These days the role of counsellor seems to have undergone a downgrade, from serving monarchs and rulers to serving individuals. Heads of state unfortunately now have advisers rather than counsellors. The last British head of state I can think of who had a counsellor was Margaret Thatcher, who relied greatly on the support given by the likes of Willie Whitelaw, hence her unintentionally hilarious comment “Everyone should have a Willie”. She was right, though; everyone going through change should have a Willie, and it is often in times of change that we turn to counsellors.
Therapists also provide support for us during the process of change, but in a somewhat different manner. Therapy has got a bit discredited for a number of reasons; the East and West Coast Woody Allen-style fascination with therapy leading to conversations about “my shrink” and the accompanying perception of therapy as the preferred hobby of narcissists, versus the British perception that therapy is somehow about “fixing” people and that people who go into therapy are “in need of professional help”, are somehow more dysfunctional than others; in short, that there is something wrong with them.
Here I should mention that my thoughts on this topic come from personal experience of being “in therapy” for a number of years, for which read, going to see someone very highly trained and experienced for one hour a week for so many years that I have forgotten how many, and talking. That’s all there is. We sit in a room. He sits in one chair, I sit in another, facing each other. He can see the clock, I can see out of the window. There are a couple of pictures in the room. We have exactly an hour. There’s no agenda, he doesn’t have any papers or write anything down, he doesn’t take notes. We don’t decide in advance what to talk about.
I know nothing about him except his name, his qualifications and his areas of expertise (plus of course a few things that he has told me about himself during the years he has been my therapist; I know, for instance that he has two cats, and sundry other facts like that, but not whether he is married or single, gay or straight, or where he lives). He knows nothing about me except my name, that I am his patient, and, of course, the very many things I have told him during those years. We have each other’s contact numbers but nothing else; he doesn’t have my address. (And of course I know how much it costs). The deal is, we know the time, the place, how long (an hour), and apart from that it’s up to us. I turn up once a week and we talk for an hour. And that’s it. It has been, and continues to be, one of the most profound and extraordinary experiences of my life.