Counselling takes place when a counsellor sees a client in a private and confidential setting to explore a difficulty the client is having, a distress they may be experiencing, their dissatisfaction with life or a loss of a sense of direction and purpose.

By listening attentively and patiently the counsellor can begin to perceive the difficulties from the client’s point of view and can help them to see things more clearly, possibly from a different perspective. Counselling is a way of enabling choice or change, or of reducing confusion. It does not involve giving advice or directing a client to take a particular course of action. Counsellors do not judge or exploit their clients in any way.

In the counselling sessions the client can explore various aspects of their life and feelings, talking about them freely and openly in a way that is rarely possible with friends or family. Bottled up feelings such as anger, anxiety, grief and embarrassment can become very intense and counselling offers an opportunity to explore them, with the possibility of making them easier to understand. The counsellor will encourage the expression of feelings, and as a result of their training, will be able to accept and reflect the client’s problems without becoming burdened by them.

Acceptance and respect for the client are essentials for a counsellor and, as the relationship develops, so too does trust between the counsellor and client, enabling the client to look at many aspects of their life, their relationships and themselves, which they may not have considered or been able to face before. The counsellor may help the client to examine in detail the behaviour or situations which are proving troublesome and to find an area where it would be possible to initiate some change as a start. The counsellor may help the client to look at the options open to them and help them to decide on the best course of action.

There is a fine line of distinction between psychotherapy and counselling, and in many cases they may not be possible to tell apart. Psychotherapists do undergo more rigorous training than counsellors, and some forms of psychotherapy will involve a much more active role from the practitioner than in counselling. Psychotherapy might be better to explore more deep rooted psychological problems and disorders. Counselling is good though for creating a space to share problems in a non-judgemental setting, and by doing so, gain a better perspective on them. For that reason many suicide crisis lines either employ counsellors, or give their staff counselling training.