Counselling works - but not in the way you might think

Research tells us that 70-80% of people who go to counselling about relationships and life’s problems benefit from it, an improvement is that double the rate of those in control groups.

But there are many types of counselling available from people trained with varying qualifications.  So how do you choose? Counsellor? Family therapist? Psychologist? Psychiatrist? Social Worker? Psychotherapist?

And what sort of therapy do they practice? Cognitive behavioural therapy? Interpersonal therapy? Acceptance and commitment therapy? Psychoanalysis? Brief therapy? Strengths-based therapy? Supportive therapy?

Research suggests that there is very little difference in effectiveness, if any, between mainstream types of treatment. They all have good evidence to show they work with similar impact. (Note, this is true of mainstream treatments and may not be true of others.)

What makes a bigger difference are factors that are common across types of therapy and therapists.

A key ingredient is the strength of the relationship between the counsellor and the client. If you don’t get on with your counsellor then you are less likely to find working with them actually helps, regardless of their qualifications or the evidence supporting the treatment model they use.

Effective counselling is marked not just by a theory and explanation of what’s going on and a model of how to bring about change, and depth of counsellor knowledge, but also by careful active listening, and frequent checking with clients that things are on track.

Research suggests the best counsellors are able to respond collaboratively and empathically, form a good working relationship with the client, and are far less likely to make remarks create distance or offence.

But beyond the counsellor and his/her qualifications and orientations, other factors are at work: in the client (for example, how easily can the client form an alliance with the counsellor?), the broader social environment (is it OK for a male to ask for help?), the client's and the counsellor's belief in the treatment model (does the client expect that this therapy can help?), and the client's willingness to change (whose idea was it that they come to counselling?). All these have an impact.

In summary: counselling works best when you (the client) believe it can actually help, and your counsellor can form a positive relationship with you where you both work together to make things better using an evidence-supported therapy.

On the school website there is advice on sources of information and support (Current families > Counselling).


Martin Graham

School Counsellor