What is counselling and what therapy do I choose?
Before I became a counsellor and looked for my own therapist, I was so confused by all the different modalities and what they meant. What therapy do I need? What will actually help me in my journey?
In setting up my own business, one of my friends looked over my website and questioned “But what does it mean?”. Good point. What does it all mean to someone who hasn’t trained as a counsellor and psychotherapist? What separates Person Centred Approach from Gestalt and Psychodynamic from Psychosynthesis and where does CBT fit into all of this?
Let’s look at PCA or Person Centred Approach counselling. This therapy was coined by Carl Rogers, an American Psychologist and therapist. His work was pioneering in that it was more aimed at a humanistic way of working with the clients, rather than an analytical way. He believed that people were their own governors and the counsellor was “non-directive” in the sessions, allowing the client autonomy and empowering them to take responsibility for their own inner resources and ability to change, rather than it being directed by the therapist’s decisions. The whole focus of PCA sessions is around the client, their needs, and for the therapist to show an empathic, non-judgemental and honest approach to the client.
What can you expect from a PCA session? The counsellor will listen and respond to you, allowing themselves to see things from your perspective with warmth and a genuine interest in you, as a person. The aim of PCA is to allow you to find self-actualisation, which is that point where you are living life with a real concept of who you are, instead of through the lens’ of others judgements and beliefs. A PC counsellor won’t tell you what to do. They will allow you to discover this yourself, through exploration of self concept, allowing you to shed those outdated views you hold about yourself based on past experiences. If you want a counsellor who will walk beside you on your journey and show that they care and believe that you are an awesome human, PCA may be for you.
The Gestalt approach to therapy is more holistic, working with the person as a whole, mind, body and soul. Gestalt aims to allow the client to discover and explore their own wholeness, way of being and who they are. It focuses on the here and now- what are you thinking, feeling, doing right now, in the therapy room. What is your body trying to say? Gestalt is a German word which roughly translates to “Put together” and Gestalt therapy is all about looking at all parts of the self and the whole of the self. It focuses on what is happening, rather than what has happened and to bring this awareness to the client. A Gestalt counsellor will be fully present to what is going on for the client and help raise awareness of what is happening for the client with their thoughts, behaviours and feelings, both physical and emotional. It also helps bring awareness to the client on their own interactions with others and behaviours and the impact these have on their lives. Awareness is the key in Gestalt therapy. Bringing that into light how we are, who we are, how we live and how we relate to the world around. Through this awareness we can begin to see reality in the present and make informed choices to change.
Psychodynamic models of counselling look at our inner worlds, our unconscious self and how this is a powerful force that can influence how we think, feel and behave. This inner world consists of memories, fantasies and beliefs that are partly conscious, meaning we have some awareness of its presence, but mostly unconscious, meaning that they are hidden from us. Psychodynamic can bring awareness of the unconscious through symbols, signs and through dreams, allowing us to gain access to that which is hidden. The aim of a Psychodynamic approach is to bring the unconscious into awareness and allow the client to understand their behaviours and motivations, bringing freedom and choice in their actions. It focuses on the past and allows exploration of events and how they have shaped our thoughts and behaviours, our view of the world around us. It looks at how your unconscious thoughts and perceptions that you gather from childhood experiences affects the here and now and aims to promote understanding which can bring about change. It’s basically giving awareness to what is going on beneath the surface, your inner self, and bringing that forward in order for you to understand your relationships with others, the world and yourself.
Psychosynthesis is something that cannot be easily described yet it seems so simple. The self. The inner teacher, the deep self, the creative receptacle. The soul. Our essence. Saying this, some people may feel a new age vibe creeping in and immediately turn off from this and some may feel into it and think, hmm, this sounds interesting. It isn’t about new age hippydom. It isn’t about crystals and ESP and psychic awareness. It’s about depth. Depth of who you are, your passions, your connection to your own wonderful being. Your being. Not your doing. It’s about faith but not religion. It is divine and taps into the collective unconscious that we all share, that knowing. Our connection to- well, everything! Psychosynthesis is guided by intuition. Not as an extra sensory perception, but as an inbuilt system we all have that supports us in our journey toward wholeness. Not that we aren’t whole already, because we are. We aren’t half of something, or a fraction of a self. We are whole. Whole yet made of many parts of self, those sub -personalities and archetypes of life. It shows us we have parts of self are parental, some are of the inner child, the wise parts of ourselves. The foolish. Understanding this and these different roles our psyche holds can give us greater understanding of our behaviours and thoughts, allowing them to integrate back to source with acceptance. psychosynthesis and working with transpersonal therapies allows us to open our eyes to what is, to what may be.
CBT is different from the named therapies above as it is more of a solution focused intervention, rather than counselling. CBT, cognitive behavioural therapy, is widely used by psychological services within the NHS. Not because of it’s effectiveness so much but because it can be evaluated. In such a target driven organisation, it looks good on paper. Is it effective though?
This really depends on what you need and how well you can engage with the activities. You will have to be prepared to put in the work outside of the sessions and do the “homework” that you agree to work towards.
CBT works by looking at your negative thoughts, how this makes you feel and what behaviours arise from these. It then looks to challenge these negative thoughts, influencing your behaviour and breaking that cycle of negative patterns. It works well if you are in a space to be able to rationalise what is going on for you. If you are looking for a therapy that is more in tune with self exploration and having a therapist who empathises and listens to your needs, it may not be for you. That’s not to say that it can’t be incorporated successfully into a counselling session
Which one is right for me?
Studies have shown that no matter what form of therapy a counsellor may choose, the most important factor to client growth is the relationship between the therapist and the client.
Meet potential therapists, talk with them. Use your intuition to feel if they are right for you, or not. Most therapists will insist on a minimum of 6 initial sessions. If it isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to find another therapist after your minimum session. Don’t stick it out further than you need to if the sessions aren’t sitting with you right and talk to your counsellor about it. The chances are that they will be empathic towards your needs and they may know of another counsellor that they feel would suit you and your needs better.
I hope you have found this useful in explaining some of the different types of therapy available.
If you would like more information on the different types of therapies, please visit the BACP, British Association of Counselling and Psycho website: