Addressing Symptoms or Deeper Issues
Is Counselling Only A Temporary Relief?

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Addressing symptoms or deeper issues?

An interesting question was thrown at me recently. Does counselling give only temporary relief? Does the counsellee feel good for a short while and then go back to their misery? Does counselling provide only symptomatic relief with no benefit in the long run?

Should counsellor address symptoms or deeper issues of a counsellee?
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What Happens in Physical Distress?

The question is interesting and demands an answer. If as counsellors we are only providing temporary relief, it would only be half the job done. This question needs us to understand counselling at a deeper level. It is the age old battle between addressing the symptoms and tackling the deep rooted malaise whether in a physical distress or emotional distress. When someone is in deep physical pain, the pain is the symptom of something wrong in the body. Correcting the wrong will take time but does that mean the symptom of pain and discomfort should not be addressed? Doctors give you an analgesic so that the pain in under control. Once you are in a better physical state the real problem gets addressed too.

First Aid Before Serious Treatment

Counsellor hearing a distressed counsellee
Image Credit: DFAT,, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

The same thing happens in counselling. The person comes to you in a deeply disturbed emotional state. Helping them to pour out their distress, giving them the emotional support and more importantly allowing them to be heard out empathetically, helps the counsellee to come to grips with their situation and become emotionally calmer. When the counsellee feels accepted unconditionally by one person, they gain strength to go back to their lives and deal with it.

After Putting Out the Fire

Counsellor addressing deeper issues of a  counsellee
Image Credit: DFAT,, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Once the counsellee is in better control of herself, the counsellor does address the larger issues at stake and helps the counsellee deal with the real issues. Without the initial phase of addressing the symptoms we cannot go directly to addressing the issues. Just like in a physical condition both the symptoms (emotional pain) and the disease (deeper emotional issues) have to be addressed in that order. When a building is on fire, only after putting out the fire can we assess the damage and start the rebuilding work.

Counselling is a Relationship Building Exercise

Often it is the counseling relationship that helps the counsellee more than anything else. They derive strength from this one relationship and that empowers them to deal with the issues confronting them.

You may meet a very hungry man on the road. It is very well to think, you should not give him fish but teach him fishing. But at that moment to survive what the man needs is fish, once you have fed him then you can think of what you want to do for the long term. There are times when we need to address the short term issues(urgent) and then when the crises has blown over address the long term issues (important) too. The same applies in counselling too.

By Sreedhar MA

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