July 4, 2014, by Beth Dawson

Counselling Fact vs Fiction

By Diane Pikett, Careers Diagnostic Officer, Careers and Employability Service

Being skilled in the art of listening, empathetic and having unconditional positive regard for a client are essential characteristics of a good counsellor. However, due to factors such as the depiction of this occupation in pop culture, there are many misunderstandings about what counsellors are, what they do and who uses their services.

Fiction: ‘A counsellor is the same thing as a psychiatrist’

Fact: In everyday life, people you come across may use the terms psychotherapist, counsellor and psychiatrist interchangeably, however there are distinct differences between these roles.

Both counselling and psychotherapy are forms of ‘talking therapies’. They are both delivered by trained practitioners who must undergo in depth training before they can practise professionally. Counsellors and psychotherapists are both expected to engage in ‘experiential’ training, which can last four to six years if taken to postgraduate level, and gain considerable voluntary experience. They are both likely to deal with a range of clients, however psychotherapists are more likely to have a longer training period and specialise in a particular area, while counsellors may deal with more general issues.

Psychiatrists, on the other hand, study mental disorders and their diagnosis, management and prevention. They’re qualified doctors who have also qualified in psychiatry.

Fiction: ‘You’ll be dealing with the same thing day-in day-out’

Fact: There are a wide variety people with diverse needs who visit counsellors, many of whom get in contact because they’re experiencing difficulties with situations that occur in everyday life. This type of client seeks help from a counsellor to gain back control of their life. Counselling can provide empowerment and also enable them to view their problems from a clearer perspective, while those suffering from depression or anxiety are also benefited from this talking therapy.

The wide range of clients is reflected in the diverse sectors these positions are found in, including: education, law enforcement, health and social care and the sports industry.

Fiction: ‘Counsellors just sit there and say nothing’

Fact: Counsellors are proactive therapists who work with clients to identify issues and clarify perspectives. They’ll mentally challenge an individual and encourage them to explore their limiting beliefs and behaviours.

However, this doesn’t mean counsellors provide all the answers. They’ll interact with their client and may even offer direct suggestions or actions to resolve issues, but place an emphasis on the client working through their own issues.

Fiction: ‘Talking to a stranger won’t help’

Fact: Many people find it easier to open up to a complete stranger than to share their intimate concerns, worries and problems with loved ones. A counsellor has no vested interest in a client’s life or plans, and can therefore actively listen to whatever issues they voice. The ability to make a person feel safe and relaxed enough to share their worries is an essential skills for a counsellor, so if you’re a good listener with a desire to help people improve their quality of life, it may be worth looking into this career in more detail.

Want to find out more about counselling? Visit our social guidance and community work webpage to explore entry routes into this profession and the career itself. You can also book an appointment with a careers adviser through My Career, who can discuss this career choice with you.

Posted in Choosing Your Career