What kind of counselling is right for me?

There are lots of different ideas about what people need when they come to counselling. In my experience there are some things which seem helpful to most people. Some of these are:

  • A respectful and safe relationship where you feel equal, not less than, the counsellor.
  • An opportunity to talk about what is bothering you and feel clearer about the problem and possible solutions.
  • A chance to become clear about your values, needs, preferences and choices.
  • Opportunity to explore life issues such as managing ongoing health problems, facing difficult life changes and choices such as separation and divorce, parenting and step-parenting, finding a career or job that’s right for you and creating a balanced life (especially useful for stressful times).
  • Gaining information – often called “psycho-education”- about the kind of problem or issue you are having and what other people think about it and find helpful.

Counselling therapies help with learning new skills and strategies to manage common problems. These might include: communication and assertiveness skills; boundary skills (often called holding others accountable to respectful and helpful behavior); social and emotional skills (how to understand and let others know about the ways you feel; how to get the best out of others); thinking skills; problem-solving skills, emotional management and self-management skills, self-acceptance, self-worth and self-esteem building skills, awareness and reflective skills , skills and strategies for managing extreme behavior, moods and feelings, grief and loss management skills, and many more. While many therapies have similarities, each one is different enough to be helpful to a variety of people. If you’re not sure which one is right for you, talk to a counsellor. Many counsellors are happy to have a chat with you (no fee attached) to help you decide what fits your needs.

The following information is provided as a guide to the different ways in which your counsellor can work. Good news is – you get to choose which approach is right for you. Don’t be put off by the word “therapy” – it’s just a word meaning a theory or someone’s idea of one way to understand or describe a problem and put it right. I describe each therapy “in a nutshell” meaning just the basics.

Positive Psychology in a Nutshell:

For a long time psychology focused on understanding what was wrong with people. Then some pretty smart thinkers had the bright idea of figuring out what happy people do to be that way. Dr Martin Seligman boiled this down to 5 principles – PERMA. Each letter describes a different element of what helps people to feel good about themselves and life: Positive emotions (there are many ways to create these); Engagement (with activities that inspire and interest you); Relationships (and how to manage these well); Meaning (we are all capable of living meaningful lives from our values); Accomplishment , which is not the same thing as achievement it’s not about competing or being the best-simply being YOUR best and enjoying reaching YOUR goals). It’s a makes-sense theory and simple to understand. This therapy might help you if feeling good about yourself is a problem – or feeling good about anything seems out of reach.

Strengths-based Therapy in a Nutshell:

Everyone has strengths, but many of us need help to see what these are. Finding strengths and resources can be a key to changing things so that we’re able to see and gain our preferred life from our best self. Sometimes we get the message that only a professional or an expert can fix things. Spoiler alert- you are the expert on you, and with a little guidance you can be off on a journey toward a destination you want to reach. The counsellor’s skill in careful listening and clarifying problems and your ideal solutions is central to this therapeutic approach.Practical and easy to apply, strengths-based therapy provides problem-solving skills and new ways of understanding yourself, your aspirations and your dreams.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy in a Nutshell:

The empirically-verifiable gold standard for mood disorders, CBT is sometimes given a bad rap, perhaps because one size definitely does not fit all of the people, all of the time. That said, there are good reasons why many people find it helpful. CBT helps people to see and change unwanted patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. It’s practical and immediate change is possible. My tip: find a good practitioner who does a little more than hand out exercises and can explain clearly so you can understand the CBT process. CBT puts you in charge of the process of change, and comes with a toolbox of practical ideas, sometimes called “mind tools”, that you can experiment with to see what’s right for you. That way you can choose to do what works for you. CBT is proven to work with depression, anxiety, anger, irrational fears and phobias, substance misuse problems, eating problems, relationship counselling and understanding and changing the behavior of children and teens. Best of all – there are so many books and worksheets out there on the internet that you might be able to do this therapy with just a little help or by yourself! Try: https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/ or https://www.beyondblue.org.au/about-us/who-we-are-and-what-we-do

ACT Therapy in a Nutshell:

More than re-worked CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy), ACT teaches principles of flexible thinking. Rather than identifying your thoughts and arguing with them, skills and strategies for noticing and accepting difficult feelings and the unfairness of life, choosing a course of action and taking action (building a workable plan to navigate the course and achieve your wanted outcome or goal).ACT and life will change! ACT therapy is helpful for managing stress, working out priorities based on your values, and putting together a workable plan to get you out of what you don’t want and into your ideal life. Anxiety, depression, self-harm, relationship problems and self-esteem problems are often helped with ACT.

Grief and Loss Therapy in a Nutshell:

Grief can be prolonged, postponed, normal, complicated, absent, anticipatory, delayed, disenfranchised, suppressed or uncomplicated (whew, quite a list). Grief is not generally thought of as a mental illness, but as a process of adjusting to a significant change. Without specialist help, and given time, grief and loss will often resolve by itself. If it does not, the emotional power of grief can result in relationship difficulties, a sense of being helpless and stuck, and often a feeling of loneliness. To overcome unresolved grief, a counsellor can help you to identify the stuck point in your grieving, allow you to tell your grief story; support to you to fully express feelings and monitor physical health and wellbeing, especially in early loss stages. There are several different ways of helping you to manage grief, most counsellors will have a favourite, many counsellors will choose from a range of therapies that meet your needs and preferences. For example, some people don’t want to talk and appreciate ideas that help them to manage the grief and continue on in daily life. Others need a way of talking things through to make sense of difficult feelings and unfinished business. Everyone needs support. And that is what counsellors are good at – being the right support for you when you need it most.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) in a Nutshell:

Emotions can be overwhelming for any of us, and for some of us life is a constant battle with intense feelings. Feelings can be friends, but can also cause us to feel torn, confused and overwhelmed. Making choices can seem impossible, and we flip and flop between one thing and another. DBT gives step by step skills to name, claim and tame the beast within – our feelings. This theory is useful for those who struggle with eating disorders, self-harm, changeable moods (a mood is a complicated mix of feelings); feeling overwhelmed and feeling just plain helpless. Tools for understanding yourself and making sense of the way others behave are standard issue in the DBT toolkit.

Trauma-Informed Therapies in a Nutshell:

My favourite area of theory and practice – perhaps because I’ve had a lot of help with trauma myself (check out the separate fact sheet on Trauma Informed Counselling). I’ve borrowed some of the following from Blue Knot Foundation

Trauma-informed counselling means working with adult survivors of childhood trauma and abuse in a safe, empowering, collaborative and respectful way. These priorities go a long way to help trauma survivors to feel safe enough to trust, and safe enough to explore feelings, hopes and needs. Trauma informed means it’s not about what’s wrong with you; it’s about honouring the strength, courage and determination it has taken to survive. Symptoms (or post-trauma changes) – are thought about as adaptations or adjustments we make to survive abusive and hostile childhood experiences. Trauma-informed counsellors are trained and equipped provide safety, establish a trusting relationship (often by being a trustworthy and reliable person) and to see what some people call “maladaptive behavior” as the work of a smart mind that made survival possible. Talking about “what happened” (the trauma) only happens WHEN the survivor is ready and IF the survivor wants to. Trauma-informed counsellors often work as part of a team, are mindful of keeping up to date with recent research, and often have keen self-and-other awareness skills which help with insight and understanding.  We also know how to keep things safe. There are registries listing trauma-informed counsellors – in addition to the Blue Knot Foundation, try https://www.traumasupport.com.au

This brings me to the end of our Therapies page – give me a call if I can help you further, or if you want to find out more about the therapies listed.

Thanks for reading and all the very best with choosing a therapy!


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