If you asked one hundred counsellors and psychotherapists this question, you would likely get one hundred different answers. They would roughly say the same thing, but there would be at least one or two minor differences in that counsellor’s training, experience and life that means they view things slightly differently to everyone else.
My normal response to this questions is this:
Counselling and psychotherapy often is two people sat in (hopefully) comfortable chairs and talking (though not always).
The person seeking the counselling is often unhappy with their experience of life, through things that happened when they were a child, being depressed or anxious, having experienced trauma or loss or just not liking themselves very much for whatever reason.
A good counsellor/psychotherapist will give that person the space to talk through what they need to. This can be difficult sometimes, but if the person is willing to explore things then their awareness of their self can increase, which means they can start to understand themselves better and why they often think and feel the way that they do.
Once the person has this awareness, they then have a choice. They can stay the same, or they can change. If they decide to change then their counsellor/psychotherapist can stand alongside them whist they decide how they want to change and move forward. If they decide to stay the same then the counsellor will respect their decision and be led by them about how they wish to move forward with or end the counselling.
Counselling and psychotherapy are hard work, often involving a lot of emotion and a roller coaster of experience. People who engage in any form of counselling often feel worse before they feel better and this can be very daunting.
That said, people who manage to work through this and are motivated to change invariably do, which is often life changing for them.
This is what I hope to achieve with anyone who wants me to be their counsellor or psychotherapist, for them to understand themselves better. To have awareness of why they think and feel negatively about themselves, other people or the whole world so they have a choice about how they can change if they wish to.
The only thing that holds most of us back from achieving what we wish to achieve is us. If we know why we hold ourselves back or sabotage ourselves through inappropriate decisions, behaviours, feelings and relationships then we can change and grow and ultimately, be happy and content with who we are and what we have.
It might sound like something from a Richard Curtis film, but it is possible!