Personal Journey of Counselling

- Article by Ms. Upasana Saraf (Head, Head HRD at Bombay Cambridge Gurukul)

As a counsellor, I have seen many people struggle with things – relationships, ethics, power, self-worth, achievement, communication – everything that is a part of the existence of the social animal, Man. So much of their confusion is man-made, generated by a demanding society, and so much of their real nature struggled to be free. Often, people fight with themselves and fight for the wrong, sacrificing themselves and their ideal in the process. Counselling or therapy can provide invaluable insights into this conflict, and clarify who the real enemy is. I share with you my personal experience of being in this process, and all the blocks, doubts, and learning that ensued.

1. If I see a counsellor, there is something wrong with me.
(The first time I decided to see a counsellor, I hoped no one would know. I wanted someone far from where I stay, someone who did not know anyone I did, and someone who already knew me as a worthy person. When selecting the person, I realized that the person needed to be skilled, very humane, and open to the person I really am. The reason why I wanted counselling was to review who I had become. With all the promises I had made to myself as a child, I needed to review whether I had kept them all or rationalized them in the guise of being ‘practical’. She was half my age, quite unconventional, and we had met at a conference.)
Not really. Sometimes, seeing a counsellor or undergoing therapy is a way of weeding out the unwanted or harmful elements in the garden of your life. As we live, we tend to accumulate a lot of faulty reactions, unnecessary emotional patterns, trivial annoyances, and misconceptions about ourselves and the world. A good washing is useful for anyone if they care about who they become.

2. They were asking a lot of personal questions.
(Why did she want to know about my family, my childhood, my relationships, and my sex life – it made me feel as though every area of incompetence was being scrutinized. Then I realized that if she had to help me, I had to help her too! These were uncomfortable areas precisely because I had not been handling them right.)
Counselling is the process of identifying blocks and effectively dealing with them. Personal questions help the counsellor to identify areas of blockage and help the client through it. If you are truly uncomfortable, state that to your counsellor and let them know you will share information when you are feeling more comfortable.

3. S/he uses terms that intimidate me.
(I felt in control because I knew all the terms being a counsellor myself. To my disappointment she didn’t use any of the terms, and gently corrected me when I tried to show off my knowledge. Her focus was entirely on being normal, natural and honest.)
It is true that some terminology can sound intimidating. While most counsellors take care to use language that is easy for the client to understand, it is also alright for you to tell them to use simpler language or to clarify terms when you ask them to.

4. I am only trying my best and she gave it some fancy sounding name!
(Whenever I tried to explain why I made some choices, she would listen carefully but did not over- or under-emphasize it. She also made it clear that I did not have to impress her or justify myself to her. I was exploring the path I had taken, and if there were any corrections to be made, I was free to make or not make them, depending on where I wanted to go. No pressure, no expectations.)
Well, ignore it. The diagnosis is helpful for the counsellor to provide effective interventions, but in no way does it aim to label the client. Most people who are trying to do their best, run into difficulties when they take it too far by making excessive demands of themselves or others, expecting perfection inappropriately, or placing inordinate importance on minor things.

5. She doesn’t say anything.
(I didn’t know what to start with, so I started with the present. I wondered if that is what she wanted to hear or would she stop me and redirect me. She always heard me out, and then shared what it seemed like to her. I found she was connecting seemingly unrelated areas of my life, and showing me the few simple patterns of thoughts that guided most of my actions. Our talk ratio would have been 80:20, but I found it strangely comforting to talk, knowing I would not be interrupted.)
The most important skill a counsellor uses is listening. It is important that she is understanding your interpretation of the events. When you talk, she is gaining an awareness of what is important to you, and how you view it. A counsellor will mostly ask questions, clarify what you are saying, or check about her understanding with you. S/he will talk when they need to, but it need not make you anxious.

6. Their advice is not practical.
(Nothing she said was practical. She told me none of the things that my friends and family would have said; instead she said all the things that my heart said to do. She was the voice of myself, my deepest values and convictions, and my unique nature that was hiding in a cloak of safety. And yet, she said nothing that could not be done, except I needed to reach deep into myself and pull out the essence that was me. The most useful piece of wisdom I got from her was – “don’t you have enough problems without taking on other people’s as well? Let them deal with their issues, and you get on with your life on your terms”. That was pretty much practical, I thought.)
Counsellors do not advice actually. A good counsellor will help you view your options, based on your capacities and aims, and then support your choices (unless they are particularly destructive!!). S/he will help you review the options, explore possible outcomes, and even help you rehearse. Sometimes we discuss with them our deepest wishes and ideals, which may not be practical, but maybe worth the risk.

7. They appear very superior and I feel very small.
(It felt like that till she brought up incidents in which she felt similar confusion, situations that remained unresolved, dilemmas that stayed unanswered – and helped me understand that we need to be flexible with ourselves. Answers need time, solutions cannot be generalized, and to know that we can only do the best with what we know in that moment. If we are learning continually, there will never be a time when we will be perfect.)
Counsellors are not superior beings; they are just normal people like any other professional. It’s not like they have answers for everything. They have studied human behaviour, but always respect the fact that each individual is a set of unique responses, and that there can be no generalization. Psychology states that the more superior a person behaves, the more inferior they actually feel.

8. If I tell them the truth about me, they will lose respect for me.
(Well, she knew all my truths, and by the end of the sessions, more than I knew them. She was both sympathetic and amused with my apprehensions. She wondered why I gave it so much importance, if I didn’t want other people to! She made me laugh at myself and all my presumptions, and I saw how disproportionately they had magnified in my mind.)
Many people have the fear that they will be looked down upon or laughed at. It might be useful to consider that everyone has problems, and most problems have the same base – low self-esteem, low risk taking, faulty coping patterns, and poor interpersonal skills. Needless to say, respect can only increase for those who identify and recognize that they can change what they want about themselves. Most counsellors develop a deep respect for their clients who face realities and learn to handle them. Counselling is a non-judgmental process, and accepts every aspect of the individual as part of his/her personality.

9. Why does it take so long!!
(When I began the sessions, I wasn’t quite prepared to set some deadlines on time, for I wanted it to take as long as it needed – I felt I had some very complex issues! When we started setting some targets about what I wanted to achieve at the end of the sessions, it gradually formed into an indicator about when the sessions would be over. The goals were amorphous, and their achievement was based on my report.)
It doesn’t really. If you consider the number of visits one makes to doctors for tests, diagnosis and treatment, it would be about the same. YOU are an important person and the time it takes to understand you should be worthy!

10. It’s very expensive!
(At some point, I hesitantly told my counsellor that she was not charging me appropriately. For all that I was getting, I think she was under-paid. We then agreed that I would buy her a book every month.)
If you put aside all the money you spend on buying trinkets to adorn your body, the money you spend on films and restaurants to make you feel good, the expenses of creating a rich ambience in your house – all of these are the same in building a healthy body, a peaceful mind, and a beautiful interior.