Old image of a counsellor with patient lying on a couch. Myths about counselling.

It is not uncommon for myths about counselling to discourage or even prevent people from trying therapy. Popular misconceptions – given credibility by people who have often never had counselling – can colour our opinions of counselling and talking therapies in general.

Rather than allowing these myths about counselling to remain unchallenged, at The Spark, we are tackling them head-on. And here is the result: part 1 of our guide to debunking 10 common myths about counselling.

Myths about counselling no. 1: A counsellor will tell me what to do


A counsellor never tells a client what to do or pushes them towards a certain conclusion. The role of a counsellor is to help you pinpoint the experiences and thought processes that result in behaviours that cause you unhappiness or distress.

A counsellor discussing myths about counselling
“This is what you will do …” said no counsellor, ever.

Once those are understood, counselling then aims to enable you – the client – to better cope with or (if you wish) to change those behaviours. Counsellors support clients in this process by providing insights and tools/techniques (sometimes called ‘coping mechanisms’).

For example, a counsellor might share techniques on how to prevent or cope with anxiety attacks or suggest better ways to communicate with your partner. But they will never tell you what to do.

Myths about counselling no. 2: I will have to lie on a couch


Thanks to countless cartoons, TV programmes and movies a lot of us wrongly believe that a counselling session involves lying down on a couch, staring at the ceiling.

Old image of a counsellor with patient lying on a couch. Myths about counselling.

Counselling is an active process that requires the client to be just as engaged as the counsellor. Rather than being a passive action – something that ‘happens’ – counselling requires the client to commit to being involved.

Sitting in a comfortable chair or on a sofa is a more appropriate position and is adopted by the vast majority of clients. A counsellor will typically sit opposite their client in a similar way.

Myths about counselling no. 3: Counselling offers a ‘quick fix’ for your problems

In some cases, counselling may help a client deal with a very specific issue in a short space of time. However, as counselling deals with experiences from the past, present circumstances and our deepest emotions, it often takes time to fully understand them.

This, in turn, means the process of dealing with those experiences and modifying their impact on you can rarely be achieved quickly. For some clients, past experiences over an extended period of time have contributed to their current difficulties.

Much like a house that has experienced many years of neglect, helping a client rebuild typically takes more than just a couple of counselling sessions.


Myths about counselling

Look out for part 2 coming up soon by following The Spark on Twitter or Facebook.

Find out more about individual, couple, marriage or family counselling with The Spark or complete an informal enquiry form.

The Pretenders I'll Stand by You cover artwork

Songs for Sound Minds #25 – ‘I’ll Stand by You’ by The Pretenders

This week’s pick by The Pretenders was suggested by one of our followers on Facebook: a timeless classic about love and faithfulness in times of trouble. A song made special, not by the experiences of those who wrote it, but by those who heard it.


‘I’ll Stand by You’ started out as a joke that turned into a dream come true for songwriter Billy Steinberg. During a conversation with music publisher Jason Dauman, Steinberg was asked who he wanted to collaborate with in the future.

Prince, Bruce Springsteen and Chrissie Hynde

Thinking the question a joke, Steinberg replied somewhat facetiously: “Prince, Bruce Springsteen and Chrissie Hynde.”

“I said those names because they were three of my favorite songwriters and he sort of took it seriously. Then a little while later he called me up and he said, ‘Chrissie Hynde wants to write with you and Tom (Tom Kelly, Steinberg’s writing partner).’  And I thought, ‘Right.’”

“I get a phone call and this woman said, ‘Billy, this is Chrissie Hynde,’ and I thought somebody was playing with me or something.”

Star struck and a little soft

Despite writing hits like ‘Eternal Flame’ and ‘Like a Virgin’, Steinberg was star struck: “The butterflies in my stomach were fluttering so much I could barely speak because I love The Pretenders.”

Hynde joined Steinberg and Kelly in Los Angeles and their efforts created a total of six songs, including ‘I’ll Stand by You’; but Pretenders fan Steinberg had mixed feelings.

“I remember when we wrote it I felt two things. I felt one, we had written a hit song; and I felt two, a little sheepish that we had written something a little soft, a little generic for The Pretenders… I know that Chrissie felt that way too to some extent.”

The dream turns sour

In an interview with Mojo Chrissie Hynde admitted being unimpressed with the tune: “When I did that song, I thought, Urgh this is s–t.”

The Pretenders I'll Stand by You cover artwork

As the dream turned sour for Steinberg hope emerged in the form of an impromptu gig.

Despite her initial disappointment with the track, Hynde pressed on: “I played it for a couple of girls who weren’t in the [music] business and by the end of it they were both in tears. I said, OK, put it out.”

The universality of the lyrics that Steinberg feared were too soft and generic is exactly what makes ‘I’ll Stand by You’ such a special song.

It speaks of complete love and unquestioning support when we are at our weakest. The kind of love that means someone is there to wipe away our tears and walk with us.

Thanks to Steinberg, Kelly and Hynde we can experience the shared understanding that we all feel that way sometimes. And that we all want to be there to stand by someone we care about.


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

us time

Life is busy. For couples with children life is even busier as they shuttle kids from activity to activity, keep the house running and hold down full-time jobs.

It is not a surprise that when our counsellors ask couples about how much ‘ us time ’ they get, the answer is usually ‘no time for that’.

No time for us time


When our counsellors ask why, the responses are again similar.

us time

The general theme being that as a relationship matures, the practicalities of life – raising children, demanding jobs, caring for older relatives – impinge on our time. ‘Us time’ simply gets squeezed out.

That realisation saddens me because we are sleepwalking into an exhausted acceptance that ‘us time’ is a luxury we simply cannot afford.

Thinking about relationships as living entities


We have talked before about how the relationship with our partner is a living entity in its own right. By that definition we must think of it in the same way we would our children; vulnerable, precious gifts that require time, love, attention and protection.

This consequently poses some tricky questions we all need to consider.

Ask yourself honestly if your relationship gets the time it deserves. For example, when was the last time you sat down with your partner and talked? And by talking I don’t mean the nightly bedtime ‘did you pay the insurance?’ Q&A session.

us time

I mean a proper conversation about both of you and your relationship. Discussing hopes, fears, emotions and how you are doing in life right now.

How much love do we give to our relationships?


Equally does your relationship get much love?

In the busyness of life we often take it for granted like the foundations of a house; reliable, out of sight and requiring little thought. Investing love in our relationship becomes something we used to do when it was fresh and vibrant.

Going through the motions during us time


How much attention we give to our relationship goes a long way to deciding how healthy it remains. Neglect a child and their behaviour, health and wellbeing will deteriorate rapidly.

So is ‘us time’ an afterthought?

Do you plan a date night together and really make it a special occasion or is it a case of going through the motion when you have time?

When it does happen are you guilty of being present in body but not mind? Distracted by work emails or Instagram on your smartphone?

us time
This is not what date night is for

Protecting our relationship


When we think about protecting a relationship, typically our minds turn to the risks posed by affairs and neglect. Threats, however, can be more subtle.

A good example is whether your time together is protected. Or is it the first thing to go when schedules get really busy?

Do you nourish it by thanking and praising your partner for what they do or is it more often harsh criticism (to their face or behind their back)?

Give your relationship what it needs to thrive


The relationship with your partner is far too valuable to sacrifice.

We must ask ourselves if packing the week with activities for our kids and working every hour that God sends is worth it if our relationship becomes a deeply unhappy, lonely mess.


The Spark Counselling

The Spark’s couples counselling and marriage counselling services offer the opportunity to speak to a professional counsellor about the difficulties and challenges you are facing in your relationship right now.

To find out more freephone 0808 802 0050 or complete an online enquiry.

Follow The Spark on Twitter and Facebook for the latest updates, advice and blogs about relationships and how to make them work.

Valentine's Day gift

When Valentine’s Day comes around we are reminded it is time to focus on that special someone. For a day it is all about demonstrating our love for our spouse or partner.

Soppy cards, flowers and chocolates are all great of course. But the fact we need a prompt is a pretty sad reflection on our efforts for the other 364 days of the year.

Valentine's Day gift

Which – for me anyway – raised a disconcerting thought: why do we often need a reminder to show love to the person we share our life with?

I just don’t have the headspace right now…


On Valentine’s we are encouraged to show our love with gestures and efforts – a special home cooked meal, a small gift or a ‘date night’ perhaps.

Inherent to all of those things is the necessity of time. Space to think about what to do and time to make it happen.

Modern life however has a habit of crowding out those opportunities.

Work, families, kids, bills and the like get in the way. Even having the head space to think “what would he/she enjoy on Valentine’s Day?” can be rare. Hence the need for a reminder on 14 February to find some sliver of time to come up with what is often a rushed and poorly chosen gesture.

Or worse still, nothing at all.

No more passion ‘til next Valentine’s Day


Undoubtedly the daily grind drains the spontaneity that makes a gesture romantic. Amongst emails, insurance renewals and getting the kids to bed the natural desire to express our love for one another gets buried.

Valentine's Day hectic life

But the hectic pace of life is not the only hindrance to expressing our devotion more than once a year.

To love at all is to be vulnerable


Showing our love for someone, expressing how important and vital they are to our own life makes us vulnerable. Committing to another human in this way leaves us exposed to the risk of being hurt. A risk we might naturally try to avoid.

CS Lewis summed it up best in his book The Four Loves when he wrote: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.”

Not exactly the objective any of us would set for ourselves, is it? Not to mention the fact you will be hard pushed to find a Valentine’s Day card featuring that particular quote.

A greater truth about love


If you are familiar with this quote you will already know that Lewis was writing about a far greater truth concerning relationships and love:

“If you want to make sure of keeping it (your heart) intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.

But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves.

A risk worth taking


To demonstrate our love for another is a risk worth taking. It is good for us – though we might initially fear it – compared to the cold, harsh alternative.

To quote the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone gives you courage.”

Valentine's Day

Enjoy Valentine’s Day and lavish as much love and affection upon your partner as you can. But more importantly, when you wake up on 15 February try to remember that it is just as crucial to do the same today as it was yesterday.


Making relationships work

The Spark’s mission is a simple one: to make relationships work.

At The Spark we have been supporting couples navigate the ups and downs of life for over 50 years. We can do the same for you.

Find out more about couple counselling or marriage counselling.

Locate your nearest The Spark counselling centre or contact us to discuss your needs.

Freephone 0808 802 0050 during our opening hours or complete an online enquiry form.

Follow us on social media

Get in touch, join the conversation and get the latest tips, blogs and news on Twitter and Facebook.

Valentine's Day

It might be the time of year to celebrate love but that does not mean Valentine’s Day is filled with excitement for everyone. Some will be approaching February 14 with one particular thought: do I break up with her/him before or after Valentine’s Day?

Valentine's Day

I don’t want to be ‘that’ guy on Valentine’s Day…


Society has evolved a sort of unwritten list of “no-no’s” over time. Things like not liking puppies or ignoring queuing etiquette are examples that will raise more than just a Roger Moore-esque eyebrow.

Splitting up with someone at any time around Valentine’s Day is on that same list.

Valentine's Day
You’re breaking up with me… on Valentine’s Day?

From time to time we have all laughed about the guy or girl we know who broke up with their partner before Valentine’s just to save having to buy a gift. Or discussed how we could never be ‘that guy’ (or girl) who dumped someone before Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day and relationships


Joking aside, Valentine’s Day can create genuine anxieties and raise questions about relationships. The kinds of concerns that are more legitimate than simply trying to avoid paying for a nice meal.

It is not uncommon, for example, that Valentine’s Day can bring with it fears about commitment.

Thanks to shrewd marketing by jewellers and the advertising industry, Valentine’s Day tends to be an occasion when relationships achieve new levels of commitment. Marriage proposals are part and parcel of the day, and requests to move in are becoming ever more common.

Peer pressure and the weight of expectation can be problematic. If you are not ready for such a step and think your partner absolutely is, you might feel like calling time on your relationship is the only option.

Valentine’s Day marks the end of ‘cuffing season’


The aftereffects of the Christmas ‘cuffing season’ can also come in to play around this time of year.

The prospect of spending winter nights and the Christmas holiday (party) season alone drives some singletons to ‘cuff’ themselves to a partner.  There is no guarantee however that both parties understand that this might only be a short term thing.

valentine's day holding hands

February can be when the ‘need’ for coupling ends for one half of the relationship as spring approaches and the prospect of a care-free summer rises on the horizon.

Do we still love each other?


At a deeper level Valentine’s Day can bring with it a worrying realisation for some couples.

While ‘other couples’ are excited about picking cards and gifts for Valentine’s Day, you are not. This can trigger plenty of difficult questions: what does that mean for our relationship? Do I still love her/him as much? Does she/he still love me?

What is common to all these scenarios is that to navigate them we need to talk. Not to girlfriends or the lads down the pub, but to our partners.

Talk about it


Too often in relationships we avoid discussing important issues with each other. Instead we allow our own assumptions – he/she is going to propose – to direct our actions.

Frequently these can be inaccurate or incomplete and based on interpretations of what our partner has done or said. Without open and honest dialogue, we can end up causing ourselves and our partners much emotional pain.

Don’t assume, ask!


Your partner may be thinking about a proposal around Valentine’s Day. But if you speak to them about where your relationship is you may find they love you enough to wait until you are both ready.

Or they may be under the impression this is what you want from them and they are not quite ready for the commitment either!

valentine's day talk about it

All relationships move at different speeds. Better communication can help you both understand that you are ultimately heading in the same direction but at slightly different speeds.

There is no right or wrong time to break up with your partner. There are however good and bad reasons to separate.

Make sure this Valentine’s that any decision you take only comes after spending time talking about it.


Making relationships work

The Spark’s mission is a simple one: to make relationships work. If you are feeling unsure about a relationship, we can help.

Through counselling – for couples, individuals, families and children – and support services The Spark aims to make relationships in Scotland work.

Follow The Spark on social media

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook

perfect Christmas present

Well we’ve come to the end of our countdown to a stress free Christmas as we reach tip 21 and perhaps the most important one: forget about the perfect Christmas and enjoy the day. 


Enjoy Christmas Day and forget about perfect!

When it comes to Christmas Day this year enjoy the special moments and give yourself permission to ditch the pursuit (if you haven’t already) of a ‘perfect’ Christmas.

The tree might be tilting to one side more than the leaning Tower of Pisa and the turkey might be overdone; but that’s not what is important today.

What is important is to savour the smiles, the laughter and the opportunity to spend time with loved ones. Relish the imperfections of the day and remember that it really is the thought that counts when it comes to presents that might fall short of our expectations.

Laugh at how bad the Christmas cracker jokes are. Ignore the sea of wrapping paper now covering the living room floor. End up in hysterics as Gran tries to guess ‘twerking’ during Charades.

Merry Christmas!


Support this Christmas

Stress, anxiety, depression and relationship issues are very common at Christmas and during the festive season. The Spark offers counselling and support for individuals, couples, young people and families across Scotland.

To find out more or enquire about a counselling appointment, freephone 0808 802 0050.

The Spark Counselling – Christmas opening times

The Spark Counselling (enquiries team, appointments and office) will observe the following opening times during the 2017 Christmas and New Year holidays.

20 December 2017: 9am – 9pm

21 December 2017: 9am – 10am

22 December 2017 to 2 January 2018: closed

Services return to normal hours on 3 January 2018.

For immediate support over the Christmas and New Year break contact Breathing Space or Samaritans.

enjoy some just us time this Christmas

Tip 20 on our countdown to a stress free Christmas is an important one for couples and families: have some ‘just us time’.

Throughout December we will be offering up advice on how to enjoy a stress free Christmas!

You can catch up on all 21 tips for your stress free Christmas on our website.


Enjoy some ‘just us time’ this Christmas

Spending time with family is probably what most people look forward to at Christmas.

Modern life is so hectic that Christmas can end up being one of the few occasions when the whole extended family can get together.

just us time at Christmas

However, that does not mean we need to spend all of our time with them.

Christmas should be a time to recharge and unwind. An opportunity to consider the year that is coming to an end and our hopes and dreams for the one to come.

For couples, particularly those with children, it is important to carve out some time for just the two of you at Christmas. We like to call it ‘just us time’.

Spending time together just as a couple – not as parents – is a great way to keep your relationship strong and to celebrate the love that exists between you (and existed long before you became mum or dad).

enjoy some just us time this Christmas

Enjoy some ‘just us time’ this Christmas

Equally important is for individual families – parents and kids – to spend time together during the holidays.

Check out tip 18 and spend the day enjoying some low-cost activities as a family without in-laws or siblings and their families.

It is great to get the whole family together at Christmas. But there is nothing wrong with setting some time aside to devote exclusively to the people who mean the most to you and enjoy some ‘us time’.


Catch up on all of our 21 tips here or follow on Twitter and Facebook

get some rest

Tip 19 on our countdown to a stress free Christmas is really simple: get some rest!

Throughout December we will be offering up advice on how to enjoy a stress free Christmas!

You can catch up on all 21 tips for your stress free Christmas on our website.


Get some rest

Christmas offers up a perfect storm of late nights and early starts. Which means getting a good night’s sleep can be almost impossible.

In the build-up to Christmas we tend to run around like headless chickens in an attempt to get everything done in time.

We are up early to avoid the queues at the shops or trying to calm down over-excited children. We then spend late nights getting decorations down from the loft and writing Christmas cards.

Get some rest at Christmas

The Christmas holidays then become a series of late nights and early starts, especially if you have kids with boundless reserves of energy. Sleep often gets forgotten about, leaving us exhausted and in need of another holiday to get over Christmas.

Missing out on even a few hours’ sleep can have a negative impact on our physical and mental health.

Making sure that we get enough shut eye is important at any time of the year but particularly so when we are busy with trips to see family or hosting friends over the holidays.


Catch up on all of our 21 tips here or follow on Twitter and Facebook

stress free Christmas

Trying to achieve a stress free Christmas can feel like an impossible task.

Everything will be busy, last minute and crammed into time we simply do not have.

At The Spark, however, we disagree and believe that a stress free Christmas is possible!

21 tips for a stress free Christmas


To help you de stress this year we have put together 21 tips for an enjoyable Christmas from start to finish.

stress free Christmas

Starting on 27 November The Spark will be posting a tip a day to help you enjoy the festive season instead of feeling like it is something to survive.

From advice on handling relationships and budgeting, to low-cost way to entertain the family The Spark wants to help you relax this Christmas.

Follow our 21 tips here or on Twitter and Facebook.

Stress free Christmas tips


Christmas tip 1: Get a plan

Christmas tip 2: Do a bit at a time

Christmas tip 3: Stick to a Christmas budget

Christmas tip 4: The Christmas ‘to do’ list

Christmas tip 5: Give gifts because you want to

Christmas tip 6: Switch off Christmas TV ads

Christmas tip 7: Ditch the pursuit of a ‘perfect’ Christmas

Christmas tip 8: Enjoy the build up to Christmas Day

Christmas tip 9: Dear Santa… share you own Christmas list

Christmas tip 10: Enjoy the simple things

Christmas tip 11: Get some exercise with a winter walk

Christmas tip 12: Dark nights don’t need to mean no fun

Christmas tip 13: Help others this Christmas

Christmas tip 14: Spend time with people

Christmas tip 15: Get some Christmas helpers (aka you don’t have to do it all yourself)

Christmas tip 16: Talk about ghosts of Christmas past

Christmas tip 17: Say please and thank you this Christmas

Christmas tip 18: Christmas family fun doesn’t have to cost a lot

Christmas tip 19: Get some rest!

Christmas budget credit cards

Christmas is an expensive time of year for all of us as we buy presents, decorate our homes and enjoy nights out. Costs can soon add up and Christmas debt is a significant problem with 1 in 4 adults in the UK feeling pressured into overspending at Christmas.

Loans, credit cards and Christmas debt


Christmas debt credit cards

Many of us can be left feeling we have no choice but to spread the costs of Christmas across loans or credit cards. If we are not careful about where we source credit from, we can end up left with a financial hangover in the New Year.

High interest costs and long repayments – a common feature of many high cost lenders – can leave us with serious financial worries many months after Christmas.

Our friends at Scotcash – a not-for-profit community finance lender – have put together some hints and tips on how to keep on top of your finances this year and avoid Christmas debt.

Take control of your budget


To take control of your Christmas spending the first thing to do is to plan your budget and then stick to it.

The Christmas Calculator tool from Independent Age Scotland lets you see exactly how much money you will need for your Christmas expenses.

Christmas debt food and drink shopping

The calculator breaks down all the usual Christmas spending – for gifts, food and drink, going out – to give you a clear idea of what you can afford.

With a set budget in mind you will be a big step closer to avoiding Christmas debt this year.

Avoid high interest rate borrowing


Wherever possible try to avoid borrowing to finance Christmas so you can start the New Year with as little Christmas debt as possible.

Should you need to spread the cost of Christmas, do a bit of research on the options available to you first. Avoid high cost options such as door step loans and pay day lenders.

Christmas debt

Both will include high interest rates that will leave you paying much more back than you originally borrowed.

By contrast community finance lenders such as Scotcash can provide borrowing at a much lower rate of interest.

What if I’ve run up Christmas debt already?


If you do find yourself in debt, please be assured that there is advice and help available to you.

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can help with information on benefits, grants and money management advice. Organisations such as Step Change Debt Charity can provide over the phone advice and support if you are struggling with debt.

Affordable alternatives to Christmas debt


Community lenders like Scotcash can provide advice and access to affordable loans and other financial products and services. These organisations want to make sure you do not feel trapped in a spiral of high cost credit.

Christmas debt

By providing affordable alternatives and helping individuals and families manage their money better, they are a great way to get your finances back on track.

Find out more about Scotcash and their services.

Counselling and support


Financial worries can be a source of stress and anxiety. Unsecured debts like credit cards and pay-day loans are a common cause of relationship problems and relationship breakdown.

Counselling support for individuals, couples and families struggling with debt cannot provide practical ways to manage and improve your financial situation. It can however help you explore why debt has become an issue, the motivations behind it and ways to tackle those issues.

Find out more about counselling or locate your nearest The Spark counselling centre.

To enquire about counselling freephone 0808 802 0050 during our opening hours or complete an online enquiry form.