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How does counselling help with mental health issues?

Whether someone has had experience of mental health problems or not, they are likely to have heard of counselling.

Forms of counselling have been around from as early as the 1880’s, but the person centred approach which forms practice these days was developed around the 1940’s.

It is one of the most common forms of talking therapy around today, and can be accessed through the NHS, privately or through some charities.

Take a look to learn more about how counselling can play a role in assisting treatment for various mental health conditions.


Many people may not know that counselling can be used for a wide range of issues. Although it can be a success for those with mental illnesses, counselling is used for a much wider spectrum of issues, including (but not limited to);

  • Relationship issues
  • Family counselling
  • Drug misuse
  • Long term physical illnesses
  • Bereavement
  • Issues surrounding sexual identity
  • Counselling after rape or sexual assault.

If you have found our website, or are a member, then it is likely you may be having some form of mental health difficulties. The good news is that counselling is widely used as a treatment for;

  • Anxiety (social anxiety, GAD, health anxiety)
  • Depression
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, BED, EDNOS)
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Postnatal depression
  • …and many other mental health problems.


One of the biggest benefits of counselling is that it offers an open space opposite an impartial person to discuss what is going on in your life without fear of judgement. Just the knowledge that you have that place to go every week/fortnight can be enough to release the stress of holding in so many emotions.

Because counselling is your time and space, much of the time your counsellor won’t do lots of talking. They may prompt or try to move conversation along if the flow of discussion has slowed or stopped. They don’t offer much of their own personal opinions, but are there as a listening ear and to make your feelings feel validated. A lot of the time, just ‘getting things off your chest’ and speaking your feelings out in the open can make you feel less weighted down by them.

It is important to remember that during the course of your counselling, you may naturally discuss issues/situations in your life which have been upsetting or cause you distress to remember. Your counsellor is there to listen patiently, without any judgement, and can offer comfort to you if a session gets difficult. A lot of the time, it can be these distressing memories or conversations that might be causing you problems. Discussing them and how they have made you feel can help you make sense of your emotions.

Whilst some of your sessions may be difficult, ultimately you will learn to face the problems and begin to improve. A level of consistency is important in counselling, and your commitment is key to your counselling being successful.


This can really vary depending on a few factors; what type of counselling you are having, what issue you want to treat, who is providing your counselling and counselling guidelines.

With most counselling services, you have an introductory session in which you discuss what the issues are which have lead to you accessing the service. The professional leading your session may take a few notes at this point so that they can refresh their memory before your next session, just whilst you are getting to know each other and they are getting to know your situation. They will describe to you what the specifics of their counselling will be, including; the frequency of your sessions, the length of your sessions, what content they would like to cover, the cost of your sessions (if applicable) and they will likely tell you a little about themselves and the training they have had.

Most counsellors will have some form of guidelines or a contract which they would want you to read, and some like to give you a copy to take home. These basically cement the specifics which you have discussed during the introduction, and you may both sign them to agree to meet this. A contract is likely to bring up the subject of confidentiality. Naturally, your counselling is a confidential service, but there are exceptional circumstances in which your counsellor may be forced to break this, and they will be documented in your contract/guidelines. They may vary slightly in wording between different service providers, but the counsellor will break confidentiality if they are feel you are in imminent danger of harming yourself or someone else, if there is a threat to terrorism or child protection laws, or if they are called as a witness in a court of law.

Each counsellor will vary in their individual approach, and although they all have their own guidelines to abide by, they will all add their personal touch to the service. Some counsellors like to come up with a plan with you for the course of your sessions, whereas others won’t. Some like to set goals or checkpoints for you to reach, but other professionals may not. Some may have a set topic for each session, but other’s wont. This will all be covered in your introduction, so that you will know what your individual circumstances will be like and what to expect.


You can access counselling through a variety of means. In 2010, the government brought in a programme to offer counselling and other talking therapies – this programme is known as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies, or IAPT for short. You can self refer to this service, but a really good way to do this is through your GP. Counselling under IAPT if free of charge, but waiting times can unfortunately be quite long dependent on where you live.

A lot of colleges and universities now have their own counselling services, most of the time these are free of charge for their students. Contact your student services or student union for more specific information on what your educational institution can provide. Many work places now provide counselling too, either in house or via an external service. Speak to your occupational health or human resources department for information on what your company provides.

There are voluntary services out there which also offer counselling. This isn’t always free of charge, but usually operates on a ‘sliding scale’ system, so they will look at your income and decide on an amount for you to pay dependent on your circumstances. Mind are a charity who offer such a service, but there are also charities who offer more specific advice to certain conditions/issues, such as Cruse for bereavement.

Of course, there are also private counsellors. Some work for a company whereas others are self-employed. Costs for this service can vary depending on who you see, and sometimes on where about you live. The good news is that where private counselling may be costly, the waiting lists tend to be shorter, so you can access the help faster.

USEFUL INFORMATION LINKS – find a therapist near you

Find NHS Psychological therapies (IAPT) services – to find more information on your local IAPT service – to check that a counsellor or psychotherapist is officially registered

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Written by Anxiety United

Anxiety United created by Billy Cross is a free to use platform sharing resources, advice and videos relating to Anxiety & Mental Health.

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