What is counselling?

Published 19 April, 2024

Counselling is provided by a professional with a specific diploma or higher course in counselling. They will have achieved accreditation by a professional body, in the UK, most often the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

A counsellor helps people explore their emotional difficulties and develop insights that will enable them to overcome their challenges. Counselling can be helpful for people facing a wide range of issues, such as painful or troubling emotions, life transitions, conflict, trauma or abuse in relationships (past or present). People do not need to be considered “unwell” to benefit from this kind of therapy; it can help people generally to gain a better understanding of themselves, others and the world.

Patients receiving counselling get a safe and confidential space where they can talk openly to their therapist. The counsellor will work with the patient to establish goals and then ensure they stay on track throughout their sessions.

Importantly, counsellors are not there to offer advice but rather help the person explore their options and the consequences of different courses of action.

In the field of psychological therapy, there is a vast range of treatment options, and this can leave many people confused about what is best for them. When trying to establish the type of treatment that could help them, patients should consider that all talking therapies have similarities. These are known as “common factors”, and research repeatedly finds that it is these common elements that bring about the most beneficial change to patients.

These are the main common factors:

  • Patient factors: The quality of the patient’s active participation is one of the most critical determinants of a beneficial outcome. Additionally, if the patient brings hope and the expectation of positive change, this also improves outcomes.
  • Therapist factors: Patients will have better outcomes when their therapist can offer the core conditions of conveying warmth and empathy and can instil trust and hope in their patient while staying present and focused. Another important therapist factor is the ability to be flexible and be able to shift the treatment approach and techniques to match the patient’s characteristics and problems.
  • Relationship factors: When asked, patients attribute the effectiveness of their treatment to the relationship they had with their therapists. The relationship makes substantial and consistent contributions to patient outcomes regardless of the specific type of psychological treatment being provided.
  • Working alliance factors: To be effective, a working therapeutic alliance needs to be developed between the therapist and their patient, so there is agreement on what the problem is, what will be targeted for treatment, what the goals for therapy are and keeping the sessions on track to meet them.

Counselling, as a distinct form of talking therapy, naturally focuses on providing the four common factors listed above to develop a therapeutic and healing relationship through which change is affected. This is the main reason counselling has not only retained but increased its profile as the treatment of choice for many people. Patients receive help holistically to identify and access their inner resources, develop self-efficacy and promote insights that lead to a sense of empowerment and to the changes that patients want to implement in their lives.

Support from Xyla

Xyla provides flexible online counselling, offering appointments 7 days a week, 7am – 11pm. Thanks to a large network of therapists, sessions can be delivered in a choice of 40+ languages. For more information, please visit our Patients section.

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