There can be many reasons why people don’t come to counselling even if they could really benefit.
When I sat down to list them, I came up with 19 common objections to counselling.
See if any of the following apply to you:
Objection 1: “I can’t afford it”
Perhaps the thought of paying for counselling puts you off. After all, in the UK where treatment on the NHS is mostly free, people are not used to paying for healthcare. This is very unlike other countries such as America, where therapy clients are more familiar with paying for services like counselling.
In addition to this, if you are on a low income or not earning any money at all, then you may not be in a position to even start to think about paying to see a private counsellor. And embarking on counselling when you really cannot afford it, may add to the stresses you are already dealing with.
But if this is the case, you could seek counselling on the NHS, through your employer’s employee assistance scheme, if they have one, or by approaching one of the many voluntary organisations that offer counselling either for free or for a donation.
Maybe you can afford to come for counselling but things might be a bit tight financially if you do so. Could you cut back your expenditure on other goods and services to allow you to start counselling?
It is worth remembering that therapists in your local area may vary in the prices they charge. For example, a newly qualified person may charge lower fees than a person who has been practising for a while.
Also, while it is not very common, some therapists operate a sliding scale and ask you to pay a fee in accordance with what you earn.
On the other hand, if you can really afford to pay for therapy, and it won’t be a struggle, perhaps investing money in your health and well being is perhaps not a priority for you. This may be something worthwhile looking at. If you could afford to pay but are unwilling to do so, what does this say about how much you value yourself?
Objection 2: “Counselling is for the weak or mentally ill”
These views are very common misconceptions. Deciding to come for counselling is certainly not for “weak” people. In fact, the very opposite is true. Recognising when you need help, and taking steps to get it is more a sign of wisdom and maturity!
People who are suffering from mental health issues do come for counselling. But it’s probably also much more used by people who are experiencing what might be described as problems in life, such as those experiencing relationship difficulties.
In addition to that, clients who want to understand themselves better or who want to work on their personal growth and development, come for counselling.
Objection 3: “Counselling is too touchy-feely for the likes of me”
There are over 400 different types of counselling approaches. Some will focus on your past, some on the present and some on the future.
Counsellors of different orientations may work mainly with your thoughts, some with your emotions, and some will help you look at your behaviour. Some might even focus on your body or spiritual issues.
Quite a few may be integrative and focus on thoughts, feelings and behaviour during the course of treatment.
Therefore, try to keep in mind that there are different types of counselling and you can choose what suits you best. It’s really important to make an informed choice.
Also, even within the same types of counselling approaches, counsellors will have their own unique ways of working.
Objection 4:“I’ll have to lie on a couch with my eyes closed and say whatever comes into my mind”
This belief is often picked up from the portrayal of therapy in the cinema and on television. If you go for psychoanalysis, you may well be invited to lie on a couch and free associate. But psychoanalysis is not widely available outside of London, and even then, very few people go for it due to the cost and the length of treatment.
Most counselling and psychotherapy is conducted on a face-to-face basis, sitting in a chair.
Objection 5: “People will find out I’m coming for counselling”
Whether or not you tell friends or family that you are coming for counselling is up to you. Unless you tell them, it’s unlikely they will know.
Also, the fact that you are coming to counselling will be held in confidence by your therapist. There are a few exceptions to confidentiality such as when your counsellor thinks you are a danger to yourself and other people, or is required by law to.
And most therapists see a clinical supervisor at least once a month to discus their work. However, while discussing their client work, your counsellor should maintain your anonymity.
But other than these instances, you can rest assured that your confidentiality and privacy is guaranteed.
At times, some people worry that their GP will be told that they are coming for counselling and that this will be noted in their medical records. Unless you tell your GP yourself, or give your counsellor permission to contact them, your doctor will not know.
Objection 6: “I just don’t have the time”
There’s no denying that many people have busy lives trying to juggle various responsibilities such as work, family, leisure activities and so on.
Many people work shifts, travel with their jobs or have care commitments.
But just like concerns about whether or not you can afford counselling, it is important to ask yourself whether it is really the case that you don’t have the time.
Is an hour a week or fortnightly spent investing in your wellbeing really too much?
You may need to rearrange your schedule or forego some other commitments to make the time.
If travelling to see a counsellor face-to-face adds to your concerns about time, think about counselling by phone or by Skype video.
Objection 7: “I tried it before and it didn’t work”
I can identify with this on a personal level. I’ve been a client of several different therapists. Some experiences were extremely helpful, even life changing. And some were disappointing.
However, it is really worthwhile reflecting on what went wrong in any previous counselling you may have had. There are many variables as to what makes therapy effective or not.
It may come as a surprise to you that you are the most important factor in what makes counselling effective or not. You must to be an active participant in therapy and your resources, on both inner and outer level, can make all the difference.
Secondly, the therapeutic relationship between you and your counsellor is very important. Did you feel heard, understood and respected by your counsellor? Did you feel accepted and empathised with? Did you talk about what you wanted to talk about in the sessions? Did the way in which your therapist worked with you make sense and fit with you?
Counselling is not an exact science. And counsellors are just human. Sometimes clients and counsellors just don’t click.
If you had a disappointing or bad experience previously, it doesn’t mean that if you try counselling again, history will repeat itself.
Objection 8: “I’m too embarrassed/ashamed/afraid”
A lot of people avoid coming to counselling because they fear that if they open up, they will be judged or made to feel worse than they already felt in the first place.
This is an understandable concern. However, if you do decide to come for counselling, you don’t need to spill your guts in the first session. In fact, it may be wise to take your time.
Let the relationship with your counsellor develop and then, when you are ready, you can share what is really bothering you. This is perfectly OK and normal.
Go at a pace that feels comfortable to you and tell your therapist as much or as little as you want to in the initial sessions.
In addition to this, for some prospective clients, the prospect of coming to see a counsellor is just way too scary.
This is very common. Many people feel the same. Try to accept your anxiety and fear rather than fight it or make it go away. And in the words of Susan Jeffers, “Feel the fear and do it anyway”.
Part of a counsellor’s role is to make their clients feel welcome, and as comfortable, as possible. They should be well aware of the fact that many clients feel anxiety when attending for the first time.
Having a short chat on the phone with your counsellor, before you attend might help to break the ice.
Objection 9: “My problems are not important enough”
I have heard clients say many, many times.
A variation on this is the concern that they are wasting my time and that there are other people to see who are in far greater need of my help.
If you are feeling unhappy, miserable, depressed, anxious, lonely, and constantly angry and feel you need help, then that’s all that matters.
Comparing how serious your issues are to those of others with seeming is futile.
Discounting yourself or worrying about wasting a counsellor’s time, is sometimes a sign of low self-esteem. You just don’t think you’re worth the time and attention.
Finally, if a counsellor does actually think that you don’t really need counselling then they should use their professional judgement and discuss this with you.
Objection 10: “I’m not good at talking about myself”
Many people don’t like talking about themselves. They may have been brought up to believe that they should listen rather than talk or that it is “nicer” to be interested in others than to talk about themselves.
And some people are just naturally quiet.
Regardless, many people are really not used to revealing their thoughts, feelings and behaviour to another human being. This can be especially true for men.
It can actually come as a surprise at how much they do open up, even in the first session. They had imagined they would sit for the entirety of the first session in an embarrassed silence.
As I have alluded to before, it is a counsellor’s job to help you to talk and open up, if you find it hard to do so. Many counsellors will ask you questions about your background and the issues that are bringing you to counselling, in the first session.
Again, finding the right fit for you is important. Some counsellors don’t say much and let their clients do most of the talking. Personally, I like to have a dialogue with my clients.
Objection 11: “Counselling or therapy can take years”
You can go to therapy for years, if you want to, and need to. I was once a client with a therapist for six years. I needed it and it helped me tremendously.
How long counselling lasts really depends on your issues. When did they start, how long have they been affecting you, and how serious are they are relevant factors.
If your problems are more current and have not been affecting you for a while, then you probably don’t need to go for a lot of sessions.
And in reality, the duration of most counselling and therapy is short to medium term; anything from a few sessions up to a few months.
Please remember, that you have the right to terminate counselling whenever you want to. Although, discussing your decision to stop, with your therapist, is a good idea.
Objection 12: “The therapist will read my mind”
Counsellors and psychotherapists are mere mortals. They have had training in how to provide therapeutic relationships and interventions. However, they don’t have special powers.
Obviously, a counsellor may see things about you that you don’t realise about yourself. And providing you with another perspective other than your own can be one of the outcomes of counselling. But that should not be done in a confrontational or shaming way.
Objection 13: “I have friend and family to talk to”
Having a good support network is very important. Even just having one person can make all the difference. Isolation and loneliness can be very detrimental to our health.
However, discussing your issues with your friends and family is not always helpful. For a start, sometimes you may have issues that you just don’t want to share with them or you may not want to burden them.
But another important point is that your nearest and dearest may not necessarily be neutral or objective.
Whether they mean to or not, they may tell you what they think you want to hear. Or it is very common for relatives to attempt to fix your problems, when all you really wanted was someone to listen to you. Or, they may tell you what to do, based on their own agenda.
Counsellors listen. It is not their job to tell you what to do, or how you should feel or think. The counselling process allows you to make up your own mind about what, if anything, you want to change.
Objection 14: “I will feel better with the passage of time”
When I recall this particular objection, I immediately think about the fact that many couples wait for up to seven years before seeking help from a therapist. Often, by they time they come, it’s too late to put things back on track. Their relationship is beyond repair.
I’m not advocating that, at the slightest blip, you should consider counselling. After all, how we feel can and often does improve, as time passes. Watchful waiting is sometimes a good idea. BUT issues that can be helped with counselling can also sometimes become worse and more entrenched, as time progresses.
Why suffer unnecessarily? Why not make a decision to start working on your issues NOW?
You have a right to be as healthy and happy as possible.
Objection 15: “I don’t want to betray my family”
Sometimes clients think that discussing their relatives during counselling is a form of betrayal. And this can make them feel guilty.
This can often come from an unspoken rule, that family matters should not be revealed to people outside of the family circle. Core beliefs about what is right or wrong can have quite a hold on us.
Also, seeming to criticise or blame our parents can feel like a contravention of “Honour thy mother and father”.
However, no family or parent is perfect. Whether they mean to, or not, they can have a negative, even damaging impact on us. And, if we have had abusive experiences in our family of origin, talking about it is a way to heal and move forward.
Objection 16: “I am afraid that I will become dependent on a therapist”
Perhaps you are concerned that once you start seeing a therapist, you will become overly reliant on them and find it hard to break away, when the time comes to stop counselling.
Or you may worry that once a therapist gets their claws into you; they will encourage your dependence on them!
This may be a concern for you if you don’t like to rely on other people, and either avoid relationships or try to keep your distance. If this is the case, a therapeutic relationship could be very beneficial for you in helping you to feel more secure in relationships.
A degree of dependence on your therapist is natural and healthy.
And as I said before, you can decide to terminate counselling whenever you want. You are a client and a customer. You have rights!
Objection 17: “I have heard or read about dodgy counsellors”
There are therapists who are not as effective as they might be. But this is the same in any field of work.
Unfortunately, some counsellors are also unethical in how they practice and do harm their clients. They may exploit them financially, or sexually, for example. Their behaviour gives the profession and bad name and may dent the confidence of prospective clients.
In the UK at present, anyone can call themselves a Counsellor or Psychotherapist, without having had any training and previous experience. Counsellors, as a group, are not required to be members of the Health Professions Council, unlike other healthcare practitioners.
Ask about the following matters before you decide to work with a counsellor:
- Are they properly trained?
- How much experience do they have?
- Are they currently a member of a professional body such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)?
- Do they attend regular supervision with a more experienced therapist on a regular basis?
But in addition to this, trust your gut instinct. Do they seem trustworthy? If not, move on and find someone you feel you can trust.
Objection 18: “I don’t need counselling”
If you think that you don’t have issues, you’re unlikely to go for counselling. You know yourself better than anyone else.
Sometimes other people in our lives think differently and think we should go for counselling.
This can be done out of a genuine desire to help us. And, at times, people who know us well can see things about us that we are unaware of.
However, there is a big difference between someone suggesting that you might consider going for counselling and trying to force you to do so.
No one should be forced, “sent” to or cajoled into counselling.
You need to want to come for your own sake and of your own volition.
Counselling rarely works for clients who come because they want to please someone else or feel pressurised to come.
Objection 19: “I’m not ready to go to counselling”
Maybe you’re not ready just now. Only you can tell.
Perhaps you have acknowledged that you have issues that need to be addressed. But you’re not quite at the stage where you are ready to pick up the phone and make an initial appointment to see a counsellor. That’s fine. You’re in what is known as the “contemplation” phase of change.
The next stage is the best time to go for counselling. It’s called the “action” stage. You’re ready to make changes.
Pick up the phone now and make an appointment!
Neil Ward works as a private counsellor in Glasgow City Centre. He offers therapy to individuals and couples. In addition to relationship issues, he also offers counselling for anxiety, depression, anger management and bereavement. More information about his services can be found at www.neilwardcounselling.co.uk or you can contact him on 07970 860 711.