• People are often scared, nervous, or don't believe that their problems are worth going to therapy

  • Counsellor Jane Jiggens hopes that one day therapy will be stigma-free and people will understand that therapy is prevention

  • If you have been struggling with your mental health, find a therapist here 

I belong to a group. A group of counsellors. A group of human beings who are professional, empathetic, knowledgeable, warm and kind. People who want to, not only help people live their best life possible, but also to change the way the public sees counselling.

I remember when I first started my private practice, the one message I was incredibly passionate about was getting it out there that there is no stigma around going to see a counsellor. I banged on about this (all the time actually, my bad), partly because of my own received historical messages around ‘going to see a shrink’ and partly because I was becoming aware at how the public actually saw us, which wasn’t good.

Now the ‘leader’ of this group (she will cringe at that), Jane Travis, stepped up one day and said ‘I want to do something about this’. She was speaking my language! She put together an anonymous survey which was shared around for the public to respond to about how they viewed counselling. 

In this survey she had over 380 responses and in this blog post I want to share some of the findings.

In these results we learnt about the responses counsellors received when asked, ‘So, what do you do then?' Actually someone said to me once 'So have you actually fixed anyone?’ and others have had It’s just a chat, right?’ and ‘It’s not a real job’. I have also had ‘oh no I couldn’t listen to people moaning all day’. One I have had a few times is, ‘You don’t look like a counsellor’. 

Also, in social situations counsellors can be worried about stating what we actually do; people sometimes back off and go find someone else to talk to. Are we that boring? That scary? That unapproachable? I really hope not. This leads me to believe that maybe counselling isn’t really understood as ultimate self-care and the life saver it really is. Other comments pointed to counselling being as a last resort, for only people with serious mental illness or something that was threatened as a punishment: ‘If you don’t go and get yourself sorted out, I am leaving you’.

If this is what people think counselling then I'm not surprised counselling is avoided and people struggle on, carrying the weight of whatever needs addressing in their lives. They stay depressed, full of shame or guilt, anxious, addicted, feeling worthless, trapped in unhealthy/abusive relationships, unable to communicate their wants and wishes or stay deep within their grief. The results of this survey highlighted that people feel weak, stupid, a failure, that they are the only ones to feel like this, or that there are people worse off out there so they should just put up and shut up and not waste the counsellors time. 

Well you are important. You are worthy. You will be accepted. You won’t be judged. You will be taken seriously. You matter.  

And if we don’t look after this part of ourselves, this part that hurts, then it may get worse. Worse to the point where we are finally forced to go to the GP, or our partner does leave us, or we do develop a mental illness, or we do end our life.

And that is not what counsellors want. We want people to be the best version of themselves. To live the best life. To have the knowledge, the tools and the confidence to move forward and to change things. 

Counselling is the ultimate self-care. Counselling is preventative. Counselling is transformational. Counselling saves lives.   

In this survey 295 people had accessed counselling and 49 hadn’t. 114 people had received counselling on the NHS, 169 in private practice and 40 people had counselling from agencies/charities. 

What stops people seeing a therapist?

1. I'm scared

Fear of talking to a stranger, even exhausted at the thought of explaining everything and to trust this stranger with your inner most thoughts was considered a huge gamble. So, if you have decided to take up some counselling, then phone a counsellor. In fact, phone lots of them. Most counsellors, like me, suggest a 15-minute conversation over the telephone. In that time I can get a sense of what has brought you to me (and if I am the best person to help, if not I will do my best to show you the way) and you can get a feel as to whether I am the right counsellor for you. And ask questions, lots of questions – in fact, we love questions! Counselling is not a one-size-fits-all undertaking. Each counsellor is different and each counsellor will have something different to offer their clients. 

2. I'm not worth it 

People feel that they are not worth spending the time and money on themselves. This person makes sure everyone else is ok, always neglecting their own needs, which can breed resentment, anger and lower self-esteem. People in the survey said that they ‘felt people had bigger issues’, they felt guilty for taking the slot, for being indulgent, I have got a job, a roof over my head’.  And these people when they do come, we hear of a lifetime of sadness, sadness that has never been acknowledged because they have felt unimportant.   

3. I'm nervous 

People expressed that they were worried about what would come up in the session: would they be able to cope; would the counsellor be able to cope; what would I say? What would they think? No one has ever asked for my opinion, so where would I begin? This is absolutely normal. We can cope, we have support in place to cope, and we are there to help you to cope.    

4. Therapy is a last resort

People see counselling as a last resort, when they have nowhere else to turn. They are at the point of desperation, they feel shame, guilt, embarrassment. They see themselves as worthless, weak and to blame for their issues. However, when they leave counselling people report feeling more at ease with themselves, that everyone around them feels better too. 

People report feeling less stressed, less depressed, they can now say no to people (so can be more assertive), they feel lighter, they understand their anger, understand their past, their thoughts, feelings and behaviours, they go on to make positive relationships, give up coping mechanisms that no longer work, are able to move on with their lives, stop self-harming, let go of grief, they choose to live and give up the thought of dying and live authentic lives…

Huge isn’t it? Counselling should not really be a last resort, it should be the first port of call. 

Counselling is prevention – it should be before you find that you are on your knees, before your relationships break down and before you begin to get sick. 

However, coaching is viewed completely differently – life coaching, business coaching or mindset coaching. People are proud of this and it is seen as personal development, business development and something good. Jane made me giggle as she stated ‘counselling really is just coaching with bells on’. And these are huge bells. Because counsellors have spent years training. We learn how to be with people, how to work ethically and safely, how to protect and how to give freedom. We learn about theory, philosophy, psychology, we learn about life and we learn about death. We learn about neuroscience, we learn about history, medications, the body, addictions, and we continue to learn, year after year. We have to pass exams and we have to adhere to professional standards. 

So before you get to that place where it has all got too much, contact a counsellor and if it doesn’t feel right, contact another, because there is the right help out there. 

Jane Jiggens is a verified welldoing.org counsellor in Essex

Further reading

Which type of therapy is right for me?

I can't decide on the right therapist

How therapy helped me find the right relationship

Before therapy I was selfish

EMDR therapy transformed my life