The case for 121

One of the great blessings of therapeutic activities is that they come in many forms, both in their very nature and also in the fact that different issues can be dealt with in different social arenas.  Social group work helps to combat loneliness; the impersonality and anonymity of a lot of online consultation can sometimes be beneficial in providing reassurance or a “quick fix”.

Neither of the above are panaceas, however.  Problems can occur that can only be treated effectively by one-to-one face-to-face interaction.  Yet compared to the other two, this is the form that is in least supply.
Not all social care can be conducted in a group anyway.  To use a comparison from teaching – or, more accurately, from learning  – the pace of the classroom, the plethora of different learning styles and the favouritism of the teacher all militate against the identification of individual strengths and weaknesses, the formulation of a suitable learning strategy, and the optimisation of learning outcomes that the one-to-one session is better placed to enable.

In the social world at large, we encounter similar phenomena.  Imagine: you join a community gardening project with the hope of re-igniting your horticultural skills and getting to know some new people in the process.  Great, but do you like all of these people?  Can you remember all their names?  Are the conversations always dominated by the sort of people who talk until they’ve got something interesting to say?
If you answered no, no and yes respectively, you’re probably not alone.  But you might well be feeling frustrated – particularly if you feel you’re not being listened to.  You have something valid to say, something which might be concerning you, yet it’s drowned out in the babble of the collective.

You may have something to say which is too personal to blurt out in a group situation where there is no guarantee of confidentiality.  Then what?

In the secular world, it’s common nowadays to use the setting of the GP surgery to unload problems that are social rather than medical in nature – not because it’s the best place for it, but because there’s no viable alternative  Whether the outcome is successful or not can therefore depend a lot on whether the GP in question has the interest in individual psychology required to know that social problems don’t as a rule respond to medical solutions.

Speaking to a church minister might be more profitable, but again it will depend on the minister’s own experience and attitudes.  Have they been in the same place as you?  Can they give you the time and space to help you work a problem out (many of them can’t)?

Non-judgmental counselling is better still, yet there’s an availability issue here.  The mix of a cash-starved NHS and an increasingly voluntaristic, low-paid or unpaid approach to social care has meant that the expense of specialist counselling can’t be met.

And this is a profession which is founded on the soft skill of good listening, over and above any specialist medical or religious knowledge, and which should be more accessible from a career point of view to the lay person – with of course the strong proviso that they have some listening skills to build on.  The yakkety-yak merchant from the gardening group who starts every sentence with the word “I” need not apply.  Good talkers do not, as a general rule, make good listeners.

While there is much more to counselling than simply being a good listener, it’s a very good start, and could be built upon by shadowing a more experienced colleague – with the consent of all involved – in addition to private study.

As ever, there is a sticking point and the sticking point is money.  Many people who would make excellent counsellors are deterred by the cost of the training.  If it’s true – and there’s very little reason to doubt it – that money is simply being transferred from the public sector into private hands, then can’t these beneficiaries help out, maybe  through a crowd funding drive?

It is important to stress that this is an inclusive plan to benefit all sectors of the community.  Though we hear talk of specifically Christian counselling, which in certain circumstances can be relevant and helpful, we need to keep in mind that we are also working with people who hold alternative faiths, or no faith at all.

Again, we’re not talking panaceas.  The counsellor and the person seeking help might not establish a rapport.  The professional relationship will require some professional distance between the two parties, which is not always easy to achieve when there is a lot of personal information in the air.  And nobody says that counselling has a 100% success rate. But it’s likely there’s a quiet room in a community centre that is suitable for this purpose.  Like the community garden, it just needs some watering and healthy plant food – and a little bit of money spent on it. 

For more information see:
-- Christian Counselling –
-- General Counselling –
-- Psychotherapy –
-- CBT – - See more at:

David Pattison, 07/01/2014
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