Counselling and Helping (by Stephen Murgatroyd)

I've had something of an interest in general helping and low-key advising for some years, albeit with little chance to do much of it in real life. I run sites intended to provide answers to some topics I know about, and answer questions on various forums online, but when family, friends or even acquaintances go through difficult times, I find it hard to know what to do. I can listen - and sometimes that's all that is needed - but started to feel that it would be helpful to read a book on the topic of counselling in general. So I browsed a few online bookshops, reading blurbs and reviews, and discovered this particular one, very inexpensively, a few months ago. I had not heard of Stephen Murgatroyd, but apparently he's quite a significant person in the psychology, counselling and indeed writing world.

'Counselling and Helping' is quite a thin volume, only 160 pages in length. I found it a clear and readable introduction to general counselling, something the author equates with helping in almost any context. I very much liked the way that he brushed aside any mystique or suggestion that only a few special people could do this. Although the book is written primarily for those who undertake to counsel in a professional setting, it is also relevant for helping in any kind of relationship - friendship, parenting, even listening to acquaintances.

Anyone can go through stressful and traumatic periods of life, and it's clear different people are affected differently, due to their temperament, their upbringing, perhaps even their culture. The most important thing, when stressed, seems to be to have someone who can listen in a caring and non-judgemental way. This book advises how to go about this, either formally or informally.

There are some useful check-lists of ways to encourage others to open up and look at their problems from different viewpoints; of what to avoid saying or implying; even of how to avoid getting over-committed or burned out as a helper. There are exercises and role-playing ideas that are really only relevant in a professional situation, but a great deal that's of interest in greater understanding of others, and also of oneself.

Despite being accessible to the layperson, I found it a little heavy going at times. I deliberately only read a few pages each day, which gave me the chance to think over some of what was said. I'm not sure it's made any difference to me, but it's a book I can see myself going back to in the future.

I would recommend this for anyone who ever finds themselves listening to others going through difficulties, or indeed to anyone who is interested in learning more about counselling, or support groups of any kind.

Originally written in 1985, 'Counselling and helping' was most recently re-printed in 1996; it's long out of print, but can often be found second-hand.

Review by Sue F copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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