The Conditions of Effective Counselling
Effective counselling requires a number of ingredients, and when these are provided, the path is paved for a nourishing and healing therapeutic experience. The three conditions are safety, exploration and integration.
1. Building Safety
The first step in any therapeutic work is to establish an atmosphere of ease, comfort and safety. This is cultivated by the client and therapist gradually getting to know each other and relaxing in each other’s company. Trust emerges naturally and this gradual process is supported by the therapist’s authentic empathy, care and genuine interest in the client. Clients are invited to settle into a more open state from which to explore thoughts and feelings, without the fear of being judged or misunderstood. During this phase, focus is also placed on helping the clients to learn how to regulate states of tension and relaxation, through practical methods such as mindfulness and awareness of the body and mind. As the nervous system moves from physiological arousal (fight/flight/freeze) to a state of calm, one begins to feel more in control of emotions, thoughts and physical sensations. A calm nervous system also means that the mind is more focused in the sessions, which helps clients to benefit more from the therapeutic work.
When a feeling of safety and a deeper connection between the client and therapist is established, the second phase of therapy can begin. Through a process of exploring links between past experiences and the current situation, clients are invited to observe the impact of their mental and behavioural habits carried from the past. The discussions and observations help clients to notice how their early conditioning impacts on how they relate to themselves and the world around them. This phase is very much about making sense, and about clarifying questions such as what made me who I am now, and how can I shape my sense of self as I move into the future? The exploration is undertaken in a friendly and non-judgemental manner, with the therapist ensuring that the work is done in an atmosphere of self-compassion.
The exploration stage of therapy leads to a series of insights, moments of ‘the penny dropping’ that help clients realise where their challenges come from and how they can skilfully respond to life’s difficulties. Once an insight occurs, there is likely to be a profound shift in perception and behaviour, which are the necessary catalysts of transformation. This is the exciting stage of therapy, where clients integrate their newly found perspective into daily life. With the support of the therapist, the client tests novel and creative ways of behaving and relating to experience. Through gradually gaining confidence in this new way of being, clients realise how to best look after their needs and what it means to live an authentic and fulfilling life.