What to do if someone close to you is seeing a counsellor.

What to do if your partner or child is seeing a counsellor.

It is natural to be curious about what your partner or child discusses with their counsellor.  It can be helpful for the person to share what they are discovering with you, BUT (and it is a big “but”) it can completely destroy the counselling if you probe into what was discussed the moment your partner or child leaves the counsellors room. Your desire to know what was discussed can destroy the counselling work.  Any conversation about the counselling should come from the client, not their partner or parent.  There are two reasons for this.

The first is that counselling is an isolated, confidential relationship.  Because of this, your partner or child should (hopefully) quickly feel safe revealing anything and everything.  If they know that you are going to demand to know what was discussed, they are placed in the position of either not revealing something important or helpful to the counsellor, or lying to you.  Neither of these are good options so while you may want to know what was spoken about, you will be interrupting the work if you ask anything beyond, “Did you have a good session?  Is it helping?”

The second reason is “gestation”.  Gestation is the time it takes for something to develop.  Often in counselling clients arrive at new ideas about something…they may have been carrying a sense of unworthiness and in the space of a session have let that go and become ready to adopt a belief in themself.  But that new idea is fragile and needs time to migrate around the brain, re-author* old memories and settle.  This is one reason why counsellors tend to see clients weekly, not daily.  Time  is needed between sessions for ideas to settle, to be made sense of and believed on a deep level.  Probing can disrupt that process and the client stays stuck in their sense of unworthiness.

*re-authoring is a process of looking at old stories of your life through different lens.  Stories of bullying can be a story of weakness but can equally be a story of resilience and courage.  Stories of “naughtiness” and rejection (eg “teachers belittled me so I used to skip school and I failed my exams”) can equally be a story of justice and defiance (“school couldn’t keep me safe and/or engaged so I carved my own path”).  Through re-authoring clients can see themselves differently and become “heroic” in their life rather than “victims” or “villains”.  Counsellors will often focus on one of hundreds of memories and this triggers a process of bringing up other memories (sometimes unconsciously) which can carry on for days or weeks.  People can often feel tired or unsettled while this is going on.  One client had a mild headache for two weeks after discovering something about himself that meant every memory he had was inaccurate. His brain was using a lot of energy re-authoring his life.