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British Association of Counselling & PsychotherapyStudent Counselling

 

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Student FAQs

This page contains all of the student frequently asked questions in a single place.

Click here for the individual page version.


The Questions

What does the Counsellor do?

What kinds of problems can I talk to a counsellor about?

What do I say?

Will the counsellor give me advice?

Do I have to pay?

What will the counsellor think of me - will they think badly of me for getting into a mess?

How can it be right to be in need of help?

Doesn't asking for counselling mean admitting failure?

What if I still feel ashamed of my problems?

How confidential is counselling?

What are the limits of confidentiality?

Should I be worried about the limits of confidentiality?

Where can I get further information?

Does it work for everybody?

What if I definitely want a male or female counsellor?

Will the counsellor have experienced problems like mine?

Wouldn't I be better to try and sort it out for myself?

What about talking to my friends?

Some people have suggested I just have a stiff drink and pull myself together.

Does seeing a counsellor mean I am ill?

Is counselling like psychiatry?

Answers to the FAQ's:

What does the Counsellor do?

Careful listening is the largest part of what all counsellors do.

They make sure clients have defined the problem areas in their own terms and help them define what they wish to do next.

Some will then be more active, offering suggestions for further ways of investigating or beginning to resolve the problems; others are less interventive and let the work proceed more at the client's pace.

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What kinds of problems can I talk to a counsellor about?

There are no hard and fast rules. If something is troubling you it can be worth spending some time thinking about why this may be happening. There are however a number of issues that frequently come up, for example:

  • Relationship difficulties. Family and friends, colleagues, commitment, jealousy, abuse
  • Family issues. Partners, children, parenting, separation and divorce, homesickness
  • Lack of confidence. Worried about failing, never being good enough, feeling judged
  • Depression. Feeling isolated, lonely, empty, tearful, unloved, suicidal.
  • Repeated destructive behaviour. Binge eating, harming yourself, abusive relationships, alcohol, drugs
  • Exam and study stress. Out of control, panic attacks, feelings of inadequacy
  • Bereavement. Loss, anger, loneliness, sadness & depression

The counsellor can also direct you to other services that may be useful to you.

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What do I say?

It doesn't really matter how you present your problem.

You can say whatever you like.

Sometimes there is silence; sometimes you might find yourself saying things you had not expected to say.

The counsellor will help you explore the matter and will keep referring to you to clarify his/her understanding.

The sessions are long enough for you to return to the different areas until you are happy that you have expressed what you are really feeling.

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Will the counsellor give me advice?

Counsellors don't ever give advice of the "I'd leave university if I was you" variety since the purpose of counselling is to help you make your own decision.

They will never make a moral decision about the course of action you ought to take.

They may sum up what they understand you have been saying so far in order to help you move on and form a plan of action.

They can offer pointers to how others have successfully dealt with common problems and may also make suggestions of the "have you thought of the following" variety.

These suggestions will be drawn from their training in what is helpful and their experience of what has helped others and of course can be rejected if you feel they are unhelpful.

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Do I have to pay?

No.

Basic counselling is offered free of charge to current students of the vast majority of universities as part of the support system designed to help them make the most of their studies.

If you need more specialized or more intensive support than the university service can provide, you may be referred to an outside service. Some of these are free of charge; others do make a charge.

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What will the counsellor think of me - will they think badly of me for getting into a mess?

Many of our problems arise just because we are human.

We all make mistakes and have to learn from them, and it is normal to need several goes before we get something right.

No. Counselling is based in the belief that most people naturally strive to make the best use of themselves.

When something goes wrong, it is usually because we are pushing ourselves too hard; because we are in a muddle for reasons we don't fully understand or because we are actually are suffering some form of mental distress which is distorting our view of reality.

Therefore judging clients is not helpful or relevant; they need to be supported in finding their own way out of the problem.

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How can it be right to be in need of help?

Many of our problems arise just because we are human.

We all make mistakes and have to learn from them, and it is normal to need several goes before we get something right.

Needing help is a normal part of this process.

You could only label it as failure if you had already decided you must succeed entirely on our own - which is not a burden you have to impose on yourself.

If you think you've failed, the counsellor might help you see that this is not all there is to it.

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Doesn't asking for counselling mean admitting failure?

Paradoxically it can be seen as a matter of strength to ask for counselling.

Many people think that they are being strong in not seeking help whereas in fact those who can admit to their difficulties could be considered the strong ones.

Asking for counselling often mean you have taken the first difficult step on the road to resolving the problem.

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What if I still feel ashamed of my problems?

Counsellors do accept that it is natural to want to appear successful and that most of us feel some shame when we have problems and so don't want to advertise our difficulties.

This is one of the reasons we place a great emphasis on confidentiality.

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How confidential is counselling?

Counsellors work to a strict Code of Ethics which means they must inform you of the limits of confidentiality and then stick to these rules.

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What are the limits of confidentiality?

This varies from service to service but normally everything you say is kept confidential to the counselling service unless there is clear evidence someone may be at a severe risk.

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Should I be worried about the limits of confidentiality?

Generally clients of counselling services find the level of confidentiality more than adequate.

Often the worry about disclosure lessens when the client has had a chance to discuss the problem. When the counsellor speaks to others, it is usually because the client wishes them to know; disclosures made against the clients wishes are extremely rare.

However, if you are worried about the implications of any breach of confidentiality you may wish to:

  • Speak to a counsellor in general terms first in order to see how their Code of Ethics may apply to your particular situation.
  • Get yourself anonymous help through a telephone line. There are some links on other parts of this site. Otherwise the Samaritans (0345 909090) can be a very good starting point for the number of other help-lines.

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Where can I get further information?

You can consult the British Association for Counselling web site for a detailed document on counselling ethics.

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Does it work for everybody?

No, but it seems to offer at least some help to the majority so is worth a try.

You counsellor will check out with you to see if talking is helpful - and if not will help you look for something else.

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What if I definitely want a male or female counsellor?

Many services will be able to accommodate this preference. Ask when you make first contact.

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Will the counsellor have experienced problems like mine?

Very possibly.

Having problems is part of being human. Many counsellors come into the work because of their experience of successfully resolving personal problems through therapy.

All will have had their own experience of being a client.

Therefore although the counsellor may not have experienced the particular problem which you bring, they will all have had experience of being in distress and of seeking counselling help from another.

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Wouldn't I be better to try and sort it out for myself?

Of course there are ways you can help yourself apart from counselling - counselling is just one of the answers.

Many problems can be sorted for yourself - however it doesn't need to be an either/or situation.

Counselling is a resource for when you need extra help.

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What about talking to my friends?

Many of the reasons that make counselling effective also apply to talking with friends. Therefore a talk with a friend may well be helpful and counsellors often encourage clients to use their social support network. However there are some drawback to using friends as your only confidants and support.

  • Friends might feel a conflict of loyalty and find it hard to keep things confidential
  • Friends might become upset themselves by what you are telling them
  • Friends might be put out if you don't accept their advice
  • If you need lots of help friends might begin to feel resentful and you might feel guilty Counsellors have had training and have formal support and a work structure which helps them to deal with upsetting and difficult situations; friends may begin to feel overburdened, especially if they have their own problems too.
  • Finally, sometimes we need slightly more specialist help than friends can provide.

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Some people have suggested I just have a stiff drink and pull myself together.

Alcohol is very useful for enhancing a positive mood or a pleasant occasion.

Sometimes a drink might seem to revive flagging spirits and help you relax but alcohol doesn't really help solve significant problems. It can even worsen the situation because of its tendency to cause depression and other problems if you drink too much.

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Does seeing a counsellor mean I am ill?

No, seeing a counsellor doesn't mean you are ill.

However, where there are some symptoms of an illness - depression, anxiety etc. - counselling can be helpful.

Counsellors will not treat you as a sick person, but rather as someone going through a bad time.

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Is counselling like psychiatry?

Counselling bears little relation to psychiatry except that both deal with emotional and mental processes.

Psychiatrist are trained doctors, who work largely through diagnosis of illness and then by prescribing a treatment - usually involving medication.

Counsellors are normally non-medical personnel who work by talking and encouraging you to find your own solutions.

Counsellors can however recognize the symptoms of severe mental distress, and may suggest you consider medical help if this is appropriate.

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