Picture a big ship sailing along on the ocean when, for whatever reason, the Captain decides he wants the ship to go in the opposite direction. He notifies the engine room of his wishes and they put the engines into reverse. Although there is a great churning of the water behind the ship from the changed rotation of the propellers, the ship continues along as before. Gradually the ship starts to slow down and after some time comes to a complete stop. The water is still churning and frothy as the propellers continue to bite into the water but the ship sits motionless. Then, slowly, the ship begins to move in the other direction. The ship continues to increase speed and after some time is going as quickly as it was before, only now in the direction the Captain wanted it to go.
For many people the counselling process can follow a similar pattern to that of the ship. Individuals wish to change their circumstances but, as they continue to meet with their counsellor things around them seem to become more chaotic, no beneficial change is happening and they feel stuck in the same place. Then, as new understandings, ideas and practices are explored, put in place and practiced change begins to occur and life begins to improve.
Counselling provides a non-judgmental setting in which individuals can safely explore what the actual problem might be, provide new ideas on how the problem might be effectively resolved, and be supportive and encouraging as new ways of behaving and/or thinking are put into place. This takes time and effort on the part of the individual, both of which are usually in limited supply in today’s world of “busyness.” For many individuals, however, the time and effort, and sometimes the associated emotional pain, is well worthwhile in the long run.
Even then change is often not as smooth a process as the ship analogy might suggest. There can be periods of falling back into old patterns, especially in times of increased stress. This does not mean that counselling is not effective. The pathways in the brain for often-repeated patterns of behaviour have been laid down and strengthened over 5, 10, 20 or more years, and it takes time to weaken their hold as new pathways are established. You can think of old ways as travelling along a 6-lane highway and the new pathway as starting out as a single, rutted track which then becomes paved, then 2-lanes, then 4. Finally a new 6-lane highway is established and the previous one left to gradually fall into disrepair.