What different counselling methods mean for you.


As a counsellor, it is easy to assume that people know what counselling methods are and what they mean. This is because before a counsellor even starts training, they have to choose which method (or theory) they want to study. The method chosen has a big impact on what they learn, how they learn and ultimately, how they try and help you.

But as someone considering counselling for the first time, you are unlikely to have the same level of knowledge about counselling that counsellors do. Which is why I have written this article. It is my hope that it helps someone find the right kind of support for them.

There is no one-size fits all counselling method.

Different counselling methods are suited to different people, so it may take a while to find a counsellor whose method suits you if you are looking for a purist counsellor (meaning they only use one method). However, the advantage of seeing a purist counsellor is that they will be a true expert in their method; so if you are particularly interested in one method, seeing a purist counsellor could be a good strategy.

Often, counsellors will train in a combination of related methods. This is called being an “integrative” counsellor as the counsellor is integrating different methods into their work under a unifying framework. Other times, a counsellor will train in one method originally and then continue to learn and study others, taking on an “eclectic” approach.

If a counsellor is trained in either of these ways, it means they can pull on different areas of knowledge and apply the theory which is most applicable or helpful for you. The main difference between the two ways of combining methods is the framework (or lack of a framework) used to combine the methods and give an overarching structure (or plan) to your sessions.  

Even if you don’t know counselling methods by their name, you may be more familiar with CBT than others.

CBT is often recommended and offered by the NHS. CBT is often cited as the most effective method due to its ability to deliver results in a short space of time. This is one of the main reasons it is favoured by the NHS.

However, just because CBT is widely offered by the NHS, doesn’t mean it will necessarily be right for you. If you have had a bad experience of “counselling” in the past and it was CBT focused, that doesn’t mean you will have the same experience again if you try a different method (or combination of methods).

Summary of common counselling methods/theories.

What follows is my summary of some common counselling methods/theories. There are more counselling methods out there, but these are the ones I feel most informed about. This is also just a general overview to give you an idea of what to expect. It is also based on my personal understanding, rather than any formal definitions. If you are interested in having counselling in a particular method, I encourage you to read more about it from other sources as well.

Method/Theory: CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)
Area of focus:Changes the way people feel by getting them to change their behaviours and thinking patterns.
Mainly works with the past or present:Present.
Number of sessions:Typically 12 or 24.
Other information:– The counsellor is seen as the “teacher” and the client as the “student”.
– Clients will be asked to complete homework in between sessions.

Method/Theory: Psychodynamic.
Area of focus:Explores family relationships and significant life experiences to bring about a greater understanding of the self and issues.
Mainly works with the past or present:Past.
Number of sessions:Sessions may end when the client gains greater insight into their issues and how to handle them themselves. It is common for clients to see their counsellors for years due to the “expert” standing of the counsellor.
Other information:– The counsellor is seen as having greater insight than the client.

Method/Theory: Person Centred.
Area of focus:Sees problems as stemming from identity conflicts. Focuses on the self, and how people perceive their own worth.
Mainly works with the past or present:Present.
Number of sessions:Sessions end when the client has become more self-reliant and self-assured (which could take years).
Other information:– The client is seen as the expert on themselves.
– The counsellor mostly helps the client become aware of their own solutions rather than suggesting solutions to the client.
– The counsellor takes a more passive role in the relationship than with other methods.

Method/Theory: Attachment Theory.
Area of focus:Sees issues arising from early attachments. Looks at the implications early relationships have on current relationships and wider life.
Mainly works with the past or present:Past and present.
Number of sessions:Attachment Theory is not strictly speaking a method in itself – so it is difficult to say. But there is no fixed number of sessions a counsellor can work with a client on their attachment issues.
Other information:– The counsellor models how to be secure in relationships and secure within themself to the client. It is hoped that by doing so, the client will learn to become more secure and stable.
– The counsellor aims to bring awareness to patterns of behaviour which could be destructive in relationships and wider life.

Method/Theory: Compassion Focused Therapy.
Area of focus:Understanding what may have caused issues in order to accept the self and show kindness to the self. Conversation may centre around what it means to be human and the imperfect nature of humanity to gain a deeper understanding of issues.
Mainly works with the past or present:Past (including our evolutionary past) as well as the present.
Number of sessions:Sessions end when the client has become more self-compassionate and experiences a reduction in distress as a result (which could take years).
Other information:– The counsellor teaches the client to be self-compassionate by modelling compassion.
– This is one of the more philosophical approaches as it draws on the nature of humanity as a whole to offer understanding on the client’s life experiences.

The methods/theories I integrate and why.

I trained in integrative counselling and psychotherapy, combining CBT, attachment theory and person-centred methods. However, compassion focused therapy was also a big part of my learning and has a huge influence on the way I help my clients.

I find fulfilment when helping clients overcome their current issues and regularly use CBT to help me do that. But I also believe that problems often stem from relationships/experiences in early life and from society in general.

When a combination of approaches are brought together, you often find that one becomes more dominant than the others. With me, compassion focused therapy has definitely become the dominant method. I truly want to help my clients to become more understanding of their issues, accepting of themselves and self-compassionate when they are struggling. Compassion can help alleviate suffering, and in my opinion is particularly helpful for anxiety and depression.

Still unsure which counselling method is right for you? Focus on the relationship you want with your counsellor.

The therapeutic relationship (or the relationship you have with your counsellor) is an important part of all of the methods discussed. The relationship you have with your counsellor is potentially more important than the method they use. Some studies suggest that it is the supportive nature of the relationship itself which leads to progress, rather than the method used.  

Therefore, a good place to start if you are unsure which method would be most suitable for you is to understand the type of relationship you would like. Would you prefer to have a collaborative, but counsellor led relationship, one where you are supported but not instructed, or perhaps somewhere in between?

Consider having an assessment with a few private counsellors to find the one which is best for you.

Ultimately, the best way to get a handle on if a counsellor is going to be a good fit for you and if the relationship is going to work, is to meet them. An initial consultation with a counsellor (often called an assessment) is a chance for you to work out if you would like to work with that counsellor.

When you see a counsellor privately, you are in full control of who you work with and who you don’t. Just because you have an assessment session with a counsellor doesn’t mean you have to continue seeing them. Counselling is very personal; it takes two people pulling in the same direction to make it work, so you shouldn’t pressure yourself to get it right first time. Lots of people see more than one counsellor throughout their lives and there is no shame in taking your time to find the best fit.

Get in touch with me to arrange a commitment free assessment session.

I practice what I preach, so if you decide to arrange an assessment session with me and then choose not to continue there will be no hard feelings whatsoever. It is a counsellor’s commitment to help people and to encourage people to seek help elsewhere if the current relationship is not in the client’s best interests.

You can get in touch with me to arrange a commitment and pressure free assessment session by phone: 07588 117305 or by email: sophie@sbcounselling.co.uk

I hope to hear from you soon!

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