September last year I embarked on a level three course to pursue my career in counselling (that’s the talking therapy kind, not the politician kind, as I have had to remind people). I enjoyed the smaller three month course that preceded it and I knew I would enjoy this one. But did I prepare myself for the momentous amount of self-reflection and discovery, ow no I didn't!
Some people can be afraid of self-reflection and discovery, either because of not wanting to learn dark truths about ourselves or to relive painful memories and emotions. Some people view it as tosh and nonsense. But, from a mental health well-being point of view, it was very much worth it.
At the beginning we explored issues like culture, malpractice, ethical issues and limitations in the counselling environment. Interesting stuff, you may learn where your tolerances are, but not mind blowing stuff. Then comes the psychological theories of Freud’s unconscious and psychoanalysis, Adler’s attachment theory, Jung’s archetypes, Roger’s six core conditions, Berne’s theory of game playing and Ellis’s ABC-DE of irrational thinking. I like science me, so this was fascinating and kept my attention. This was when the self-analysis really kicks in.
Also, be it a counselling course, we learn a range of skills to allow our clients to freely explore their world in a safe environment provided by ourselves, physically and emotionally. We practise these skills with our classmates, taking it in turns to be the counsellor and the client. I imagined myself talking about mundane issues, I mean, like hell am I talking about my deepest and darkest issues to mere students, but I felt empowered to really go deep, ask myself why like I never did before, let the words flow out. But, on the flip side, to allow your client to freely explore their world, to you, in the environment that you provided, is an honour. There is a great satisfaction in knowing that, just by being empathic, you have helped somebody learn just that bit more about themselves and their situation. Sometimes what they have learnt is negative, but that’s OK, because we can explore that further.
So, with all of the above, it is hard to not learn about yourself. You think about your impulsions and childhood experiences against a psychodynamic theory and your anxieties against a cognitive behavioural method. But it’s more than that. I don’t know about others but I have become conscious of a lot of what I do, say and feel. I recognise certain ‘neurosis’s stemming from my experiences of being bullied at school, like my fascination over perfection and inability to accept failure. I have even learnt, for the first time, that it is OK to be angry, as this was an emotion that was looked down upon in my family. I even people-watch differently now, I question why people behave the way they do. This makes character development for my novels easier!
I suppose I could look back on this course as a very expensive therapy session. But that’s OK. My philosophy in life is that if we learn to fish we can feed ourselves for life. I like to be shown how to do things, I want to learn as much as I can, and this remains in mental health well-being. Somebody said to me that we buy better food and gym memberships to improve our physical well-being, so why do we not invest in talking therapy to improve our mental well-being? The first argument against this is cost, one can exercise and get fit without the need of an expensive gym membership or equipment, but is that the same for mental health well-being?
Talking is very important, but talking to the right person in the right environment is also important. I am very lucky to have been in a classroom of empathic and congruent people who have enabled me to explore my world for me to get where I am today, but others will not be as lucky. Talking therapies on the NHS are limited to a handful of sessions, and if you do not develop a working relationship with your therapist then tough. If what you want to talk about is lengthy and complicated, then good luck condensing it into six sessions. And if you want to go private then you better check the bank account first, as experience and quality of therapist is reflected in their costs. So what can you do when the NHS can’t help and you’re skint?
This is my issue, right there. And it hurts. But, as one takes responsibility and control over their physical health one should over their mental health. I would like there to be opportunities for people to talk about their problems and issues to anybody, a pen pal maybe, or even a good friend. We need to talk to keep our health in check, talk about relationships at work, what decisions to make, niggling memories from the past. Humans are social animals. If we talk more I believe that anxiety and depressive symptoms will drop.
Our society is becoming more tolerant (in some areas, anyway). Homosexuality is no longer illegal in the UK, people are free to practice whichever religion they want and women’s rights and equality is improving. I have noticed how people are starting to become more open about mental health. I am not afraid to stand up and defend mental health. I have explained to people the pain of being depressed when they complain about their friends and how I conquered my demons in panic attacks and anxiety.
And, on that basis, we should be open about everything. OK, this is dependent on the person and time, I don’t think I could invite my postman for a tea and a chat about reaching self-actualisation, but if we could be a little more open than we are now, how much better could we all feel? Let’s be honest and assertive with ourselves and each other, because I think that’s what we all need right now.