Who Goes For Counselling?

The question of what ‘kind’ of person goes to counselling is one that may come up when trying to decide if counselling is right for you. It is, however, a question with no definitive answer, because there is no typical counselling client: it could be anyone.  I’ll take that back a little: almost anyone. There are some people who have no interest in therapy, which is perfectly valid.

The desire to seek counselling crosses many barriers, including:

  • Background / life experience
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Culture
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Family Status
  • Gender
  • Ability
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Race

The ability to access counselling, is another matter and will be the topic of a future article.


Myths prevail about people who choose to seek counselling help and I’d like to bust a few:


People who seek help are desperate and have serious mental and emotional problems.

This may be the most common misconception about counselling and is related to social stigma about mental health issues and asking for helpIn reality, people attend counselling for a range of life issues. Any Internet search on counselling in Vancouver, or other major cities, reveals hundreds of therapists listing experience in dozens of issues: mental health, addictions, life transitions, health issues, relationships, family therapy, couples counselling, trauma, anger management, LGBTQ issues and more.

This plethora of therapists also exists because of the number of people who seek counselling. A 2012 Stats Canada report revealed that one in six Canadians perceive a need for mental health care.


People who seek help are dependant and want a loooong term counselling relationship.

Older forms of psychotherapy, particularly psychoanalysis, has found its way into popular beliefs about counselling, including the idea that counselling is a long-term contract. Not necessarily. We know that statistically, the average amount of counselling sessions is 5-6 and the modal amount of sessions is actually 1!  While longer term therapy is a valid form of counselling and is recommended for some people, most people do not attend counselling long term.


People who seek help are weak.

It may seem paradoxical, but actually the opposite is true.  Meeting with a stranger and opening up about potentially difficult topics takes courage and strength. 


Men should not seek counselling.

Social stereotypes often ‘allow for’ women expressing emotions and encourage men to hold them in, as in the expression to ‘man up.‘ As socially we become more open to dialoguing about mental health, there are more movements to encourage men to seek counselling, particularly around depression. Men’s mental health is a serious issue: for example, we know that in Canada, 3 out of 4 deaths by suicide are men.


Counsellors don’t need counselling.

While gratefully not all counsellors feel this way, there is still plenty of stigma in this area.  This stigma can be both external and internal. Societal messages exist which purport that counsellors should be highly evolved human beings with no personal problems; this contributes to internalized stigma and shame if counsellors find themselves needing professional support. Fortunately, many counsellors believe in the importance of having done counselling before becoming a counsellor, or as part of their training. 


Everyone Needs Counselling.

I hope I dispelled this myth in an article I wrote in 2013 which discusses other valid ways of healing and receiving help other than counselling, and speaks to the fact that counselling is not everyone’s bag.  If counselling does not speak to you, I recommend trying something that does! There are may ways of moving forward.


My issues are “unacceptable.” I can’t go for counselling.

While I believe in a “people before problems” philosophy in counselling, the fear of judgement in seeking therapy is a major factor for many of us and it is important to find a counsellor that you feel is a good  fit for your personality and the concerns you are seeking help for.

Even though asking a friend or a family member for a referral for counselling can be ideal, when privacy is an issue, many of us turn to the Internet. A quick Google search of Metro Vancouver, or the area you live in, can guide you to whether there are counsellors who have experience with the issue(s) you are seeking help for and in many cases, outline what their approach to helping would be. In a popular BC counselling directory, potential clients can also choose by ‘areas of practice’. I always recommend that anyone seeking therapy talk with the counsellor before arranging a session so that you can connect with how you feel about that person. You may even wish to prepare some questions in advance, to help guide the consultation.

Next Steps

Moving beyond who and reflecting on you — may be the mental shift needed to get the counselling process started.