Me and my therapist – how can a therapeutic relationship help me?

June 6, 2017

strong relationshipA relationship can be defined as the way in which you connect and engage with other people. Relationships can take many forms – from the shopkeeper you exchange pleasantries with whilst making your purchase, to your next door neighbour; they don’t have to revolve around family ties or love.

That’s why it is important to consider the relationship you will have with your counsellor or therapist.

You’ve probably thought about it so far as the same as a doctor/patient relationship – you turn up for your sessions, they deliver the counselling, and you start to feel better. Not only could this way of thinking be further from the truth – it could actually be preventing any real progress being made in terms of recovering from your anxiety, or depression.

So what is a therapeutic relationship, and why does it matter so much?

When you are around people that you trust, you can truly be yourself and aren’t afraid to open up, or feel the need to hide things. Sometimes, anxiety and depression can prevent us from feeling that way with anyone – which is why we might turn to counselling.

In truth, trust can be a difficult concept for many people. How you were raised can impact on your ability to connect with other people, if you didn’t experience being loved for yourself and were reliant on others for validation. Or perhaps everyone you’ve trusted has let you down in some way and you can no longer allow yourself to get hurt like that again.

Your past experiences can impact on your ability to form connections and relationships in the present.

So the idea of forming a relationship with a stranger can be difficult to grasp, but the ‘bond’ that develops between you and your therapist, is one of the most powerful tools in making the changes you want to see.

How you connect and engage with your therapist is the ‘relationship’. As you get to know each other better and trust starts to develop, the relationship will strengthen – enabling you to address your issues and concerns in an easier and different way than you could before.

You’ll feel able to drop the mask, stop ‘acting’ and feel safe to challenge that vicious circle of negative thoughts and actions.

In truth, the relationship is crucial to the therapy process and getting you to where you want to be, but it has to be seen as an equal power exchange – an alliance, between you and your therapist. Counselling and therapy isn’t ‘top down’ treatment, where you do what you’re told and you’ll start feeling better, unlike conventional western medicine which is exactly that!

Therapy can be about finding the answers together with your therapist and finding a way to act on them.

Using the relationship you’ll develop with your therapist, you’ll be able to be your authentic self in a safe environment. Enabling you to try new ways of thinking, relating to others, and sharing your thoughts with someone impartial and genuinely interested in helping you.

So it is important that you find the right therapist for you – and that means you may need to visit more than one for a consultation. Again, this goes against everything we understand of health care today – you visit a doctor and they tell you what to do. Counselling and therapy is very different, and because the relationship you’ll develop is so important, taking the time to get things started right is crucial.

therapy roomCounsellors, and therapists, all have different ways of working. For example, I work from a relational therapeutic style – so you can expect me to react to what you say, and actually be engaged with you throughout the session with the aim that your emotional well-being and capacity is enhanced. The best way to decide what will work best for you, is to visit as many counsellors and therapists as you can – ask them lots of questions, see how they react to you, what’s your gut instinct telling you?

Dealing with difficult emotions or traumatic memories can be easier with an objective therapist.

You may have heard about transference in therapy – possibly from film or TV. Rather than a stereotyped Hollywood portrayal of a patient falling head over heels in love with their therapist, transference occurs without the client being aware. It’s an unconscious process, beyond our control, where issues we have with others are transferred to the therapist.

Transference can be a very positive process within therapy, as it enables you to challenge and address the issues without affecting your relationship with the person concerned. For example, if you hold anger towards your mother for a painful childhood, this can be transferred to the therapist. Though you might not be aware it’s happening, your therapist will be able to use the transference to respond or challenge what you are saying – or even point out what’s being said and how that relates to your past experiences. This enables you to process the anger and pain in a safe and controlled way.

As with any good relationship – consistency is important.

therapy diaryIt’s called continuity of care, but essentially it means attending sessions regularly. Unlike the NHS where cancelled and re-arranged appointments can seem to be the norm, counselling sessions are usually at the same time every week. Your therapist will have blocked that time off from their diary for weeks if not months ahead.

Whilst having a weekly routine of being able to discuss issues on a set day works well, this may mean that you’ll keep hold of issues that are bothering you until your next counselling session. If you were unable to attend that session you could be holding on to them for a lot longer. This could impact on any progress you had made and affect the therapeutic relationship.

All relationships can be difficult, and you will find the therapeutic one no different at times.

However, it is a relationship that you can change and use for your own benefit. It’s a practice model for how you want to be able to engage with the people around you, without any of the issues, bias or history attached to it.

the therapeutic relationshipThe key differences you’ll find with a therapeutic relationship is that it is objective. How we see others is coloured by our own experiences and perspectives, we lack objectivity when dealing with other people. A relationship with a counsellor or therapist is designed to be challenging – to pick apart those perspectives and why you see people a certain way, often through the therapeutic relationship itself.

The other side to that is that you’ll find the relationship to be an empathic one. Your therapist is there for you. Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of others. Loved ones and friends can find it difficult to be empathic because how they respond to you is often determined by their experiences and perspectives. A therapist has no pre-conceived ideas about you, enabling you to talk about things openly and safely.

Though it’s important to understand that you will be challenged by your therapist as part of your relationship; although empathic, your therapist isn’t there to be a sounding board and reinforce your negative beliefs.

Don’t worry, challenging isn’t about being confrontational and aggressive towards you. It’s actually a way of supporting you effectively through picking up on how you describe things and people affecting you. For example, “I always hate that” , “I am hopeless at” might be challenged. Do you really mean ‘always’? Effective and empathic challenge enables you to develop your thought processes and move on from what’s affecting you.

Finding the right therapist to build a rapport and strong relationship with is the key to counselling or therapy being successful in addressing your problems.

counsellor Claire ScottYou need to feel safe, secure and that there is an empathic rapport that can be built on to enable effective challenge and support.
To arrange your initial consultation and discover if I’m the right therapist for you, get in touch with me today at: or use the Contact Page.

Due to the Covid19 pandemic, Claire is currently working online. If you are curious about online therapy, take a look at the Online Therapy blog here.

When is the right time to see a counsellor?

December 6, 2016

clock-1274699_1280Something I’ve noticed as a counsellor is that too often people struggle on with their problems for longer than they need to before getting help. Often this is because they see counselling or therapy as a sign of weakness. Yet so many of my clients tell me they wish they’d started visiting me earlier than they did.

So when is the right time to try counselling?

If you’re reading this then probably now. Ok, that might sound a little presumptive but you have to want to start counselling or therapy for it to work. If you’re being pushed into by friends, family or even your employer and you don’t like the idea… it’s not going to be as beneficial to you. Counselling is a process that is led by you – you need to be wanting to make changes in your life for us to work together to figure out how, and what’s been stopping you. So if you’re looking at blogs and websites now is probably a good time to get started.

Some people are put off going to a professional because they have someone close to them that they talk to – why pay someone to do that? It’s important to distinguish between how a counsellor can help you, over that of a friend or loved one. The value of talking to someone close to you can never be underestimated, they know you best after all! But often that is the very reason why you need to talk to someone else.

A counsellor has the emotional expertise and experience to be able to help you navigate through your difficulties and find your way again

Rather than talking about the issues counselling can help with, let’s look at how counselling has helped Marie (fictional representation of a past patient).

ball-407081_1920Marie had been experiencing low moods for quite a while and getting easily irritated over the smallest of things. This had started to develop into anxiety and depression and Marie was struggling to find ways to cope. She’d tried talking to her friends but they couldn’t understand why she wasn’t happy. Feeling increasingly cut off, Marie knew she needed to talk to someone who could help.

Marie started attending weekly counselling sessions where she found it helpful having someone to talk to who had no pre-conceived ideas or judgements about her life. She was able to voice her thoughts and concerns in a way that she couldn’t with anyone else.

With a friendly and objective ear to talk to, Marie began figuring out the causes of her problems with some gentle guidance. Once she’d considered the best ways of addressing them and started to take action, she began to feel much happier.

Sometimes friends want to offer their viewpoint and ‘fix’ the problem for you, but a counsellor is there to ensure that the decisions you make are the right ones for you. It’s because they don’t have any vested interests that they can be completely objective and offer a balanced perspective.

Counselling isn’t a quick fix, but it does help in reaching long lasting solutions

suitcase-1412996_1920Marie’s problems aren’t uncommon, and it’s certainly not a sign of weakness turning to a counsellor to help with them. It’s a way of taking back control and working things out for yourself, enabling you to make lasting changes in how you approach life and its challenges.
So let’s look at Marie’s problems in a little more detail, and how counselling helped with them.

Low mood

A low mood every now and then is a regular part of life but Marie was consistently feeling low and just couldn’t find a way to get herself out of it. She was starting to feel incredibly anxious and found herself slipping into depression. Marie said she was easily irritated by anything and would often fly off the handle at the smallest thing – she felt out of control.

In counselling we were able to create a safe environment for Marie to talk through her thoughts and feelings. As is often the case, Marie felt out of control of her emotions due to suppressing them for too long. So we talked through some of the important life events that had affected her in the past and how she could move on from them, and found some coping mechanisms she could use to help with any difficulties in the future.

child-1051288_1920We often don’t realise just how much past experiences can affect us in the here and now, and talking them through can be extremely difficult. Being able to make the connections between the problems you are finding challenging to cope with today and what you have found difficult in the past, can help you identify potential challenges early enough to be able to put coping mechanisms and strategies in place before they can become an issue.

Counselling is a cathartic process that can be a real eye opener enabling you to move on from what has been holding you back. 

No one listens anymore

Marie said she found it increasingly difficult to find friends she could talk to. Few of them could understand why she wasn’t happy and she couldn’t keep turning to the ones that did. Marie was increasingly feeling alone and isolated – which turned out to be the main reason she came to me for help.

A counsellor is there to listen without judgement. As I hadn’t met Marie before I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about her or her life. I was genuinely interested in listening to Marie’s concerns and supporting her in finding the right solution for her wants and needs.

Counselling isn’t just about having no one else to talk to, lots of people turn to a counsellor despite being surrounded by friends and family. It’s having someone entirely focused on you, your needs, your difficulties and finding the right way to overcome them for you. As counselling is all about you, you have the control to take things at your pace and really delve into your difficulties in a way you’ve probably never been able to before.

Low confidence and self-esteem

After a few sessions with Marie, she told me how she couldn’t understand where she’d lost her confidence and self-esteem. She was always the bubbly one but now she struggled to be outgoing. It’s not unusual for confidence levels to fluctuate through our lives, but it can be tricky working out why and how to get it back again.
During counselling we discussed how Marie’s ideas of what she should be like were typical of how media tell us we should be. There was a disconnect when Marie compared herself to the women she was reading about in magazines and this was the cause of her low self-esteem and loss of confidence. We talked about setting her own personal standards and ways of judging if she was doing ok rather than constant comparison to other people.

smartphone-1445489_1280Traditional and social media can all influence the view we have of our lives, those of our friends, and those in the spotlight. Often this is negative and we end up comparing ourselves unfavourably to other people.

An outsiders’ perspective and guidance can be a useful tool when working on your own confidence and esteem. Counselling offers this in a safe environment, free from judgement and prejudice. 

Poor relationships with others

coffee-1878750_1280Marie found it difficult to make lasting connections with other people, and was finding it harder to maintain her existing friendships. Sometimes we might have everything that we want from life but we just can’t seem to make our relationships work the way we would like them to.

Working with Marie I was able to help her identify that communication was her main stumbling block. We talked through the different ways she could communicate and how she might be able to improve. Marie put these ideas into practice and reported that she was going out with her friends more often and had even made some new ones.

Overall, Marie had felt that her life was stuck in a rut. She wasn’t living the life she had imagined or hoped to be leading, her friends seemed distant and aloof, and her low confidence and esteem were preventing her from getting ahead. Marie admitted that at times she felt like there was little point carrying on as her anxiety and depression were making things too difficult to cope with.

It can be difficult to be true to ourselves when we’re constantly bombarded by television and media telling us that we should be a certain way. But happiness and change can only occur through the process of establishing what you really want and need from life – not what others tell you! This is something that’s much easier to discover with a counsellor to help you.

There are many reasons why you might be considering counselling or therapy. If you’re reading this then maybe now is a good time to get in touch and start clearing the obstacles preventing you from being happy and successful?

Claire ScottAt Insight Counselling Brighton & Hove, I offer a relaxed and comfortable environment where you can safely talk through your issues and concerns, and start living the life you want to. Email me today at and we can get started soon.

Due to the Covid19 pandemic, Claire is currently working online. If you are curious about online therapy, take a look at the Online Therapy blog here.

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