Counselling is not about giving advice, but can be about enabling the client to consider various options. It is a collaborative process, using the client's own knowledge of their particular life, habits and thinking styles, and the counsellor's knowledge of human functioning and skills in human relationships. Many clients come with a specific issue which is proving problematic. For others there may be a general dissatisfaction with life, and a vague sense that things could be better.
It is very common for prospective clients to be wary and nervous of both the process itself and the counsellor. However, it is even more common to hear clients say that they are surprised by how quickly they relax, and how much they value being listened to by an objective stranger, rather than their friends or family. At its most basic, counselling can be just that : being effectively listened to. Most people are considerably helped by this process alone. However, along with many counsellors, and certainly cognitive-behavioural therapists, I personally see the process as much more than this. It may involve challenge to consider, and perhaps change, the way you think or behave in certain situations. It may involve practising techniques of relaxation, anxiety management or anger management. Nothing is ever imposed by the counsellor, however. The client's sense of remaining in control is an essential ingredient of successful therapy.
Some people find it helpful to view themself as suffering from an illness. There are pros and cons to this. If we have a physical illness, we typically go to the doctor who prescribes some form of treatment, which we passively receive, and which either cures us or not. Therefore, if we view, say, our anxiety or phobia as an illness, there may be a temptation to be passive and expect the counsellor, like the doctor, to "do" something to us. As a counsellor, I am not particularly keen on using words like "illness", "cure" etc, as they tend to discourage the sort of collaboration between counsellor and client that is necessary for a successful outcome. Instead I believe that the vast majority of emotional problems we have are better described in terms of problematic adjustments to life and relationships, rather than mental illness.
And finally, it's not all angst and tears. There can often be fun and laughter too. Clients frequently report enjoying the process, even when at times the going gets tough. Change of any kind is often difficult, but rarely impossible.