What counsellors actually do (no magic wands involved)

By Claire Stanley, Counsellor at Jersey Hospice Care

What do counsellors actually do? In truth, it’s both more ordinary and more special than people might think. At its most basic, counselling is confidential, focused attention on someone’s story without judgment, and with compassion. You get 50 minutes to offload all your worries, fears and concerns, major and minor, without someone turning the attention back to themselves or saying “I know, I know, I remember when that happened to me…” 

As you get to know your counsellor, you might also reflect on some of the experiences that have made you who you are, and ways of coping that have helped you get through the rough patches.  

Counselling available 

At Jersey Hospice Care, we offer counselling in two main areas: 

  • Counselling for grief and loss 
  • Counselling for a life limiting illness or end of life stage (called ‘emotional support’) 

The services are broadly the same but are underpinned by different understanding about what people might be experiencing during bereavement, or following a life limiting or palliative diagnosis.  

Free and confidential 

Practically speaking, bereavement counselling is open to everyone in the community and Jersey Hospice Care gets about 10 referrals a week – from people themselves; from friends, family, employers, GPs, charities, government departments, care homes; and places like the Listening Lounge, family support groups, and the prison. 

For emotional support counselling, you have to be under the care of Jersey Hospice Care, or be a friend or relative of someone who’s under our care. 

Both emotional support and bereavement support are completely free. 

What happens next? 

When someone gets in touch about counselling, one of our counsellors will spend a bit of time with you on the phone. We’ll ask about what you’re finding hardest, other deaths or serious life events, who’s supporting you, and we’ll try to build up a picture of what might help.  

If the client is connected to the In-Patient Unit or the Specialist Palliative Care Team we’ll make space to see the client as soon as possible. For bereavement counselling, we have a waiting list of around 4-6 weeks.  

Grief and sadness are normal 

Often, an assessment is a valuable first step for counsellor and client to get to know one another and is among my favourite and most rewarding parts of the job. Some assessments can be tearful; we may be the first person a grieving or newly diagnosed client has opened up to. Feelings can sometimes be overwhelming and out of control, so this initial conversation can be a chance to assure people: 

“No, you’re not going crazy.” 

“Yes, grief is a whole-body stress out and you can feel zoned out, overwhelmed, angry, guilty, achy, or experience any number of other symptoms.” 

“Yes, bursting into tears for no reason is completely normal.” 

The other response we hear is “My mum/sister/friend/colleague said I should come for counselling. I don’t think I need it, but they keep going on about it.” Research suggests that we don’t ‘get over’ the death of someone close, and strong feelings of grief can last for anything between six months to two, three or five years. But evidence also shows that in time, we do begin to live our life again, and usually without psychotherapeutic support.  

However, where a death has been sudden, or where family relationships or life experiences have been complicated, or where someone has taken their own life, counselling can be an enormous support.    

Bubble wrapped 

A grieving person may have plenty of friends and family, but sometimes, each bereaved individual is wrapped in their own bubble, unable or unwilling to talk about their feelings. Sometimes this is intended to protect the others around them, or because they’re worried that once they start crying, their feelings will become overwhelming and unmanageable.  We can definitely help with this. We can’t wave a magic wand to make it better, but we can sit with the pain, tears, and mess, help explain what other people experience and what helped them, and be there when they want to say the unsayable.  

To find out more about our services: