When people feel overwhelmed or anxious about something that is going on in their lives, they can find sharing their concerns with a close friend or family member helpful. And while talking with a friend about a problem is something most of us do, there are many good reasons why talking to a counsellor may be a better option.
Often, the issues and concerns that people share with a counsellor aren’t things they are comfortable to share with a friend. It can be that a traumatic event has triggered anxiety, they feel stuck in a difficult patterns, or they might realise they are just not coping with some aspects of their life.
While a friendship is an important part of a support team, friends have their own opinions, beliefs, prejudices and values, which may colour their advice. Friendships can also have an imbalance in power, status, or reliability, which can make people feel compelled to conform to peer pressure or others’ expectations. The counsellor takes a caring, empathetic approach, making no assumptions and really ‘ hearing’ what the client has to say, while respecting the unique situation and individual values the client holds.
Friends may also find it difficult to maintain confidentiality, or be completely honest for fear of hurting feelings and harming the friendship. A counsellor is bound by a code of professional conduct to ensure confidentiality is maintained. This security, as well as knowing this relationship is separate from most other relationships in the client’s life, allows the client to speak freely and honestly.
A professional counsellor provides a structure and framework to assist the client work through the issues that matter most to them. Professional boundaries are established to ensure the client feels safe, respected and supported throughout their journey. The counsellor is trained to assess important safety aspects such as suicide risk, family violence or risk to children, and provide support or professional referrals to get help where it is needed.
But, importantly, talking with your counsellor is not like a normal two-way conversation where your friend may relate shared experiences or personal stories to make you feel less alone. It is the one-way dialogue you have with your counsellor that keeps the conversation focused on your story, your issues and your goals that ultimately helps you find your solutions.
Because of all these reasons and more, seeing a counsellor should feel very different to talking with a friend. The quality of the therapeutic relationship has been proven to be the most important factor for a positive outcome.
So, faced with the choice of talking to a friend who means well, but may lack the skills to be of much help, or speaking with a skilled listener who is bound by professional ethics of confidentiality and trained to support you to get through them, what would you choose?
If you feel ready to have the conversation that focuses on you, your goals and solutions for difficulties you are facing, please contact us at ThoughtMatters Counselling on 9188 4481.
Vanessa Steele, ThoughtMatters counsellor