Counselling is a popular referral for people with anxiety and it’s a service that is in high demand, especially here in the UK. When I had my last counselling programme, the waiting time was about eight months. Eight months! I was fortunate that I already had a decent amount of knowledge on how to handle anxiety as I can’t imagine how awful it must be to have to wait that long when you feel helpless. Mental health issues are on the rise so it’s understandable that many people seek out counselling, but does it actually help in overcoming anxiety?
The concept of counselling is really to go through your emotions in order to help you understand them better and process them in a healthier way. Counsellors will never tell you what to do or even really give you advice. They are there to guide your thoughts and help you draw up conclusions. So that means in terms of dealing with the symptoms of your anxiety, counselling is unlikely to help. Cognitive behavioural therapy is more focused on tackling the behaviours associated with anxiety whereas counselling is focused on the emotions.
I have to be honest, for a long time I was sceptical about counselling as there wasn’t a clear reason why I suddenly had an anxiety disorder. I’ve always been honest with myself about what I’m feeling and can usually deduce why I’m feeling a certain way. However, I noticed something that counselling does help with and that is thought processes that are ingrained into you from early childhood.
Anxiety doesn’t usually come about for no reason and people who suffer with anxiety disorders usually have similar personality traits: non-confrontational, shy, low confidence, etc. Now those could just be personality traits, but there’s also a good chance that for one reason or another, you are conditioned to behave in a certain way. That’s not a bad thing, but counselling can help you uncover why those are accepted traits. That discovery comes with time though and through numerous conversations with your counsellor.
Finding the cause won’t necessarily help your anxiety disappear straight away but it does help you shift your way of thinking, which over time, can reduce anxiety. You learn to be more assertive and to pursue your wants rather than the wants of others. That is what can lead to overcoming anxiety, which is something that I didn’t realise until recently.
The purpose of counselling is to help a person work towards a more satisfying life and is supposed to help you gain insight both into yourself and others, increase self awareness, self acceptance and help you improve your problem-solving skills. The best part is, that the counsellor enables you to develop those skills through your own conclusions which means that once you stop going to the sessions, you are able to continue your self-improvement.
There is one major component that dictates whether the counselling is successful or not and that is whether you connect with your counsellor. This applies to most talking therapy; it only works if you and your therapist connect. It doesn’t have to be a deep connection but there has to be a clear understanding between one another. They need to understand you so that you can build your trust with them. They need to be able to take what you say, understand it and help guide your thoughts in a way to help deal with your emotions. If they don’t understand the way you think then they won’t be able to guide your thoughts; it would just be guess work.
People often find it hard to open up to strangers, which is completely understandable but if you resist, it means that the counselling won’t be effective or you won’t get to a good result by the end of the course. There are some counsellors that are private and you can continue seeing them as long as you like, but here in the UK, when you are referred to counselling, it is usually a limited number of sessions between six and twelve.
I have to be honest, I gained a lot from the last course of sessions I had. It didn’t feel related to anxiety at the time, but it enlightened me to thought processes that I wasn’t aware were even going on. For example, accepting that you ‘have to’ do certain things. Only when the counsellor asked why something was a must, did I realise that actually I couldn’t come up with why I felt I had to. That’s where counselling helped long after the session ended. I started to check in with certain thoughts and develop my assertiveness. At the time, it didn’t seem related to anxiety but actually it helped overcome it in some ways. I was able to put things that were important to me first, rather than trying to people please.
Counselling can help in your journey to overcoming anxiety, but more from the psychological aspect. It gives you a chance to talk about past events and understand better how it may have affected you. By understanding things, you can learn to challenge them and overcome obstacles that crop up. That’s not to say it’ll work for everyone, but be open-minded about it and if it doesn’t work the first time, don’t be worried about trying again.