Why choose the 'talking cure'?

The 'talking cure' is a term I have picked up on from studying Freud, and it has made me wonder why we now use it; why people now go to have counselling. I am a big believer in the process of counselling and the positive effects it can have, and the main aspect of counselling is for someone to talk to the counsellor about whatever they want to talk about. To some people, talking is probably not even on their radar as something that could be a problem. Even talking about deeply personal issues they may have could come easily to some people. However, there are many people who would find it more difficult, or even impossible to do. This could be due to a number of factors, such as they have never talked through things before and are apprehensive about doing so. This article will attempt to answer the question of why would people choose to talk about their problems to try and resolve them. All of the thoughts I express are my own, and have been made through my own life experiences as well as academic studies.

Where does it come from?

Like many psychology students, I have spent a lot of time learning about Freud and his (some would say) radical and controversial theories about people and the way they think and act. Personally, I think he was ahead of his time as a lot of what he says makes sense, at least it does to me, but there are some aspects that are a bit ‘out there’. Whatever people’s view are, I do think he has to be respected for what he attempted to do, and it cannot be said that he hasn’t influenced everyday interactions. The ‘Freudian slip’ is a term commonly used in everyday language, for example, as it is used to describe someone saying something consciously that may come from an unconscious thought. Freud’s talking therapy, was however, what has impacted on my understanding of his work the most.
Freud’s work developed the psychodynamic approach that is taught and used today, which in a nutshell is the approach to counselling that focuses on a person’s past. This approach aims to get to the root cause of why a person feels and acts the way they do, with a person’s childhood most likely being looked into to search for such reasons. Its origins come from Freud’s work around the turn of the twentieth century with people (mainly women) who were experiencing pain, but there was no medical reason for the pain. Freud found that once they had talked to him about how they were feeling, the pain went away. This is of course a short description of what happened, but that is the basics; talking helped with the painful symptoms that had no explanation for where they originated. Today, talking therapies are one of the options that is listed for helping a person with an unexplained illness.

What is counselling?

I think the process of counselling can be different for different people, and people can have counselling for many reasons. Some people may even see a counsellor because they want to explore who they are, why they do things and why they act in a certain way; it doesn’t always have to be due to a specific problem.
I, like many people I assume, grew up hearing people talk negatively about speaking to a counsellor – like it was a defeatist thing to do. Personally, I think it is the opposite; seeking guidance or help about something is not something to be looked down on, I think it is something to be celebrated. Saying ‘celebrated’ may seem a bit over the top, but we unfortunately still live in a world where people admitting they may need help with something is not widely viewed as something that should be done. Thankfully though, in the age of social media, mental health in general is being spoken about a lot more, which will hopefully in time help eradicate the rest of the negative views towards talking about mental health issues as well as counselling.
But, I digress. My view of what counselling (in general) is, is the process of a person (client) talking to a counsellor about whatever they want, and depending on the type of approach the counsellor uses, they guide the client to focus on their feelings, ways of thinking, and aim to help them resolve their problems, or fulfil the reason for why they went see a counsellor in the first place.
Like I said, anyone can see a counsellor if they want to. I remember hearing a person recall a conversation they had with someone about seeing a counsellor as an academic course requirement, and they said that they couldn’t go to see one because they didn’t have any problems. I laughed because even though people may not think they have any problems per se, I think there are always things within a person’s life they can talk about. Things they may not even realise that are bothering them. Without starting to talk, how can people really know?

What is the alternative?

The main question I have when looking at this article’s question is ‘what is the alternative?’ I automatically think that there isn’t one; the alternative might be people using acts of expression in other ways. For example, bottling up emotion can lead to outbursts of anger; if what someone is feeling isn’t being processed in the right way, it can lead to other things happening in order to react and deal with it in some other way. There are many other examples, and I am sure a lot of people will have witnessed, whether it be in real life or on television, the consequences of a person not talking about their feelings. In the long term, it can have lasting effects on a person’s life.

So, why choose the ‘talking cure’? Counselling may not always ‘cure’ a problem or something that is happening in a person’s life, but talking about could be the start of the process to perhaps deal with it, or work out why it is happening. As I have said, there are many, many reasons for why a person may choose to see a counsellor, and it doesn’t have to be for some sort of problem. I think if a person understands themselves, their past, and how and why they think and act the way they do, it can have great benefits for their life and add a number of positives to it. I always think that knowledge is power, and being more self-aware can only be a good thing, surely? Counselling can, of course, also be a source of help and support for a number of issues people may have in their life, and although I have stressed how people can see a counsellor for any reason they want to, it can also be a resource used as a referral from a doctor for various reasons, such as someone who has anxiety or depression. It can also be used by someone who has something they want to talk about as well; maybe something that is impacting on their life and they want to address it and attempt to deal with the matter with the help of the professional support of a counsellor. However a person decides to deal with the issues in their life, the main point is that talking can help, whether it is to a counsellor or to anyone who is trusted in your life. I think we should just give it a try.

Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons)

Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach