Counsellors – the paramedics of the emotional world?

Counselling session
Counselling session

Counsellors are the paramedics of the emotional world. Often the first line of defence in cases of trauma, abuse, addiction and bereavement, they provide immediate, short-term therapy in a range of environments with diverse individuals and groups, identifying possible mental-health disorders and referring clients to the appropriate professionals should there be a need.

Although counselling and psychotherapy overlap considerably, there are also recognised differences. While the work of counsellors and psychologists with clients may be of considerable depth, the focus of counselling is more likely to be on specific problems, changes in life adjustments and fostering clients’ wellbeing. Psychotherapy, meanwhile, is generally more concerned with the restructuring of the personality or self and the development of insight.

Counsellors can make a world of difference in many different areas:


One of the main characteristics of an abusive relationship is control, when one person is doing something to control the behaviour of the other and it becomes entrenched. This can be done by force or manipulation and often there is an abusive pattern for one or both partners from their backgrounds – abusers have often been victims themselves. The intervention of a qualified counsellor can go a long way to putting a stop to the abusive pattern.

Couples counselling, for instance, may help assess whether a relationship is abusive or just unbalanced, while individual counselling may benefit the abused person, to help them detach themselves from their partner’s destructive behaviour. In such circumstances, counselling may help restore self-esteem and re-examine healthy ways of relating.


Addicts have difficulty in controlling certain repetitive behaviours to the extent that it has harmful consequences. Essentially, by interrupting the self-perpetuating cycle of an addiction, counselling provides a new way for people with addictions to think, feel and act, removing the troubled thinking and helping them to view difficult situations in a new light.

This is important for assisting them to maintain the change, which is often considered harder than stopping the addiction.


Grief, although normal, can manifest in a huge range of unexpected ways. Some people get angry, some people withdraw further into themselves and some people become completely numb. Sometimes, grief can turn into something more serious, such as depression.

Bereavement counselling may be able to provide support during these very difficult times. Talking about the loss often allows a person to adjust to their new life with all its change, good and bad. Keeping things bottled up or denying the sadness can prolong the pain. Bereavement counselling tries to help clients find a place for their loss so they can carry on with life and eventually find acceptance.


Even in its most severe forms, depression is highly treatable. A range of treatment options are provided, but the two main forms tend to be counselling and medication, which are often used in combination, particularly in more severe cases of depression. The essential aim of counselling is to help sufferers understand their illness and its triggers.

Counsellors will work with clients to uncover and explore the underlying reasons that have contributed to symptoms of depression, whilst helping them to change their feelings and learn to manage them more effectively. Counselling for depression is also useful for tackling low self-esteem, relationship issues or persistent negative thinking that may be exacerbating the illness.

Family issues

The interconnected set of relationships and how difference and change might be managed is central to family counselling, which is used to establish a platform free from blame and prejudice to allow members to explore the problem and then express their concerns for the family’s ability to change.

Family counselling might, for instance, help clarify a new pattern of being together after a marital breakdown or remarriage. It could also help to process feelings of being excluded or rejected which might be otherwise acted out in disruptive behaviour, which is subsequently misunderstood by the other family members.


Psychological trauma occurs as a result of a distressing event that leads the sufferer to question their beliefs while destroying their assumptions of trust. Causes of trauma can include everything from violence to brain injury to catastrophic events and symptoms can range from flashbacks and insomnia to anxiety and depression, among others. Counselling looks at changing the way individuals think about their traumatic experience and how they react to these thoughts. Counselling is often paired with other physiological therapies to ensure all elements of the trauma are addressed.

Work related stress

Most jobs are challenging, but when those challenges override the ability to cope, the body and mind can begin to suffer. Work related stress can lead to anxiety, low self-esteem, depression and even suicidal thoughts. Counselling aims to get to the root of work related stress by exploring unique patterns of thinking and behaving in a confidential environment away from the workplace.

Counsellors are trained to us deal with difficult situations and through conversation can make a world of difference to our emotional health and well-being.

Would you like to become a counsellor?

SACAP’s Bachelor of Psychology professional degree is approved by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) for the education and training of Registered Counsellors. Graduates of this programme will be eligible to sit the National Examination of the Professional Board for Psychology in the Registered Counsellor category in order to register with the HPCSA as Registered Counsellors. As a four-year NQF8 degree programme, the BPsych has a ‘built-in’ Honours equivalent. Graduates are therefore also able to articulate into a Masters programme with a view to becoming a Psychologist.

Read more:

Counselling principles and procedures

Basic counselling principles

Heavy patients with heart risks need counselling

Sources: The South African College of Applied Psychology

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