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BACP Senior Accredited Counsellor

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The New Year – and a time for change?

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There may be uncertainty at this time of year about how severe the winter weather will be but we can be sure of one thing.  At the start of January there will be a veritable blizzard of those New Year resolutions.  

“In 2014 I will……” and it is then up to each of us to decide how to complete the sentence.

Many of these resolutions are likely to have a physical focus. There will be a determination to shed weight gained over recent weeks and to tone up areas which have laid dormant for too long. Gyms will see a boost in membership, dieting clubs will expand faster than waistlines and cycling machines bought long ago will be dusted down and wheeled in from the cold.

The challenge of course is not about making the resolutions but on trying to maintain that initial burst of enthusiasm.  For many the battle will not actually be a physical one but more a mental struggle. The task will be to keep a focus when the imperative starts to slip. And that determination will be a reflection of emotional resolve rather than  physical prowess.

Reflections on our emotional well being are a reminder that the New Year can be a good time to look again at other possible changes to our lives. Personality issues can feature in that flurry of resolutions as often as those concerns with physical appearance. It can be argued that good mental health is as important to our overall sense of well being as that focus on physical health. A lack of self-esteem can be as debilitating as an absence of physical exercise and heightened anxiety can be as detrimental as those excess pounds in weight.

But resolutions on personality issues can also be challenging to put into practice.   I often use a phrase in my counselling work that “nothing changes if nothing changes”. It is a truism but one which reflects just how difficult it can be to find the inner resources to change what can literally be the habits of a life time. 

For example, for those with social anxiety, making the decision to try to venture out into a crowded space for the first time requires real courage. If OCD has been a constant unwelcome companion, the decision to fight against the overwhelming need to check the locked door for the umpteenth time, is a brave step to take. That is also true for those who make the challenging acknowledgement that the time has now come to self-protect rather than continuing to self-harm.

The challenge is just how to build on that desire for real lasting change. For those looking for physical toning the use of a personal trainer in the gym is often seen as a useful additional spur to keep exercise going. For emotional change the counsellor or therapist can be also viewed as providing a similar type of support. 

Many aspects of the physical body are now well understood but this is less so with regard to mental or emotional concerns. We can still be surprised by our emotional reactions to certain situations.  A sudden rush of anger, guilt or panic can be unexpected and sometimes frightening.  Experienced counsellors may be able to help facilitate a deeper measure of understanding why this happens as well as looking with clients at ways in which change can be introduced and sustained.

Just as there are many type of personal trainers so there are differences between counsellors or therapists.  Those variations may be with regard to the technical approach adopted.  For example a strictly CBT therapist (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) will work in a different way to that of an integrated counsellor who may use CBT techniques but as part of wider portfolio of support.  Alternatively one counsellor may just be more challenging in her or his personal style than another who may adopt a softer approach. The actual therapeutic environment within the consulting room can also vary according to each counsellor’s method of working.

If the client is looking for support from a therapist there are some key selection criteria to be considered. For that input to be helpful and for change to occur for there has to be some form of synergy between client and professional.

Co-operation and collaboration are at the heart of the work. It is important that the client feels that she or he is in the right place with the right therapist. That will allow the client to be challenged without feeling threatened, to find encouragement without being bullied and to be able to be open and vulnerable without being exploited.

These decisions as to who to work with need to be made carefully.  That is where initial discussions and informal meetings can be important. I would always encourage clients to be prepared to look around and to talk with as many counsellors as necessary in order to try to find the right fit.  In my practice I always invite interested parties to an initial discussion before starting any formal sessions.

So nothing changes if nothing changes – but how to begin this process of change?  Perhaps the starting point is to commit to this year being the time for change. Amongst all the flurry of resolutions this may be the occasion when you really are able to at last find that determination to carry those important resolutions through into real change. 

It may be that personal optimism alone may be sufficient to carry you through a sustained process of change.  If that is likely to be enough then then just go with it. Your prospect of bringing about change may however be enhanced by working with someone who can offer support for as long as it is needed.  If that is the case then perhaps it is time to make contact with a counsellor or therapist

And whether the resolutions are about your physical or your emotional well being and whether that support should include a personal trainer in the gym or a therapist in the counselling room, are decisions for you to make. There may be that approaching blizzard of resolutions around but the important ones to see clearly are those that matter for you.

So enjoy deciding what to do with the New Year – and whatever direction you choose go in, I hope the journey is both fun and successful.

Enjoy a good 2014!

Geoff Boutle

added on 1st January 2014

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