Continuing from Part 1, here are the rest of my research findings into what a client counselling experience can look like.
Before and during therapy, clients may only have a vague sense of how counselling might help them and what their actual goals and expectations are of the process. Indeed, this may change as the process unfolds. Not having specific goals or clearly formulated expectations met is not equated with the counselling having ‘failed’ given that what is gained is perceived as more fundamental and ultimately more useful from the client’s perspective.
It is important that any fresh insights or solutions are gained or suggested by the client rather than the therapist. Although it might be judged as easier for the therapist to make suggestions, and offer solutions as it frees the client from the burden of having to ‘work’ in the counselling room, there is a very real danger that these suggestions and solutions will not feel ‘owned’ by the client and therefore not acted upon.
Although the time in counselling is fixed and finite, the process itself is far more blurred. In some sense the counselling is not confined to the counselling room but continues outside of it both in between counselling session and once the process of counselling has come to an end. In part, this makes the ending of the counselling process easier as it is not always judged as an ending per se, but the start of something that will continue into the coming months and years.
Counselling success or effectiveness is viewed less from the perspective symptom reduction and much more from a perspective of increased self-understanding and fresh perspectives that then better equip the client to deal with problems and issues in the future. Success and effectiveness also extends to an increased sense of empowerment, learning how to relate differently and more satisfactorily to the world and others in it, increased comfort and sense of being at ease with who one is, and a feeling of being freed up and hence less ‘stuck’ in a particular way of being. Counselling is not characterised as a process by which problems are solved akin to what might happen in visiting a doctor and being prescribed pills. This model does not accurately reflect the somewhat intangible nature of what happens in counselling.
By way of conclusion, in our rush to measure and assess ‘value for money’ and service effectiveness, a thought should be given to the clients we are serving. As counsellors, we need to understand the world from their perspective, not just in the counselling room, but when attempting to assess the effectiveness of our work. Sometimes a checklist of rating scale questions just won’t do.