The Risks of Counseling

Marvin thinks counseling is stupid. Therapists are a bunch of pompous con artists who think they know everything. He sees no point in talking to a complete stranger who couldn’t possibly know more about his life than he does, and he doesn’t need to change his life anyway. He is doing just fine (other than the fact that he misses work because of his drinking and his wife may be having an affair!) Why is Marvin so adamant that counseling will not help him? Perhaps he is aware of the potential risks.

The first risk that someone considering counseling can face is a Bad Therapist. You read that correctly, some psychotherapists are just not good! As with any profession, it is impossible for all the practitioners to be fabulous one hundred per cent of the time, and counselors are no exception.

In addition, I think it is important to look for a match between yourself and the counselor because so much of psychological healing involves the relationship between the therapist and the client. In some respects it comes right down to personality. Ask yourself “is this someone I could trust with my private thoughts and feeling?” That answer will be different for each of us, because we are all so different. I do not believe that I will be the right counselor for all clients under all conditions, and unfortunately, most people end up with their therapist because that was the name the insurance company provided. Part of the first session should be devoted to checking for a personality match. Trust your instincts. If the therapist sitting in front of you doesn’t feel comfortable, try another one until you find someone who does.

Once you have located a psychotherapist with whom you think you might be compatible, you face the second risk of counseling, Awareness. This may sound silly, but it’s not uncommon for clients to arrive for therapy with the distinct notion that something is wrong, a sincere desire to feel better and an overwhelming need to keep the problem out of their awareness. Part of the job of a good therapist is to bring the unconscious into awareness. Take Marvin for example, if he becomes aware that his wife’s secret phone calls, and time spent away from home without him were in fact an affair, his life would be forced to be different. In truth, what he doesn’t know isn’t hurting him (at least for the time being) and if he should enter counseling, he runs the risk of having to bring his head out of the sand.

Awareness is difficult, because with it comes the next big counseling risk, Decision. As long as someone doesn’t admit that sugar makes him gain weight, or anger with his boss is making him ill, or the lack of ambition is really a result of too much marijuana use, he won’t need to decide what to do about it. It’s hard to decide. Ask anyone who had to choose between cigarettes and health. If Marvin becomes aware of his wife, he’s faced with a decision.

It only gets worse. If I do find the courage to become aware, and make a decision, I am then faced with the final hurdle, Change. In some respects this is the hardest part. Now it’s time to act. Time to expend the energy and actually do something different. In truth, there is no set formula for change that works for everyone, and not everyone makes a decision to change. Marvin may become aware of his wife, and decide to ignore her escapades. He may become aware of the negative effects of his drinking, decide to quit, and actually change his drinking behaviors (do something different.)

There are many aspects of counseling that are risky. It takes a little courage to even consider the process, and perhaps, like Marvin, it is easier to simply view all psychotherapy as useless. To anyone who might consider facing the risks of psychotherapy, and in turn the benefits, let me offer this quote by David Lloyd George,

“Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.”