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Is counselling right for you? | Taking life and death seriously

Is counselling right for you?

Walking alongside

If you or your loved one needs emotional support dealing with a life threatening condition, your doctor will more than likely refer you to a counsellor, but is this the right choice?

Is there a better option and how will you know if it's right for you?


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It's not about getting fixed

Stop and think: a counsellor or therapist usually gets called in when you have a “problem” that needs a “solution”. You may have a behaviour that needs changing or a relationship that needs mending. In these cases, a counsellor is an excellent choice. But if you have a terminal diagnosis, then that not a problem that can be fixed! Don’t get me wrong, there are tools in the counsellor’s kit-bag that will be invaluable, for example helping you cope with new situations or dealing with relationship issues, but in common with most medical and therapeutic practices, counselling has at its heart a goal of making you better. 

This is not a helpful mindset in the context of end of life.

The medical profession has learned in the last 40 years to embrace palliative care and hospice for the physical care of dying people. With training focused on doing whatever possible to save a patient, it’s been a difficult journey for the profession: having to unlearn this instinct, so you know when the best way to help someone live well, is to help them die well.

The shift to coaching

Is there a parallel with counselling? an instinct to unlearn?  I suggest that the approach of coaching is usually more helpful for a dying person than that of counselling. Everyone’s heard about coaching – certainly on the sports field; possibly in the context of business executives improving their performance; or maybe in the context of life coaches helping you find your goals.

Coaching the dying seeks to offer the same mindset-shift as the hospice movement: if you or your loved-one is dying, it’s not about fixing the problem, it’s about making the most of the rest of your life.

A coach will help you be the best you can be, whatever your current situation. A coach isn’t looking for you to “get over” your situation, but to walk with you on the journey. A coach is looking to draw out from you what’s most important to you (within the art of the possible) and help you make it happen. A coach will help you accelerate your thinking processes on priorities and actions. A coach will ask difficult questions that you need to answer but others may shy away from asking.

Choosing a coach to support you through your remaining time may not be the most comfortable decision you’ll make but it may be one of the most important.

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