular commitment is required to make the best use of the therapy.

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The breakdown of a relationship has enormous implications for you, your partner, and any children you might have. More often than not, it can also affect your wider family and social networks. Couples therapy, also called marriage counselling, focuses on helping couples recognise and resolve conflicts – with the aim of improving their relationships.  

Couples therapy is often short-term and many couples may benefit greatly from as few as 3 to 6 sessions. However, longer, more entrenched problems may take months or even years to resolve. Couples therapy typically includes both partners, but it is also possible for one partner to work with a therapist alone. The specific treatment plan depends on the particular situation.

When should partners seek couples therapy?

According to the British Psychological Society , research shows that healthy relationships may positively affect life expectancy, while disturbed relationships may increase the risk of mental and physical health problems, such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse.

Some factors that can indicate the need to seek couples therapy include:

  • When communication between partners has become negative or hostile
  • When either partner seriously considers having an affair, or one partner has had an affair
  • When the couple seem to be just occupying the same space, rather than sharing a relationship together 
  • When the couple agrees that there are relationship problems but do not know how to resolve their differences
  • When there is excessive jealousy present without reason
  • When relationship problems cause one spouse to become depressed, anxious, drink excessively, feel insecure, lose their self-esteem, or withdraw
  • When the only resolution appears to be separation
  • When a couple is staying together for the sake of the children
  • When a child is having serious problems and the parents disagree on how to handle the problem
  • While couples therapy might not be for everyone, it is certainly worth considering if you need that third-party moderator or just don’t know what else to do.

What to expect from couples therapy

Talking about your problems with a counsellor may be uncomfortable at first, and will certainly not be easy. However couples therapy is designed to aid you and your partner to build skills to solidify your relationship. These skills might include communicating openly, solving problems together and discussing differences rationally. This process will also help you pinpoint and better understand the sources of your conflicts.

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Family therapy is a type of counselling designed to help family members improve communication and resolve conflicts. Family therapy sessions can teach you skills to deepen family connections and cope better with the stresses and strains of family life, even after the therapy sessions have come to an end.

Family therapy typically brings several family members together for sessions. However, it is also possible for a family member to see a therapist individually. According to Mayo Clinic , family therapy is often short-term and generally lasts less than six months. However, your specific treatment plan will depend on your family's situation.

Reasons to seek family therapy

Family therapy can help you improve troubled relationships with your spouse, children, or other family members. Sometimes a personal problem, particularly in an adolescent, can overwhelm a family and there seems to be no clear way forward. At other times changes within the family leave other members confused and angry or hurt. Common reasons to seek counselling include:

  • Marital or financial problems
  • Conflict between parents and children, causing family members to feel isolated or overlooked
  • Effects of substance abuse or a mental illness on the entire family
  • Coping with separation, divorce or remarriage
  • Problems occurring in blended families
  • Issues faced by adolescents or older children, such as eating disorders or self-harm
  • Children leaving home

How can counselling help my family?

Family therapy can be useful in any family situation that causes stress, grief, anger or conflict. It can help you and your family members understand one another better and bring you closer together.

The first session can be a bit awkward or a bit argumentative, so don’t give up straight away if it seems to have also helped. Family therapy is designed to encourage you to pinpoint your specific challenges and how your family is handling them. Guided by your therapist, you'll learn new ways to interact and overcome unhealthy patterns of relating to each other. You may set individual and family goals and work on ways to achieve them. 

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Stress in the workplace is a widespread issue, and a good employer will put in place an effective support system and promote a positive work environment for employees. For many organisations, this includes making workplace counselling available to staff members to help them better manage their stress, personal issues or work-related problems. The counselling service should be confidential and carried out by someone suitably qualified. If your employer doesn't have a counsellor in-house, they may arrange for you to see an outside expert as part of an employee assistance program.

When should I get help?

Don’t wait until you burn out to speak to a counsellor. Good indicators of when you should seek counselling are when you're having difficulties at work, your ability to concentrate is diminished or when your level of pain becomes uncomfortable.

Seeking professional counselling becomes particularly important if you experience:

  • Sleep problems and exhaustion
  • Anger
  • Loss of appetite
  • Severe headaches
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Helplessness
  • Social isolation
  • Absenteeism
  • Using food, drugs or alcohol to cope

Workplace counsellors can offer help in addressing many situations that cause emotional stress, including, but not limited to:

  • Anxiety, depression, and other mental and emotional problems and disorders
  • Family and relationship issues
  • Workplace bullying and harassment
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Sexual abuse and domestic violence
  • Absenteeism
  • Career change and job stress
  • Social and emotional difficulties related to disability and illness
  • Adapting to life transitions
  • The death of a loved one

Benefits to the organisation

Unhappy workers and stressed-out managers can lead to slow growth, a decrease in productivity, and a negative work environment. When employees have positive attitudes towards their work and each other, the result is a more innovative, productive and successful organisation. Workplace counselling benefits organisations by:

  • Decreasing costs related to turnover, burnouts and absenteeism
  • Improving employee performance and therefore increasing productivity
  • Managing behavioural problems brought about by organisational changes
  • Equipping people with skills in managing themselves and thus enhancing personal growth of staff
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