What exactly is counseling anyway?

It’s the classic meet and greet conversation:

“Hi I’m so and so, nice to meet you. So, what do you do?”

I’ve found over the years that when  I tell people I’m a counselor, they really have no idea what I do. It usually sounds something like, “oh that’s wonderful. So..what exactly is counseling anyway?”

Typical misconceptions about counseling are as follows:

  • I give people advice at a reasonable fee
  • I just listen to people and that’s it
  • People lie down on the couch in my office and I sit mysteriously behind them interpreting vague somethings
  • I fix people

Those are just a few things that counseling is certainly not…but the question still looms: what is counseling?

Let me first begin by telling you how a counselor functions. A counselor serves to journey with an individual into his or her inner world. We don’t judge it, we don’t assign value and in fact, we rarely think in terms of “right” or “wrong”, the typical categorical qualifiers of value. Instead, we create an atmosphere of freedom to gain understanding and insight into a person’s mind and heart allowing everything to be just as it is. In this, we discover patterns. Patterns unfold the layers to a place of a person’s true self, beneath the defenses we have used to cope, below the fronts we put up to keep ourselves safe and into a person’s authentically raw identity.

Our identity, who we say we are, is everything. However, I don’t really think anyone, myself included, can see themselves truly objectively. We’ve all been wounded. We’ve all had experiences that have shaped us in a way that wasn’t affirming of our true value. It’s here in this place we sit. It’s here in the safety of another who can hold the weight of our shame, who can encircle with safety the vulnerability and exposure that exists with the walls down that we do the healing work.

So what is counseling anyway? It’s the place where we journey with safety to the depths of who we are in order to heal, to gain understanding and insight and to become equipped with skills and knowledge. It’s where we find the courage to work through the things we’d rather not deal with or don’t even know exist en route to  the empowerment that is self-awareness. In this awareness, we find peace within ourselves: we know who we are and who we aren’t, we know our strengths and weaknesses and affirm our value for who we are and not by how society decides this week how valued we are. We find our true identity.  Our relationships are revolutionized because as we change, our relationships change. As our relationships change, our families change. As our families change, our community is changed.

Counseling is journeying. Counseling is healing. Counseling is transformation.

Now when people ask me that old familiar question, I simply respond, “I journey with people”. Like a lighthouse, we are here to shine a light in the dark to help you along your way, ensuring you make it to your destination all the better for it.



Learn more about Phil Zaffos, MA, LAPC & Heidi Zaffos, MA, LMFT, LAPC and Foundation Counseling .

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