What exactly is counselling?

 

Many people ask me and others probably wonder: what exactly is counselling?

 

Counselling is not about healing others. I don’t heal anyone. I walk alongside the men* I work with as they heal themselves.

 

When I work with a man, I start by being in his corner so that he can learn to be in his own corner as well. I sit with him as an honoured witness to his changes. I am curious about his life and I pay attention. I track over time what he has addressed or struggled with. I remind him how he realigned after setbacks when he feels despairing. I reflect what I hear and feel. Occasionally I may have to summon courage and challenge or confront him. And most importantly I am deeply committed to seeing the best in him and offering that to him when he cannot see it.

 

Once there is that ground of trust then together we brainstorm ideas, strategies, and ways of understanding. We enjoy conversation and laughter. We build skills in our sessions that can be taken out into the world after our counselling is over. We forge connection so that he can use that experience to connect with others and with himself. We clarify his values and commitments to build a strong and loving inner voice so that he can come to rely on his own guidance. We wade through the mud of ambiguity, uncertainty, shame and guilt so that he can tolerate these and not be toppled by them. And we lean into the fire of self-reflection so that he can be honest with himself without either attacking himself or making excuses for his mistakes. We learn to be kind to ourselves in our sessions so he can go on to practice kindness to himself and others. We practice standing (and sitting) tall, with dignity, reflecting to each other a deep respect through our posture and our words so that he can hold himself with dignity in his everyday life.

 

And then one day we close. He goes his way and I go mine. A small part of me goes with him just as a small part of him stays with me. This is an important passage. Counselling should not foster dependence: the goal is always to transfer the skills and experiences out into daily life and for the man to become his own best friend. Yes, he may return for more sessions at some future point, for a refresher or realignment or when something intense happens, but healed people go out into the world with a faith in themselves and skills to face life’s challenges.

 

* Note: I also work with women but I will use masculine pronouns as men form the bulk of my clients.