Demystifying counselling

Demystifying counselling


What exactly is counselling? Do normal people need it? Gayathri Srinath counters common misconceptions about the issue

Counselling has its origins in the west. In India, it is still in its infancy and there are many misconceptions connected to it. The following are typical responses I have had to face:

Counsellors can read minds (they cannot.)

Counsellors can hypnotise (some counselors who use hypnotherapy and are trained in hypnosis can. However, they will do so only with the client’s permission. Normal counsellors do not use hypnosis.)

Counsellors treat crazy people (they do not treat. They help normal people.)
Counsellors fix your problems (they help you to solve your problems yourself.)
Counsellors give advice for a fee (They do not advise. They might suggest ways to find alternatives yourself.)

Anybody can become counsellors and it is no big deal (Counseling is a very challenging process and seldom easy. Only a certified and trained counselor can counsel.)

Added to this, I have had parents and teachers order me thus:


“Please talk to my son. He has become impossible to control. I shall send him to you” (The son comes if, and when he wants to come. You cannot force him to come to a counselor.)

“Please tell my daughter that doing Medicine is not a good choice”. (I am not authorised as a counselor to dictate terms to the client. If MBBS is a bad choice, the daughter herself will come to the conclusion with the help of the counselor who empowers her to decide).

“Counsellors do not have any problems in their lives as they are counsellors and hence solve all their problems. (Counsellors are just like anyone else with their problems and issues.)


“Rahul of Class 3 is so naughty in class. I just do not know how to manage him. He moves around, does not complete his work and disturbs others. Please counsel Rahul so I can do my work in peace!” (The person having the problem is the teacher who cannot manage her work. Not Rahul, who is fine. Infact, it is the teacher who needs counselling and not Rahul!).

“I saw my colleague Smitha in your room yesterday. I was shocked to see her there. I thought she was normal. What is her problem?” (Counselling is confidential. And Smitha is even now perfectly normal.)

“Oh, send all problem cases to the counselor. That’s why they are here. Anyway, they are so free when compared to us, overloaded and stressed teachers.” (Children who get counseled are not problem cases but clients. The biggest “problems” I face daily are teachers and parents and other adults and not kids. If you are stressed and overloaded, it is your problem to fix that through counselling and not the child’s.)

“Send the special kids (children who have some type of learning disorder) to the counsellors for remedial work”. (Special educators handle special kids with dyslexia, autism etc., not counsellors. Counsellors handle only the “emotional” aspects of these special kids and are not trained to impart academic learning for special kids.
“I saw you talking to my student Neha the other day. What is the issue with her?!” (Counselling is confidential. If someone speaks to me, it does not mean there is an issue.)

“Here is my student. Please counsel her” — This, in front of all other staff members. Also, they expect me to counsel people in a common staff room, with spectators.
The general perception is that counsellors solve all problems with a magic wand. Often, the expectations from counsellors by others are that they are expected to solve problems that existed for years in a few days time.

What is counselling?

Counselling is a confidential process between a certified counsellor and a troubled individual (counselee) who wants guidance from the counsellor to sort out his problems. The counsellor does not solve the individual’s problems. He helps the individual solve his own problems himself with the use of counselling techniques. This gives clarity to the individual to arrive at his own solutions. The counsellor lights up paths for the counselee which he is not aware of, so he can choose his own path out of his situation. You cannot force someone against his will to go to a counsellor. If you do, then it is ineffective as the client may not be cooperative.

Who does it?

A certified counsellor does the counselling. Anyone who wants to get counselled can go to a counsellor. People who do are normal. Also, the counselee himself decides if he wants to get counselled (In some circumstances, referrals are done). Counselling cannot and should not be forced upon an unwilling client.

Infact, many students (especially small kids) who are forced to come to me by either parents or teachers are angry or scared because they’ve been forced to do something they don’t want to.  Often, after establishing a rapport with them, the student and myself, realise that it is the adult in the student’s life (parent or teacher) who needs counselling and not the student.

Where is it done?

Counselling is a confidential process and hence a closed and private room which makes the counselee comfortable to  share whatever he wishes to is the one big necessity. Counselling cannot happen in a crowded room with spectators.

When does it happen?

It happens at a mutually convenient and agreed upon time for both the counselor and the client and not necessarily when the parent or teacher wants the student to be counseled.

Why is it needed?

In modern times, stress has entered everyone’s lives and everyone has problems to get through life unscathed and empowered to cope with the challenges life throws at them. Whether it is academic stress, relationship issues or career confusion, everyone needs a helping hand sometimes to make their choices and cope with the overwhelming situations facing them.

Nuclear families and the rat race have given rise to bottled up emotions that erupt all of a sudden with disastrous consequences. Whether it is anger management, coping with stress or defining boundaries, dealing with conflicts, all of us need to be aware of how to deal with these situations in a healthy way. Hence counselling has its applications in almost every walk of life.

How is it done?

The counsellor first usually establishes rapport with the client (although sometimes this is not done). Then, goals are set mutually by the client and the counsellor. Then using cognitive, emotional, behavioural techniques, the counsellor empowers the client to achieve the predetermined goals. Counselling is more complex than what is mentioned here. Hence we have counsellors who use TA (Transactional Analysis) techniques, Cognitive Behavioural Techniques, emotional or even Gestalt techniques to achieve the goal or even family counselling wherever it is applicable.

Each counsellor is comfortable/trained in a particular approach and hence different counsellors may use different techniques for the same problem.