Can counselling work for everyone?

This week I received an email from a woman asking whether I believed counselling can work for everyone. She wrote that she’d tried therapy, a few times, and found it ineffective in helping her unpick her own feelings.

Throughout her email I picked up on a tone of sadness and frustration. The type we’re all prone to, when the thing being hailed as as a universal panacea proves useless for us.

It probably goes without saying that as a trained counsellor, I truly believe in the power of talking therapies. I have seen clients start their counselling journey feeling confused, lost and overwhelmed and then, within one or two sessions, they find clarity, focus, and even a potential way forward. In my personal life, I’m often found on the other side of the counselling couch too. My own therapist has helped me immeasurably. I’m more balanced, less brittle and better able to manage the mountains and valleys of life, because of him.

But the answer to the question can counselling work for everyone, is no. Nothing ever does. Although there is a large body of evidence highlighting the benefits of counselling, there will always be people for whom it does nothing. One size fits all isn’t real. Neither for clothes nor counselling.

Accept what doesn’t work and find what does

Personally, however I hard I try, I’m unable to reap the benefits of controlled breathing. I’m always better off leaving my breathing to my unconscious. If I’m forced to focus on it, I instantly feel panicky, suffocated and tense. Likewise, if counselling doesn’t work for you it’s disappointing but it’s not the end of the road. There are many other, often cheaper, ways to support your mental health.

Journaling, long walks, dancing and wild swimming have all been scientifically proven to increase mood and wellbeing. Counselling is not the only cure. Plus it’s worth remembering that how we choose to heal in the west isn’t universal across countries and cultures. In her book Unspeakable, Harriet Shawcross shines a light on people and places where talking is not the go-to cure for trauma.

She writes, “The idea of sitting alone in a darkened room was incomprehensible to the Rwandans; to recover you needed to be outside in bright sunshine and with the community. The idea of being separated from others and forced to talk about what had happened to you, alone in a dingy little room, was believed to be profoundly damaging.”

So, if counselling doesn’t work for you, don’t despair. You’re not alone, and there are numerous other paths to finding your peace.

If you’re happy to share your own experiences of what worked aside from counselling, then I’d love to hear from you. To share your wisdom, simply comment below.

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