Counselling in Oxfordshire

Bill Imlah :: Counselling in Oxfordshire

Blog » As a counsellor, when would I use challenge?

3 Dec 2016

When I use challenge in counselling, it's about bringing into focus discrepancies in feelings, thinking or behaviour that you may be tending to overlook or ignore.

In everyday life, "challenging" can have negative connotations, carrying the idea of conflict and confrontation. When I work with you in counselling, it means something slightly different.

Each of us perceives the world differently – we have our own unique ways of interpreting what’s going on, which may involve our own particular way of distorting things, and our own particular blind spots. One person may habitually react to criticism where no criticism is intended, another may fail to notice when they’re being treated unfairly, though they notice it with others.

As a counsellor, my challenging you would be about bringing into focus discrepancies in your feelings, thinking or behaviour that you might be tending to overlook or ignore, where it might help bring a new perspective.

Challenging discrepancies is best done sensitively and respectfully:

Counsellor: You say you feel very calm but I notice that your foot is tapping”.

Client: "here am I acting as if it’s a big deal"
Counsellor: "It is a big deal  - it's huge."

This is another reason why self-development is important for counsellors to undertake. If we share a client‘s blind spots and distortions, or if we let our own anxieties become a block to effectively challenging them, we may end up colluding to avoid issues. We are never totally free of our own blind spots but as professional practitioners we are continually committed to shrinking them, and to holding a conscious awareness of how our own issues influence our perceptions and behaviour.


Gauging the strength of my challenges 

As a counsellor I use rapport and relationship-building skills to help build a sense of your safety and trust in our relationship.  So whether and how I'd challenge you would depend on the strength of the relationship at the time, and also how robust or vulnerable you might feel.

Early in the relationship, challenge may be tentative:

“I recall that you want to work on problems in your relationship, but I notice that for the last few minutes you’ve been talking about your pension scheme”.

Where our working alliance had had perhaps months or even years to develop, the challenges might become more robust:

“You seem to be rambling now ... What’s all that about?”


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