Two people in a room; one talking and the other just nodding and listening?
Films have a lot to answer for, and for me that image conveys nothing of the aliveness of the relationship that counselling offers.
For instance, when was the last time that a friend or someone in your family really listened to your experience, without confusing it or comparing it with their own?
The real trick of counselling is that it creates the circumstances that mean you can fully be yourself. By providing relational sounding boards and mirrors it allows you to see and hear the self you are in this moment. Sometimes someone else can see you changing when you can’t see it yourself.
Most people emerge from experiences of counselling feeling better than they did at the start, more able to function and on a positive trajectory in terms of their mental health, but the chances of this are much increased if they can come along with some openness to the process, some belief it could help in some way. This is one of the reasons we ask people to refer themselves, rather than being required to come: they need just a tiny bit of belief, and it can be just tiny.
The other surprise to some is that counselling is not just about two people in a room, in fact increasingly this is less and less so. The Student Counselling Service now offers about 300 students direct support each week and whilst some of them will be in individual appointments, most of these are either initial assessments to establish the best pattern of care for someone, one off follow ups to these meetings to support a person’s self help, 20 minute initial meetings to establish support choices, or 20 minute ‘Drop ins’ to offer immediate triage and signposting to support, or to help keep them on track with ‘Beating the Blues’ (our online CBT support programme). Even our regular sessions tend to be for fewer than 6 weeks.
Over 100 of the total seen are accessing our regular closed groups or coming just this week to an open group, or attending one of our workshops. And that’s without keeping a count of the number of people who use our resource library and website self help pages.
Because of the range of what we offer we registered over 1600 students last academic year, and so far this year we are experiencing a 20% increase on that. We can’t work with everyone but we have a number of useful contacts in the wider community of Bristol, so that no one needs to feel alone with their concerns.
And just one little plug for group work. If counselling helps you see aspects of yourself you can’t yet see , imagine what it might feel like if other students just like you provided the sounding board, or if someone in the group told a story that made you feel you were not the only one struggling with similar things. It is a powerful moment, and every group sees it, when someone says, ‘it’s such a relief…I thought it was just me’.