• Therapist Harriet Frew shares her own experience of counselling

  •  Improved self-worth and relationships, as well as increased self-awareness are some of the potential benefits of therapy

  • We have a Student Personalised Matching Service to help students find low cost online therapy – see more here

There is a gradual shift towards increased acceptance in talking about personal difficulties and mental health. How acceptable does it feel to go to counselling though? Possibly you may have only turned to counselling – as I did - when at your wits end and despairingly sitting in depths of the gloomy well, feeling utterly stuck.

My first dabble with counselling was at university. I was completely floored by feelings of anxiety and guilt that were all pervading in my first term. Inside, I was plagued with self-doubt and insecurity, feeling like an imposter in this academic world. This first experience of counselling was an uneventful block of four weekly sessions providing just a taste of what might come later. Despite my limp enthusiasm for this initial therapy, my appetite for self-discovery had been wetted, as my worries had been listened to and taken seriously for the first time in a while.

A few years later, now I had a university education and some travelling behind me, I had hoped to have ‘found myself’ and excavated any lurking demons. As much as these experiences were valuable, they hadn’t changed my mental health. I grudgingly understood that I probably needed to look inwards to heal, so looking again to counselling that went on for almost a year.

This time, it was a revelation to talk openly. My late teenage years had been a struggle at home and now I could voice this safely without judgement. I gradually developed a little more compassion for my younger self and an appreciation of why I was coping as I was, whereas before, I had been relentlessly self-critical. I recognised that I had lost my voice somewhere along the way and how the opinions of others had become a reference point of self-worth.  I began to listen to my own voice again.

Where would I be if I hadn’t had counselling? I’m only guessing, but I think I would have continued to be extremely self-critical of myself and others, and consequently anxious and frantic in my living. Counselling helped me to slow down and develop greater kindness and compassion. It has stopped me unconsciously repeating some of the patterns so strongly engrained in early life. I have let go of old bitterness and disappointments.

9 reasons counselling can change your life for the better

1. Self-awareness changes everything

Without it, you can be in a confused fog of living. Developing self-awareness allows you to look down on your world and become an observer. You begin to make sense of things, thus bringing a sense of clarity and understanding. This puts you in a starting place to consider change.

2. You will notice your thoughts and begin to manage them

With 60,000-plus thoughts and many repetitive ones running through your mind every day, you can recognise how your thoughts have the potential to shape your mood and life. Once you begin to notice ‘the chatterbox’ mindlessly jabbering away in your head, you are suddenly more in command of your thinking.

3. You will live more in the moment

If you have anxiety or depression, you might spend a good deal of time either worrying about the future or regretting the past. Counselling can help you live more mindfully in the present and to feel more peaceful and connected to the world.

4. You will understand why you do things which don’t make sense

Maybe you overeat or self-harm or drink too much. Perhaps you are bemused or ashamed by your behaviour and wonder why you can’t ‘just stop’. Counselling provides a safe place to explore your ambivalence and fears about change.

5. You will begin to value yourself

Maybe you have become adept at pleasing others. Counselling can help you to recognise the value in showing yourself true consideration and empathy.

6. You will begin to make sense of the past 

And know how it has influenced the person you are today. There can be exceptional value gained in understanding the past and how it has influenced your life journey. Old wounds can be healed and painful experiences worked through.

7. Your relationships can become more meaningful

In counselling you may come to appreciate the relationships which are important to you and warrant further investment. You might also decide to take a step back from relationships that are toxic or hindering your wellbeing. The therapeutic relationship of counselling offers a practice arena for relationships in the real world.

8. You will become braver and less anxious

The world may have become a fearful and antagonising place. You might have good reasons or experiences that validate this world view. Counselling can support you in healing from these difficult experiences, so they have less impact. You can begin to create your own safe-passage through the world tapping into your happiness and fulfilment.

9. Loving yourself and others

An inner contentment can be found when you feel that you can be ‘you’. As you start to allow in acceptance from your counsellor for your flawed and imperfect self, this can be an incredibly powerful, healing and joyful experience.

Harriet Frew is a verified welldoing.org therapist in Cambridge.

Further reading

EMDR therapy transformed my life

How does art therapy work?

Before therapy I was selfish

How therapy helped me find the right relationship

Anger management: how can therapy help?