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Is Counselling Self-Indulgent?

Posted 11 Oct '13 by Gill Wier

A client once asked me this question and I thought it would be a good one to address.  I’m sure that the fear of being self-indulgent often stops people for coming for counselling - or from continuing with counselling for as long as they really need to.  

My dictionary defines self- indulgence as “undue gratification of one’s appetites or desires”.  I guess the obvious example is indulging our appetite by eating too much cheese or chocolate.  So can this term be applied to counselling?  Is counselling a luxury which people indulge in simply to make themselves feel good?

What motivates people to seek counselling?

Most people come to counselling because they are feeling really low or facing a crisis and need someone to talk to about difficult personal issues.  Far from being a luxury, for many people it as a necessity.  A few clients have said to me “I don’t know what I would have done without counselling.  To be honest I might have killed myself”.  In these cases counselling has literally been a lifeline.

People don’t decide to come for counselling as they would decide to go for a massage or a spa day.  They come because they are facing real challenges in life – such as bereavement, panic attacks, long term depression or a relationship breakdown – and are in need of support with these issues.   By choosing to see a private counsellor they are taking ownership of the situation and of their ability to find solutions.

Is counselling “all about me?”

Some people dismiss counselling as “navel gazing” – in other words focusing on yourself in a way that makes you blind to the world around you.  Is this an accurate judgement on counselling?  In my experience, counselling has a positive impact not only on you but on the people around you as well.  If you make changes in your life that enable you to be happier and more accepting of yourself, other people will benefit from relating to the new happier you.  You may learn new skills of communicating effectively or find ways to move on from destructive patterns of behaviour.  If you feel better within yourself you can also give more freely to others which makes counselling of benefit to the wider community as well as to the individual.

Is counselling enjoyable? 

Hmmm….not sure!  Most people find it challenging at times.  It takes courage to open up and be vulnerable to the counsellor who is at first a complete stranger.  It takes courage to address the difficult issues in our lives.  We may realise that we need to make some hard choices - to feel the sadness we have been pushing away for years or to end a relationship that is causing us pain. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are great moments in counselling - when you feel relief at finally talking to someone, when you suddenly understand something from a new perspective or make a breakthrough with something that has been holding you captive for years.  But I don’t feel that this can be compared with self-indulgent behaviour.  Counselling is about focusing on yourself, yes – but not for the purpose of pleasure or enjoyment.  Counselling is about taking time to focus on difficult issues to make positive changes in your life which benefit both yourself and others.