Counselling and Psychotherapy: A Resource, not a Last Resort.
If you've read any of my previous posts - or even ever hung out with me for any period of time you'll know how pro-therapy I am and that I am very invested in helping us all become mentally healthier, much happier and a lot less worried. So, by the term 'therapy', I mean the taboo world of Counselling and Psychotherapy which involves sitting with a trained professional and talking about whatever it is thats' going on for you in your life.
I've had a fair bit of it myself, I've given it as a volunteer and I hold a degree in it. Sadly at present, I can't practice fully unless I do a masters, and financially this is not currently possible - but one day - yes.
It is world very close to my heart and often a massively misunderstood one. In stark comparison to other parts of the world, the U.K. is a little behind in our collective understanding of how therapy can positively impact our personal and professional lives. The increasing rate of suicide in young people and a growing epidemic of anxiety and depression have forced some progress in our understanding. However, we are still talking about it through gritted teeth and are yet to reach the stage where it's normal to announce you're off to your lunchtime therapy appointment the same way you can a your nail appointment - particularly in the workplace. In short, a cultural tradition of 'the stiff upper lip' means we're still much more comfortable with someone drinking their problems away, than having them reveal they're off to therapy to cry it out and work it all through.
I have been on my own personal journey (sorry! I absolutely despise the word 'journey' too but I cant think of any other way of describing it!), in learning to accept i'm passionate about a subject that doesn't always sit comfortably with everyone I meet. When we think of therapy, it can conjure up images of having to sit on a stiff couch with a stern looking individual peering down at us over half moon glasses, scribbling scary notes about how mad and unstable we are. In the media and on television, therapy is often portrayed in stereotypical ways that don't accurately reflect how much of a positive effect it can have on our lives. I definitely thought some of these things once too, (particularly about the stern-looking person!) but I promise you, much of it is a complete world away from what actually happens in that therapy room.
It is an incredible resource that we are definitely not investing in enough, financially and culturally. To think of how much money we invest in gyms, beauty products and healthy eating, yet cultural taboos mean problems with our minds and emotions are often left completely neglected. If you're gaining a bit of weight, you might take up running or go to the gym or invest in healthier food - yet if you're feeling sad or anxious or insecure - what do you do? Sadly many of us don't find ourselves going to therapy until we're desperate, as a 'last resort'. This can often be well after we may have tried to drink, shop, work or exercise our emotions away- rather than when we first began feeling a little 'off'.
So! I am on a one-woman mission to challenge our attitude to this ever-so-mysterious world - and give you a bit of insight from my own education and experience. If you're currently having therapy and feeling a little ashamed or sheepish about it - relax. You're giving yourself a gift future you will be eternally grateful for and I promise it's one of the best investments of your life. So, I want to discuss some of the common assumptions I have come across in conversations around therapy, about who's having it, who needs it, and what your therapist is really thinking...
‘Yeh but I’d just feel like whoever was sitting there was judging and analysing me!??’
Believe me, the very last thing your therapist is doing is judging or condemning you. Your therapist is highly trained in dissecting and abolishing any judgement and judging is for judges – or when watching reality T.V. There is no place for it in the therapy room. Therapists have a fundamental understanding that we all struggle sometimes - and that humans simply don’t make much sense. Not to each other, or to themselves. Their role is to create a space where you can say out loud whatever the hell those crazy, strange, no-sense-making, painful or troubling thoughts and feelings are – so you can pick apart what’s going on together. It's a safe place. Yes, there is analysis – but analysis and judgement are two completely different things. Analysis is breaking something down, to then join the dots and gain a new clarity and understanding of it - and it gets a lot of flack ("Stop analysing!" "Dont analyze me!") when its really a pretty neutral exercise. The fear is usually around what we may find but analysis itself is not something to be afraid of. There is no ‘right or wrong’ or ‘good and bad’, it’s just about piecing together the origins of how you have become who you are. So don't worry, your therapist definitely isn't judging you at all - she just wants to help you feel better.
"You have to be depressed/anxious/stressed/troubled to benefit from Therapy."
Not necessarily. In general, most people do decide to see a counselor off the back of feeling pretty rubbish - but its not an essential requirement to reaping the benefits. If you're interested in the field of personal development or just want to know 'why do I keep doing that?' then therapy can definitely help. It personally saddens me that in our current emotional climate, along with such limited resources, the usual call for counselling is only made when things have gotten really bad. Long waiting lists on the NHS, and the expense of private therapy also create some serious roadblocks which really need to change. That aside, you don't have to wait to be pushed by your own sadness to jump into it. As you may be getting from this post - I am really keen on promoting therapy as a resource. Something to call upon when we just need a bit of clarity or someone objective to talk to - the same way we might start going to the gym if we want to tone up a bit. Talking to someone entirely objective, who knows nothing about you or your life other than what you are telling them, can be surprisingly powerful and healing. Sometimes there are things that for whatever reason, we just don't feel like we can discuss with someone we know and they need a level of neutrality. As a holiday rep - this tended to happen from time to time; i'd have guests blurt out something personal to me I was pretty sure they hadn't told anyone else. Most likely because there would be some form of unpleasant consequence. I was always happy to listen and be nice and often it was something they had been dying to discuss but just couldn't. Nothing too terrible or life threatening - just something that they felt a but funny about. Exactly what a therapist can help with. See it as looking at the clouds and deciding to wear a coat rather than waiting until you're caught wearing shorts in a full blown hurricane. You don't have to be a total wreck to benefit and it can stop negative thought patterns turning into negative life choices - which I think is a very smart move.
'Someone I know had therapy and her marriage/relationship/friendships fell apart - it ruined their life.'
Ok, I will be honest here. The first bit - marriage/relationship/friendships falling apart - can happen. The second bit 'ruined her life' - I am cynicial. We assume that the loss of seemingly significant people from our lives is always going to make it worse - but that's simply not true. When I went through my own personal therapy, it did send an unpleasant turbulence through a lot of my closest relationships and some of them admittedly didn't survive.
Sometimes when we find a higher level of self respect, or our needs change, or we decide to take a different path - one that feels right for us, it may not sit well with the people around us. Those people either adapt and grow with you - or you have to let each other go. Not everyone is meant for us forever and we're all allowed to change. Therapy will get you back in touch with your true self. (Ok, I know im going off on hippy speak here but the true self is something I would highly recommend googling!) Anyway, as you get to know that self, you may look around at everything and be like 'huh? but this isn't what I want or who I am!!?' - and then the subsequent carnage of re-arranging ones life begins. Sadly this may mean a shuffle up of characters - which in the long run is a good thing - but at the time it can just look and feel like a big fat horrible mess.
So maybe you do know someone who went to therapy and then their whole life seem to blow up. If that was the case, I can pretty much guarantee it would have happened further down the line anyway. The important thing to remember is that therapy only reveals problems - it doesn't create them if they're not already there. So despite the chaos and the perceived losses, I wouldn't be surprised if you find this person to be happier this side of the storm than the other.
So there we go, I hope I have given you a bit of insight and discussed some popular myths that can float around regarding the therapy world. As strongly as I do advocate it - I can appreciate it might not be for everyone. I'm a chatty person and have always found discussing things beneficial, yet I also know saying something out loud can be painful and vulnerable - as you're making it real. You may also end up looking in your own dark corners and facing things most of us prefer to avoid. For this reason I have a huge amount of respect for anyone that does have therapy as its so much more than having someone make you a cup of tea and tell you its all going to be alright. (But this does happen sometimes too!). Yet self reflection can really stop negative thoughts, self-talk, and self destructive decisions from perpetuating -which is exactly why I hope we come to see it as a resource, and not just a last resort.