WALK into Steve Delaney’s therapy room and the world and its troubles stay at the door.
Within these walls, it’s all about you. No distractions, worries of being overheard or interruptions.
Here, in his Fulwood home, Steve has listened to people talk about their relationships, addictions, abuses, troubles, work and money.
He’s well practised at this. For more than twenty years Steve has been working as a counsellor around Sheffield, and now, he says, the demand for counselling is increasing. Indeed, a recent survey by the The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy showed that more than 8 in 10 people in Britain have had, or are open to considering having therapy and 63 per cent of people surveyed agreed that they knew someone who could benefit from counselling.
But counselling’s a strange phenomenon. And it’s a broad church. Steve’s work varies from helping people with everyday relationship problems to people overcoming serious trauma.
“Some people want a spring clean whereas others need a deep clean.”
I arranged to sample one of Steve’s sessions to see what it’s all about and with 30 minutes, we’ve only time for a very brief spring clean. But it’s not easy. The prospect of walking into a room, sitting down and breaking into a monologue about your deepest thoughts, worries and troubles is daunting. But once I started, I instantly became comfortable and relieved to be able to talk openly, to someone who has no connection to me whatsoever.
Counsellors aren’t there to give you the answers you need. Their role is to reflect and digest people’s thoughts to equip people with the clarity required to find the answers to their problems themselves.
And even in a 30-minute session, Steve’s already provided some enlightenment, compartmentalising worries and acutely recognising my fundamental concerns. I walk away with slightly more clarity than I had walked in the room with, which is the aim of counselling, though most people have at least a few sessions.
“We live in a society where everything’s got a fast-turnaround,” says Steve. “We want a quick fix all the time. But counselling is slow - it’s like a very slow waltz, not the quick-step, I had one client, who I saw once a week for four years. Others need only a couple of sessions but now the demand is so high we offer fewer sessions but for more people.”
Steve attributes the increase in demand for counselling to a shift towards a more transient society, where people move around more, leaving their families and friends at other parts of the country.
“The world has got smaller and we are more dispersed than we were previously. It’s wonderful that we can travel around more but it comes with a price: the fabric of support is stability and people lose family support when they move away.”
Attitudes towards counselling have also changed. Seeking psychotherapaeutic help or counselling has, in the past, tended to be perceived as the practice of the middle classes, but Steve says that is opening up more now.
“Sheffield is a really good city for increased access to counsellors. I once worked in a GP practice in Hillsborough and it was really rewarding to see how powerful counselling was to people who wouldn’t normally have the luxury of talking about themselves and their problems, or having that level of attention. It was really rewarding.”
The most common problems people go to Steve with are relationships.
“That’s a biggie,” he says. “Many people are worried about breaking up, or dealing with a break-up or just want to talk about what’s happened to them in their relationships or their own destructive behaviour in a relationship. Other problems include panic disorders, panic attacks, depression, eating disorders and increasingly, among young people, self-harm.”
There are various types of ‘models’ in counselling. Steve uses a psychodynamic model, which looks at unconscious relationship patterns which have evolved from childhood.
“I usually spend the first session talking about what they want and why they’ve come and the second session talking about their background,” he says.
And while it’s a demanding job, it’s one that Steve finds fascinating. “I meet people in a way you wouldn’t do otherwise. But people’s reluctance to disclose things about themselves is not to be underestimated. And as a counsellor we have to remind ourselves how nerve-wracking it can be for people when they first walk through that door.”
Steve sums up the purpose of counselling succinctly: “My job is to help people digest their thoughts and enable them to tolerate their thoughts and realise that the fear of feelings is often worse than the feelings themselves.”
Types of therapy
Behavioural therapy is focused on cognitions and behaviours and look at changing, or reconditioning, our thoughts and behaviours to overcome problems.
Psychoanalytical and psychodynamic therapy - which is what Steve bases his work on - focuses on the unconscious patterns which have evolved from childhood and affect our relationships in adult life.
Humanistic therapy looks at self-development and responsibilities, helping individuals to recognise their strengths, creativity and choice in the ‘here and now’.