I've recently been thinking about the days before lockdown, when socialising face-to-face was ‘the norm’. Some new acquaintances would ask: ‘What do you do?’ I noticed how often I was misheard when I replied: ‘I’m a counsellor’, even on repetition. When I succeeded in making myself heard, I’d be met with one of four responses: curiosity, enthusiasm, a request for advice or simply nothing at all – a non-response.
It was the non-response that intrigued me.
It seems that some people flounder at the mention of counselling. They simply don’t know how to respond.
From where I stand, counselling doesn’t appear to be understood as readily as some helping professions – the medical profession or teaching, for example. Whilst there are many documentaries and popular TV shows about A&E departments, GPs, midwives, veterinarians, vicarages or parish priests, and schools, it’s rare to see a programme about the day-to-day routine of a psychotherapist. Hospitals and schools are familiar to most of us but the same cannot be said of counselling practice rooms.
We are forced to resign ourselves to the limitations of privacy and confidentiality within medicine. Whilst it may not feel appropriate to openly discuss a recent medical procedure in public, we allow it to happen, at our GP or hospital reception. And some of us have no qualms about sharing such confidential information with family or acquaintances. But our approach to counselling is quite different. We keep this close to our chests. Understandably so, for what could be more personal than our innermost thoughts and feelings?
Whenever we speak with a counsellor, we do so in private and in confidence.
Whenever we speak with a counsellor, we do so in private and in confidence. Privacy and confidentiality being vital to the counselling relationship, in helping to build trust and establish an alliance that allows us to freely explore difficulties, without judgement, so that we can come to our own conclusions and initiate change.
Perhaps the need for privacy and confidentiality in counselling creates an air of mystery. But what if the non-response or the inclination to avoid discussing counselling is more about the stigma surrounding mental health? How then do we get past this?
We are now half-way through Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. The Mental Health Awareness Foundation has been organising events to mark UK Mental Health Awareness Week since 2001, to raise awareness about mental health and associated difficulties. Children’s Mental Health Week took place earlier in the year from 3rd to 9th of February. World Suicide Prevention Day is 10th of September. World Mental Health Day is 10th October.
So let’s keep responding
It seems that we are talking about mental health more than ever before. So let’s keep responding. Let’s share our knowledge and experiences, if we can, so that we can all have a better understanding of how counselling works, and how to access help when we need it.
The following links may be helpful: