A friend is a person you have learnt to trust, sometimes a person you have known for many years,  who is on your side and shares many of the same opinions as you do. You laugh at the same things and often share the same friends. You like doing the same things; maybe you even read the same books and share the same opinions about politics. This makes you feel comfortable around them. It is easy being with friends who don’t judge you . . . because they think the same way.

When you talk to a friend you kind of know what they will be thinking; you could almost predict what they will say and sometimes you try hard to be the person they think you are because you want them to continue liking you.

A counsellor is someone you do not know and maybe are a bit wary of when you first meet them in their counselling space, a place you have not visited before. This stranger asks you what brings you to counselling and you can’t bring yourself to tell her because she might laugh at you or think you are stupid. After all, you don’t know her.

You may have been advised to see a counsellor by someone at work. You may have read that counselling can be helpful if you are depressed or anxious. You may have listened to some podcasts of people who have had counselling so you thought you would give it a go. But when you actually meet this stranger, you forget what you are there for and try to be the sort of person they might like, so they don’t judge you.

So you smile and minimise the big issue that is worrying you.

A counsellor has no preconceived ideas about you. A counsellor meets you where you are on that day. She will listen and try to feel what is it like to be you. She will really listen to the words you say as well as notice how you seem to be feeling. And if she is not sure how you are feeling she may say, “I wonder how you are feeling when you tell me that?” and suddenly you remember how it felt when that happened to you. And you can tell her about it because it feels important and she asked you so it is OK to tell her.

And when you finish telling her about it, she may keep looking at you and stay very still, in case there is more you want to say, because counselling is not a conversation. It is all about what you want to say and she really wants to listen. So by explaining to her, you go deeper into what you mean and how you really feel.

That’s when the magic happens . . . . your real feelings are noticed, expressed and listened to. The counsellor will not laugh at you for what you share. She will listen and help you explore the reasons for your feelings. There may be stuff in your past which colours your present life. There may be fears that past events have made you into someone who cannot make fresh and better choices.

But you can change when you understand what needs to change and to do that you must see what you are today.

“Change can occur when the patient abandons, at least for the moment, what he would like to become and attempts to be what he is. The premise is that one must stand in one place in order to have firm footing to move and that it is difficult or impossible to move without that footing.”

Arnold Beisser