How does Counselling and Psychotherapy Work?
Whats the difference between Counselling and Psychotherapy?
The difference between counselling and psychotherapy has to do with level of focus and training. Generally counselling involves a 2 year (full-time) college diploma with 1 year placement, whilst psychotherapy requires at least 3 years (full-time) training in more specialised fields. In my case, I have undergone 9 years of full-time training in Social Science, Counselling, Nutrition and Psychology (majored in counselling and forensic psych: crime and therapy, and developmental: childhood and youth). So I am both a counsellor and a Psychotherapist.
Counselling brings skills to help process thoughts, feelings and needs, whilst psychotherapy uses a specialised approach, integrating: psycho-education, theories, integrative methods, research and counselling.
I use counselling with clients who need support with issues such as relationships with self and others, whilst I use psychotherapy and counselling for clients who have experienced abuse and trauma.
Counselling and Psychotherapy can help with past, present and current situations such as:
Managing stress, anxiety, hypo and hyper vigilance, relationship issues, mental abuse; gaslighting, substance misuse, self-harm, unemployment, living with a refugee status, eating disorders, dissociation, gender dysphoria, identity crisis, and much more...
and/ or Past experiences that need reprocessing, eg trauma, grief, childhood sexual abuse, abuse of any kind, loss and more.
My approach works to acknowledge and engage the 'whole-self'. I'm concerned with how your sense of worth, has been effected by all aspects of your life: experiences, family, friends, culture, society and the world around you. Then we work together towards understanding what it is that your whole-self needs to heal and sustain vitality.
Why do we need to process the past?
Generally, when we have experiences we go through various mental and emotional processes that enable us to:
take in the information cognitively and through our 5 senses,
make meaning of them (processing)
then use this new meaning to engage with the world around us accordingly.
However, when certain experiences effect us with greater intensity, the pain or distress of this experience can interfere with this process. Not being able to process the present or past can have devastating effects on our wellbeing, such as:
When our processing has been disrupted by an intense experience, then our mind very cleverly shuts down to ensure we don't get too traumatised. However, if we don't go back and revisit this experience with the right support, then we can become stuck, and as time goes on, the feelings and thoughts can become larger and even harder to process, and so on, until we either burnout or become a ball of anxiety, turning to anything and anyone for relief, or shutting down from everyone and everything. This then inevitably leads to a loss in the strength and abilities of our minds all together. Further impacting out sense of worth and esteem.
Counselling can help by creating a safe space with the aid of emotional regulation techniques to help you visit the past, whilst also keeping you in the present, as to prevent further trauma. It can also act as a sounding board, you can debrief, discuss and explore any thoughts you have, that might feel really disturbing and terrifying, with a trained therapist that understands not all thoughts need to be taken literally and you will not be judged on them. Thoughts are usually more about our feelings and needs. So counselling can help to normalise your experience and release the fear whilst helping you to understand how to emotionally regulate and process the past and move forward in a healthy and sustainable way.
Experiencing prolonged distress can have catastrophic impacts on our nervous system. The way this can manifest itself and present can be anywhere from panic attacks to insomnia, loss of appetite, stomach issues to extreme cases such as PTSD (being in a constant state of dissociation, fight or flight) , all of which can impact our overall health and go on to create health anxiety, illness and much more. There is a lot of current research that links the state of our nervous system to our physical health.
Psychotherapy is necessary here as it can help by teaching you about the nervous system and the mind, whilst integrating meditation and mindfulness, to bring the nervous system back to a state of equilibrium. Mindfulness is not as out there and unattainable as one might think, it works by teaching you how to observe thoughts, feelings and physical sensations in each and every moment, so that you can be conscious of your experience and the impact that experience is having on you, in order to put you back in control in therapy and in life, so that you can be more present, engaged and empowered.
When the nervous system is too aroused, it will activate 2 main systems; the sympathetic or the parasympathetic. The sympathetic is the fight or flight, its job is to produce adrenaline through the body, forcing the blood to rush to the limbs so you can fight or flee. However, in order to do this, it needs to stop energy consumption every where else, like the digestion, which is why some people vomit from the shock of the experience or whilst having a traumatic flashback (the body doesn't know its not really happening) On the other hand, if the sympathetic system is aroused, but neither fight or flight are options that will help you survive (or helped you survive in the past, such in the case of child abuse or any abuse where it is more dangerous to act) then the parasympathetic system will kick in, doing exactly as the name suggests, working to paralysis the mind and body to keep it as safe as humanly possible.
Mentally and Physically
To what extent our nervous system reacts depends on the level of arousal, which can be informed from a current or past threat. In a normal non threatening situation, two people can act very differently depending on their past experiences. Say for instance that your walking down the street with a friend who was bitten by a dog when they were young and seriously traumatised, and a dog jumps out from behind a gate and you feel a simple startle: the arousal is slight, the sympathetic nervous system spiked just enough to get your attention and get ready to act, and once your mind assessed the danger and you felt reassured you were are safe, and the parasympathetic nervous system brought you back to a state of equilibrium, where you felt calm and wanted to continue your conversation. However, when you turn to your friend, you see something very different. Your friend may have either screamed and ran to the other side of the road, or completely froze. This might be hard to understand given you both had a similar external experience, but despite your perception of the experience, your friend had a very different internal experience. When your friend saw the dog, their past experience meant that their amygdala, the part of the brain that signals danger, made a very different assessment. For them, this experience sent them straight back to their past trauma and that trauma, still being unprocessed, triggered the same response as though it was happening in the present. So that trauma just happened internally all over again. This is called PTSD Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Which means that unless the past is processed and this present moment is again processed in a mindful way so that your friend can understand in this particular situation the dog wasn't dangerous, the due to their past experience and now this one, every time they see a dog jump out, their minds continue to associate fear and danger to any dog.
Therefore Psychotherapy can help clients recognise their trauma response, how it is linked to past trauma, and help to debrief and process the trauma whilst also keeping the body in a state of equilibrium, which enables the client to stay present and engaged and assess future experiences without the past having such a debilitating influence.
For every experience we have, an emotion is connected... but have you noticed most people ( not all ) are comfortable with joy and happiness, but intense feelings like fear, anger, rage, loneliness etc. can be terrifying? When we fear emotions we are unable to engage with our internal world. The reason for this is because the primary emotions become neglected and overwhelmed by the secondary ie, fearing being angry. We can't learn why we are angry if we are denying it and the fear takes precedent. And if our emotions become crowded by secondary and even tertiary emotions, then we any emotion becomes overwhelming, because there really are too many to process at one.
Counselling and psychotherapy can help by teaching you how to regulate feelings and embrace them for what they are: insights into what matters to you, where we have come from and what we need. Mindfulness and meditation, as well as the general processing that evolves from counselling, all help to enable emotional regulation. Learning how to sit with emotions, regardless of how strong and painful they are, is one of the most empowering experiences you will ever have, and consequently will be the very thing that will build the greatest level of inner security that is required in order to thrive.
Feeling such deep sorrow and loneliness through loss or any sort of pain can create an existential crisis, leaving us to question what it is all about. Some people can loose complete faith and hope, which can have devastating effects, as it is hope that keeps us motivated to live, love and be...
Counselling can help by providing you company whilst you sit in a space of questioning, not trying to fill in the answers for you, just ensuring you are not alone and helping you to express and explore all of your thoughts. All the while, encouraging you to keep listening to and honouring your questioning without judgement. Using simple natural curiosity, the curiosity that is naturally supposed to ebb and flow with each experience we encounter. This way of processing can also provide us the freedom to just be with what is, without needing to act on any question, idea or fear. Buddhism believes that its only when we resist growth and change that we suffer. Therefore counselling and psychotherapy can help you be with your pain in a way that does not cause further suffering.
This is just a taste of the work that I do, and although I have attempted to define counselling and psychotherapy, please know that this is simply my interpretation, each Counsellor will have their own approach, so it may be useful to have a few consultations before choosing who you would like to work with. For that reason I offer a 30 min free consultation so that you can get a feel for what it is like working with me before deciding who you will take on this very sacred journey with you.