Amy Eksteen

Mental Health Series Part 4

I aim to use this blog as a way to provide a platform for myself and my readers to openly talk about mental health. I therefore thought it would be a good idea to continue our ‘mental health series’ and discuss 10 common misconceptions about the counsellor and the counselling experience.
Last week we focused on 11 mental health professionals and their different scopes of practice. If you are interested in part 3 of this series, the full article is titled “Your go-to Counsellor guide”.

I believe that it is important to talk more freely about mental health and counselling as a whole in the hopes of destigmatising the idea of mental health care. So for today’s blog post, we will be discussing 10 misconceptions about the counsellor and the counselling process.

1) The counsellor leads the way: One of the first misconceptions people can have about the counsellor and the counselling experience is that the counsellor always leads the way and takes control. This can sometimes be true if necessary, but the counsellor can only provide direction through certain questions they ask, by initiating client goal setting and by having open and honest discussions with their clients. This is because one of the roles of the counsellor is to pick up on links and patterns that might be contributing to their clients current needs and concerns. The truth is that the counsellor can only match the amount of effort a client is willing to invest into their sessions. This essentially means that the client leads the way and is accompanied by their counsellor. As a team, client and counsellor walk through the clients mental health journey together, while the counsellor mainly provides support and encouragement through their insight, knowledge and experience.

2) Counsellors sit back and only listen: It is believed that counsellors usually only listen and ask questions along the lines of “and how does that make you feel?” during sessions. This is a misconception because even though counsellors do prioritise listening to their clients, the counselling experience mainly involves a lot of open and honest discussions, asking of questions, sharing of experiences, opinions and perspectives between client and counsellor. It is also believed that counsellors can’t help their clients if they haven’t gone through exactly what their clients have experienced/are experiencing. The truth is that counsellors can still empathise and support their clients through counselling.

3) The counsellor always has the answer: People think that by seeking counselling, their circumstances, the struggles that they may be facing or the questions they might have will all be figured out by their counsellor. The truth is that yes, the counselling experience can provide assistance, understanding and can answer some questions. This is because the role of the counsellor is to sometimes discover links and patterns of behaviour or provide basic insight into an individuals circumstances, but the counsellor doesn’t always have the answer. Counsellors also don’t always know what to say. Sometimes it is the client themselves who know their story and situation the best and therefore, with a little help, are able to realise the best answer or step to take for themselves. In other words, the clients do have the right answers for themselves, if they discover that answer or direction through the counselling experience or perhaps after.

4) Counsellors have their lives all worked out: Because counsellors are devoted to helping others overcome any obstacles they might face during their lives as well as offering support and direction to their clients, it is assumed that counsellors themselves have it all worked out. The truth is, counsellors don’t have it all worked out, especially not their own lives. Counsellors in fact face similar daily struggles their clients may be facing. Counsellors also need to take care of their own mental health and prioritise seeing a counsellor themselves. After all, we are all human.

5) Counsellors can read minds: I don’t know why, but whenever someone hears that an individual is studying psychology or is a mental health professional, it is almost always answered with “so can you tell what I’m thinking?”. All jokes aside, the truth is that counsellors simply cannot read minds. Yes, counsellors do have some insight into how humans behave because they’ve spent a lot of time studying human behaviour and emotions, but they definitely cannot read minds. And personally, if given the chance, I wouldn’t even choose that as my superpower. People who seek mental health services also fear that counsellors are doing things that they aren’t aware of during their sessions. The truth is that counsellors should prioritise a continous open and honest relationship with their clients.

6) Counsellors don’t need counselling: Like I said before, in number 4, it should be a priority for a counsellor to seek their own counsellor for their own mental health. Counsellors have their own struggles, concerns and circumstances from their personal lives that they might need help with, just like their clients. So yes, counsellors need lots and lots of counselling themselves.

7) Counselling is only meant for people who battle mental illness: The truth is that people who do have mental illnesses, seek counselling, but the counselling experience and working with a counsellor is meant for so much more than that. People seek counselling for all types of reasons including personal, emotional, career, occupational, academic, health, financial and even spiritual concerns.

8) Once my counsellor, always my counsellor: It is believed that once you see a particular counsellor, you have to stay with that counsellor. The truth is, if you don’t see eye-to-eye with your counsellor or don’t like the way they work, you are free to seek help from another counsellor that you might have a better connection with. Counsellors and clients don’t always get along. Clients have the freedom to seek help from different counsellors after each counselling experience or simply continue to see the same counsellor as they did before. Seeking counselling for more than one occasion, for the same reason or for a different concern, also doesn’t mean that you’re weak. A common misconception is that you can’t seek counselling after already seeking help. The truth is that you can seek the help of a counsellor as many times as you like. It is important for us to always be aware of and prioritise our mental health.

9) The counselling process takes too long: People often don’t seek counselling because it is believed that the counselling process takes too long. The truth is that it can take some time, but it varies for each individual. You might only see a counsellor for 1 session, or 4 or 10 sessions. It is in fact up to the client to decide when they would like to start and stop counselling, with the guidance of their counsellor of course. It can also be tricky to find the right mental health professional for the appropriate mental health care since each professional has a different scope of practice. It is however the responsibility of the professional to help and refer the client in need, as soon as possible, to the correct services.

10) Counsellors give advice: This is a misconception because majority of the time, counsellors do not offer advice. Counsellors give direction through discussing the benefits of various options available to their clients regarding their concerns, with the input of the client themselves. At the end of the day, the decision and choice lies with the client and counsellors can only help as much as they can by listening, empathising and by providing as much direction, support and encouragement as possible.

I hope this week’s blog post cleared up 10 common misconceptions about counsellors and the counselling experience.

For more information about the counselling experience, feel free to read the first two blog posts, part 1 and 2, of our mental health series titled “Counselling: the client’s perspective” and “Counselling: the counsellor’s perspective”.

Thank you for reading!

All my love xx