Talking with a counsellor

Your therapist does not provide advice, but can help you talk through your problems without judging you. Remember, talking to someone doesn't make you a failure.

If you're considering talking to a counsellor it's important to remember:

Counselling is not psychiatry

Counselling and therapy are different from psychiatry. Psychiatrists have a medical background and can assess whether or not you have a recognised clinical condition. If so, they can organise the best treatment and support for that condition, which could involve specialist therapy with or without help from medication. Your psychiatrist may continue to support you while you are receiving this therapy in order to review how you are doing and may also liaise with your therapist if this is thought to be helpful.

Alcohol is not a long-term solution

Alcohol is very useful for enhancing a positive mood or a pleasant occasion. Sometimes a drink might seem to revive flagging spirits and help you relax, but alcohol ultimately doesn't solve anything and might even make matters worse because of its tendency to cause depression and other problems.

    Say what's on your mind

    You can talk to your counsellor or therapist about anything that is troubling you or causing you emotional/psychological distress.

    Just try to say whatever is on your mind and how you feel about it. Sometimes there is silence; sometimes you might find yourself saying things you had not expected to say. The sessions are long enough for you to return to the different areas until you are happy that you have expressed what you are really thinking and feeling.

    Counsellors and therapists don't give advice, since the purpose of psychological support is to help you make your own choices and decisions. The therapist will never make a moral decision about the course of action you ought to take. They may sum up what they understand you have been saying in order to help you move on and form a plan of action.

    Many therapists come into the work because of their experience of successfully resolving personal problems through therapy. All will have had their own experience of being a client. Therefore, although the counsellor may not have experienced the particular problem which you bring, they will all have had experience of being in distress and of seeking therapeutic help from another person.

    You will not be judged, shamed or labelled

    Counselling and therapy is based on the belief that most of us naturally strive to make the best use of ourselves and our circumstances. When something goes wrong, it is usually because we are pushing ourselves too hard, because we are in a muddle for reasons we don't fully understand, or because we are actually suffering some form of mental distress which is distorting our view of reality. We therefore do not judge you, but rather try to understand and support you.

    It is natural to want to be successful and to feel shame when things go wrong in our lives. It is not uncommon to feel reluctant to talk about our problems. This is one of the reasons we place a great emphasis on confidentiality.

    Also, seeing a counsellor or therapist doesn't mean that you are ill. However, where there are symptoms of an illness, such as depression or anxiety, therapy can be helpful. Your therapist will not treat you as a sick person, but rather as someone going through a bad time.

    You are not a failure

    Many people think that they are being strong in not seeking help whereas in fact those who can admit to their difficulties could be considered the strong ones. Seeking psychological support often means you have taken the first step on the road to resolving the problem.

    Of course there are other ways you can help yourself. Counselling and therapy is just one way. However, it doesn't need to be an either/or situation. Therapy is a resource for when you need extra help.

    Anything you say is strictly confidential

    Everything you say is kept confidential within the Student Psychological and Counselling Services unless there is clear evidence that you are at risk of harming yourself or someone else. Our counsellors and therapists work to a strict Code of Ethics which means they must inform you of the limits of confidentiality and then stick to these.

    Students generally find the level of confidentiality more than adequate. If your therapist speaks to others, it will usually be with your consent, i.e., to support you in an application for extenuating circumstances. Disclosures made without your consent are extremely rare and are usually because you or others are at risk of harm. However, if you are worried about the implications of any breach of confidentiality you may wish to:

    • Speak to a counsellor in general terms first in order to see how their Code of Ethics may apply to your particular situation.
    • Get yourself anonymous help through a telephone help-line, i.e., Nightline or Samaritans.

    Find out more about support available from external organisations