Why Have Counselling?

According to the NHS, Counselling is a therapy that allows people to talk about their problems and feelings and be listened to in a confidential and safe environment.

Cousellors are training to listen with empathy  – that is ‘putting themselves in your shoes’ – so that you can be helped to deal with your negatives feelings and problems.

What is counselling mainly used used for?

Counselling can be used to help with many different mental health conditions, including:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • long-term illnesses
  • eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia
  • drug misuse

How counselling can help you?

If you are overcome with issues that are causing you emotional pain or making you feel uncomfortable, counselling can help you deal with this.

It can provide a safe, confidential and dependable space for you to talk and explore feelings which are difficult. The counsellor will support you and respect your views. They usually don’t give advice, but will help you get an insight into your negative feelings or problems, understand them better and work out a way forward.

Counselling can help with:

  • coping with bereavement or
  • cope with a relationship breakdown
  • cope with redundancy or work-related stress
  • explore issues such as sexual identity
  • deal with issues preventing you achieving your ambitions
  • deal with feelings of depression or sadness, and have a more positive outlook on life
  • deal with feelings of anxiety, helping you worry less about things
  • understand yourself and your problems better
  • feel more confident
  • develop a better understanding of other people’s points of view

Sometimes when you start counselling, you can find it difficult to talk about painful feelings and, as this process starts you may feel worse initially. However with the help and support of your counsellor, you should gradually start to feel better.

In most cases, people need a number of visits or sessions before counselling starts to make a positive difference, so being committed to the process is essential to get the best results.

What should you expect from counselling?

A typical counselling session, will be where the counsellor encourages you to express your feelings and emotions. Through discussion the counsellor can help you get a better understanding of your feelings and thoughts and how they work, as well as encouraging & supporting you to find your own solutions to problems.

It can provide great relief to share your worries and fears with someone who respects, acknowledges your feelings and helps you reach a positive solution.

Counselling can take place:

  • face to face
  • individually or in a group
  • over the phone
  • by email
  • online

Counselling may be single sessions, as a short course of sessions over a few weeks or months, or sometimes lasts longer, maybe over several months or years.

Trusting your counsellor

A good counsellor will focus on you and listen and they will not judge or criticise you. They may help you find out about how you could deal with your problems, but they shouldn’t tell you what to do.

Building a trusting and safe relationship with your counsellor is essential for counselling to be effective. If you feel that you and your counsellor aren’t getting on, or that you’re not getting the most out of your sessions, you should discuss this with them, or you can look for another counsellor.

Who provides counselling?

As counselling involves talking about sensitive issues and revealing personal thoughts and feelings, your counsellor should be experienced and professionally qualified.

Different healthcare professionals may be trained in counselling or qualified to provide psychological therapies. These include:

  • counsellors – trained to provide counselling to help you cope better with your life and any issues you have
  • clinical and counselling psychologists – healthcare professionals who specialise in assessing and treating mental health conditions using evidence-based psychological therapies
  • psychiatrists – qualified medical doctors who’ve received further training in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions
  • psychotherapists – similar to counsellors, but they’ve usually received more extensive training; they’re also often qualified applied psychologists or psychiatrists
  • cognitive behavioural psychotherapists – may come from a variety of professional backgrounds and have received training in cognitive behaviour therapy; they should be registered and accredited with the British Association for Behavioural & Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP)


In 2010 the government announced plans to make psychological therapies widely available on the NHS. This is because they’ve been shown to be effective treatments for common mental health conditions. The programme is called Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT).

As a result of the IAPT programme, evidence-based psychological therapies can now be accessed through:

  • GP surgeries
  • the workplace – most workplaces now offer access to a counselling service, sometimes in-house but more often through an Employee Assistance Scheme
  • universities, schools and colleges – UK universities and many further education colleges provide an in-house counselling service for their students; school-based counselling is universal in Wales and Northern Ireland, but provision is more patchy throughout the rest of the UK
  • some voluntary and charitable organisations

IAPT services offer a range of psychological therapies, including individual and group-based therapy. While a group may seem a bit intimidating at first, many people find that once they’ve overcome this worry, they really benefit from sharing and meeting with other people.

If you’re referred for counselling or another psychological therapy through the NHS, it will be free of charge. However, your choice of the type of therapy may be limited. If you have a preference for the type of therapy you receive, or the time or location of your appointments, you may choose to look for a private therapist.

If you decide to pay to see a private therapist, make sure they’re qualified and you feel comfortable with them. The cost of private counselling can vary considerably. Depending on where you live, a session can cost between £10 and £70. Some therapists may be willing to adjust their fees in accordance with your income.

Many private counsellors offer an initial free session and concessionary rates for students, job seekers and those on low wages. You should ask about charges and agree a price before starting a course of counselling.

Charities and voluntary organisations

Some charities and voluntary organisations also offer counselling. These organisations usually specialise in a particular area, such as couples counselling, bereavement, or family guidance.

Charities that may offer counselling include:

  • Cruse Bereavement Care – provides bereavement advice and support
  • Relate – offers relationship advice and counselling
  • Rape Crisis – for women and girls who’ve been raped or sexually abused
  • Victim Support – provides victims and witnesses of crime with help and support

You may also be able to access support groups through your local community, church, or social services.

How to find a qualified counsellor

Most reputable counsellors will be registered with a professional organisation that has been accredited by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) (a government body), such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or The National Counselling Society.

Counselling and clinical psychologists must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC), and may also be chartered with The British Psychological Society (BPS). The British Association for Behavioural & Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) maintains a list of accredited CBT practitioners.

Therapists registered with a professional association have met the PSA’s high standards for governance, standard setting, education and training, information, management and complaints. They must also maintain high ethical and professional standards. This gives the public greater protection, and guarantees a minimum level of training and continuing professional development.

Attitudes to therapy

In 2014 the BACP carried out some research to find out more about people’s attitudes towards counselling and psychotherapy. Some of the key findings included:

  • 28% of people have consulted a counsellor or psychotherapist (up from 21% in 2010)
  • 54% of respondents said that they, a family member, friend or work colleague have consulted a counsellor or psychotherapist
  • 69% of people think the world would be a better place if people talked about their feelings more

Read more about the key findings of the BACP research (PDF, 134kb).


Money worries are top relationship strain

A wealth of evidence demonstrates that good-quality personal relationships are cornerstones of our individual health and wellbeing (and of our children’s too, if we have them).

Wellbeing experts have observed: “Social connections, including marriage but not limited to that, are among the most robust correlates of subjective wellbeing. In fact, people themselves report that good relationships with family members, friends or romantic partners — far more than money or fame — are prerequisites for their own happiness.” And a recent evidence review by the University of Sussex and the Early Intervention Foundation, for instance, found that the quality of parental relationships are a primary influence on children’s wellbeing.

Relate, Relationships Scotland and Marriage Care’s latest The Way We Are Now research, therefore, looks at the quality of the UK’s personal relationships. Our new report, It takes two: Couple relationships in the UK, looks at what we think the main ingredients are for a good relationship; what puts pressure on our relationships; how happy and healthy our relationships are; our attitudes towards relationships and towards relationship support.

Overall, our research shows that our relationships are mostly in good health. Almost three-fifths (57%) of people in a relationship say their relationship is completely or almost completely rewarding. Nearly half (45%) find dedicated time to spend together (for example, on a ‘date night’) once a week or more. Four out of five (78%) say they are happy with their relationship with their partner. And the data also show that partners who enjoy good-quality relationships are more likely to feel good about themselves and optimistic.

However, beneath this broadly positive picture, our data show a darker underside of a sizeable minority of people who are in distressed relationships – which have a proven negative impact on their health. We found 25% of partners are in distressed relationships. We found partners with children were more likely to experience distress. We also found people who are limited by a health condition or disability were less likely to enjoy good relationships and more likely to experience distress. Similarly, partners in lower socio-economic groups were less likely to enjoy good relationships.

We also asked about the strains people were feeling on their relationships, and found money worries are the top (most-identified) strain on relationships and 26% of people said money worries caused astrain on their relationships. With recent analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Resolution Foundation showing wages will not rise for 15 years and the UK is in the midst of the worst decade for pay growth since the Napoleonic wars, we can only expect money worries to become more of a strain and to contribute to higher levels of relationship distress and lower wellbeing.

Finally, we asked respondents about their attitudes towards relationships and support. Happily, most people agreed that all relationships come under pressure from time to time and everyone can benefit from support. However, this did not prevent more than half (54%) also saying they would not want anyone to know if they accessed support. And, worryingly, two-fifths (40%) said they did not know where to go for support. It is clear that awareness and stigma barriers prevent many people who could benefit from accessing relationship support.

Our evidence demands attention from policy-makers: it’s clear relationships are central to our wellbeing, but too many people are in distressed relationships, too many people do not know where to go for support, and too many people feel that support is stigmatised. In response to our findings, Relate, Relationships Scotland and Marriage Care are calling on government to (among other things) coordinate relationship support and wider mainstream family support services – and prioritise joining-up support for new parents and relationship support; to train and develop guidance for health professionals; and to back a public awareness campaign to overcome barriers. For too long, despite the mounting evidence for their centrality to our health, personal relationships have been on the margins of policy. It is time to take them to the mainstream

Blog post by David_Marjoribanks Senior Policy and Research Officer at Relate