I’m a big believer in therapy and think most of us do not get enough counsel in our lives nor do we prioritise this – going for counselling can be an extraordinary experience but ultimately an advantageous investment in trying to improve yourself and your life in general. We don’t tend to talk about the experience of counselling and what it entails, how to get the most of it, what to expect. When I first did it- I had my misconceptions about it. I’ve put here the top 6 points I didn’t realise before trying it for those of you who might be considering it.
First things first, know that by seeking help from a counsellor you are acknowledging there is something to work on in your life and that you’re willing to take steps to do this. Give yourself credit – this is your attempt to go in the right direction.
When I began participating in counselling, part of what is difficult, is that to progress I had to show my vulnerabilities that I struggle to deal with and face daily- I was genuinely very terrified of doing this.
Part of what compounds this fear is if previously you have tried exposing your wounds and ended up being reprimanded, shamed and ultimately hurt by doing this (Ironically this may be one of the reasons you are seeking counsel in the first place). Finding therapy is a step that says you’re prepared to be vulnerable and trust again. This step has to begin from you but taking it will ultimately mean healing can begin.
The more I participate in therapy or life coaching, as some call it, the more bizarre I think the idea of it being a stigma is. Regardless of what triggered your action to find a counsellor, you are internally actualising that there are aspects of your life and well-being you can improve. This statement can apply to practically every individual out there because really- at what point should a person stop striving for excellence in their life? We know that the answer is – never.
There seems to be a myth circulating which relays, that counselling is sought out during a crisis as a last resort.
We all know “prevention is better than cure”- why don’t we go to a counsellor to nurture ourselves and as a preventative means- to avoid this crisis point? We all know we should go to the doctor or dentist for regular check-ups on our physical health – we need to treat mental health similarly to help minimise long-term chronic issues, stresses, and angst
This one is for your reassurance. By building a good rapport with your therapist, it becomes one of the most intimate relationships you have. As you may reveal things to them that you wouldn’t utter to anyone else. How is it that a total stranger quickly ends up knowing you, or rather- the messier parts of you and your life than others who you would deem close to you? I remember periods where I would feel a sense of confusion on what the outcome of the session was exactly. I would feel guilty, with a bitter taste of betrayal knowing that somehow I connected more intimately with a stranger than anyone else.
These feelings can be bothersome, partly because it already is hard to make sense of regardless. You’re in a vulnerable place and state, and it can take retrospect to understand better.
We see a counsellor once every week, after this, you both go your separate ways. You generally would not interact with this person outside of the session, and unlikely you would say hi if you see them in the street or see them in a casual setting. Yet we go to them for incredibly intimate problems about our lives, which can be a bizarre concept to come to terms with.
Finally, what adds to making the whole situation surreal – is that if your therapist is right, they won’t be projecting their own biases onto you as a means of helping you ( although they will have them- they are human too after all.) This is what most family and friends do.
A counsellor will find out more about you and then provide means of you harnessing your growth and facilitate your problem-solving path. Why is this strange? Well, it means that while the therapist is finding out all about you and helping you, it is not reciprocal – or certainly not to the same extent.
Something I didn’t know, was how counsellors use differing therapy approaches. Some use cognitive behavioural model, humanistic, or even person-centered . Although I don’t think it is essential to understand all the different types of approaches available, it is essential to know that therapists will vary in their techniques with you. If you don’t see you’re making progress with one, feel free to shop around for another- it is within your right to do so.
A therapist who cares about their clients won’t be offended and ultimately would want you to get the appropriate help you need. Don’t give up on therapy/counselling altogether just because it didn’t work one time with one therapist.
I would also add, that if you struggle to find a counsellor who uses an Islamic framework, I would not completely dismiss them if that is all you have access to.
As someone who has tried it with Muslim and non- Muslim counselling models, you can take some great gems of wisdom from both and reach a better level of self-improvement than if you didn’t do counselling at all. The only exception to this is if you need help with faith-specific goals (for example a crisis of faith).
Whatever impacts you, is impacting your family, your friends and those around you. Sometimes people avoid seeking help because of fear of judgement from friends and family. It isn’t just the stigma, it can be hard for them to accept you need/want help and this can compound to a feeling of shame- like it is a sign they have failed and you have failed. Remember helping yourself is the beginning of helping others and those around you. Try to reverse the role- if you were seeing a family member or close friend struggling in their life- how much would you wish to see them thriving from their difficulty and coming out stronger, better and more fulfilled?
Counsellors and therapists are healers. They can do so much in bringing out your best, showing you healthy ways of coping, help you map your emotional struggles to words, help you renew your faith and generally enlighten you with your potential to succeed.
When therapy works, it finds its way to make your darker shades lighter and shows your worthiness and sense of belonging regardless of your circumstances. They are not there to ‘fix’ you as a person is never meant to be fixed in the first place- instead, they can help you to heal and to know yourself better so that you can continually grow as a person.
Nisreen by day is a Speech and Language therapist working with adults with neurological conditions, but by night she works for NaTakallam- a start up that helps displaced people and refugees earn income through teaching their native language online. If there are any hours left, Nisreen loves to play piano and go climbing (indoors!)