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A counsellor helps people talk about their thoughts and feelings. They will listen and help you find new ways to look at things. This can help you deal with emotional or mental issues and difficult situations.

What is counselling?

Counselling is a type of 'talking therapy'. This means that there is no medication involved – you use the time with the counsellor to think about your situation and talk it through. However, counselling can be combined with medication prescribed by another clinician.

A counsellor won't offer any advice. Instead they help people make their own decisions and find their own solutions.

Why do I need it?

Counselling can help you if you are finding it hard to deal with a situation, experience or mental problem. It can be really useful if, for example, you are feeling worried or down. Some people see a counsellor following the death of a friend or family member. It can also be helpful if you are having difficulties with family or friends.

Counselling can help many different problems. So if you feel that you are struggling to cope in any way, or that you can't see a way forward, then you could consider visiting a counsellor.

What will happen?

You might see a counsellor in your GP surgery, at school, or in another type of clinic.

Usually you'll have regular one-on-one sessions with a counsellor which last around an hour. You'll be able to talk about whatever is troubling you in complete confidence – the counsellor won't tell anyone else what you have said. The only exception is if your life or someone else's is in danger, there are child protection issues or worried about illegal behaviour.

The counsellor will listen to you and won't judge you or tell you what to do. They will guide you as you speak about your problems, helping you make connections and see things in a new light.

Sometimes you will only have six or 12 sessions. But in certain cases it might be useful to have regular counselling for a longer period of time.

What kinds of counselling are there?

There are lots of different types of counselling and each has its own style. Some will give you exercises or homework to do between sessions, while others will just let you talk.

Counsellors often specialise in a specific area like sexual abuse, bereavement, or health problems. You will be able to find someone who suits you and is best placed to help with whatever is troubling you.

Will it help?

You can discuss counselling with your doctor if you are unsure that it will work for you. They will be able to work out if it is the best option for you. But many people find counselling extremely useful with a wide variety of problems.

Counselling works best when you find someone you trust and like. If you get on well with your counsellor you will get more out of your sessions. Go and give it a go before you decide if you want to continue – you might even visit two or three different counsellors before you find one that suits you.

Some people feel a lot better straight away – it might be the first time someone has really listened to them or that they have talked openly about their feelings. Others feel more stressed when they first start because they have to face all the issues that are troubling them. But in the long-term counselling is really beneficial for many people.

How do I find a counsellor?

You can ask your doctor or GP to refer you to a counsellor. You will be assessed and then put on a waiting list.

Some GP surgeries have counsellors working there. They might be able to meet with you and help you decide whether counselling would help or if you should contact another mental health professional like a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist.

You can contact a voluntary organisation like ChildLine or the Samaritans. They will be able to discuss your issues over the phone and help you find local support.

Most schools now have a counsellor – it is worth asking if there is someone at your school who can help.

Last reviewed by Great Ormond Street Hospital: 7 July 2008