We all have our own to fear and loathe. Corduroy, See-You-Next-Tuesday, Common Sense and the biggest of them all, Cancer.
Today is not about any of those. Today is about a C word of a different ilk; Counselling.
It’s one of those things that celebrities do on the regular. They pay hundreds of dollars an hour in order to lie on a couch, spilling their guts about their first-world problems whilst a man who invariably looks like the KFC guy spouts theories about oedipal complexes, how boys are in love with their mothers and girls are stuck in an oral fixation stage. No matter what, the solution is simple; daddy issues.
Or maybe it’s a thing that you do when you get all loopy. You go full Britney Spears, shaving your head and waving your umbrella at passers-by. Your brain no longer controls you, but you turn into this near-on animalistic creature that can only be helped with ink blot tests and heavy sedatives.
Is this what counselling is though? Is it out of reach to those on mid/low incomes? What about if you don’t have daddy issues?
Counselling is NOT
- lying on a sofa
- ink blot tests
- all about Freud
- completely unaffordable
- a sign of weakness
- a quick fix
- done on your terms
- a long-term approach
- talking-based therapy
- a sign of strength
Why are you talking about this now?
Well, on the 31st of May this year (2017), I was dealt with a devastating blow that shattered the very core of my life, destroying everything in its wake. Two weeks earlier, I had made the decision to seek medical help for my anxiety, but as I found myself on my bedroom floor, on my knees, unable to breathe, I knew that my mental health had hit rock bottom and I needed to do something.
For years, I’ve struggled with myself. I’ve gone from an over-confident, cocky party-girl bitch-type to someone who gets anxious from just the thought of going out for drinks with friends. Don’t get me wrong, there’s been positive changes too; I used to be that crush-stealing flirt who tore other girls down. Now I try to be all about kindness. I truly believe that we’ve been put on this earth to pull people up, not push them down. So I try my best. There are days when I fail catastrophically, but I will never stop trying. But that’s not the point. The point is that as years have gone by, I haven’t taken good care of myself. A sad fact, but an important one. I have sailed through my formative years, completely on the mercy of the “winds of life” so to speak. At no point have I actually grabbed the steering wheel and gone “hold up, what is it that you’re doing?”.
I was never one to talk about me. I’m still not. My past seems just too painful (even if it is a completely normal middle-class one), too raw to even look back on. But I’ve had to admit to myself that I haven’t been truly happy in years. I’ve been happy, I’ve laughed a lot and I’ve smiled every now and then, but you know that feeling of total and utter comfort of where you are in life? I’ve never had that. I’ve always been envious of other people’s houses, cars, careers. I’ve always wanted more. Ambition isn’t a bad thing, but when it becomes the only thing that matters, when moving on is the #1 priority in life, it’s not a good place to be.
So, on 6th of June 2017 at 4.30pm I entered a councellor’s office for the first time. I went in with very little expectations, just the hope that there will be someone who can unpick my tangled thoughts and challenge the ones that make no sense and are damaging. Just to find someone who can listen objectively and is able to push those thoughts and behaviours that are so deeply ingrained. Not looking for much, eh?
Since then, I have gone once a week. So far, there hasn’t been that one moment where everything clicks into place. A revelation in a way. We have navigated around my current state of mind, and it’s been established that I struggle with everything going on right now because it’s outwith my control. In a way, I already knew I had control issues, just not how deep it all goes. And when everything is spiraling completely out of control, it’s extremely hard to bear. So with the guidance of my counsellor, we’re trying to look into the reasons why.
So if you’re not seeing immediate results, why do you still go?
It’s like weightloss. You’ve spent years packing on the pounds, and now it’s not going to all melt away overnight. Counselling should be looked at in the long-term. Some people might go for one session, have a big revelation and feel a lot lighter straight away. Most people will spend a lot of time in that room, trying to unpick their thought processes. Our behaviour is a learned process. Everything we do we have learned. I learned how to be kind after having to deal with the consequences of my unkindness. I drink Fanta and eat apples when I’m feeling sick because that is what my dad used to give me. I strive for a nicer house because that’s what I’ve learned is appreciated. With Instagram, the home envy is very real. And through the actions of others, I have learned to be ashamed of what I have. All of this is built year after year after year, and little pebbles of destructive behaviour all gather together into one huge mudslide. You can’t just take Henry to clean up. It’s going to take a while.
What can I expect from counselling?
As you do, one day when I was particularly bored, I was going through my Facebook groups feed and was shocked to see someone’s depiction of their “counselling session”. This person had gone into the counsellors’ office, sat down and said “I have a problem with xyz”. The counsellor then went into this long explanation of why this person was doing what they were doing, and how they can prevent this from happening in the future. They then left the session, extremely confused but determined to do these things. They tried them and failed miserably. Why? Because in the end, the only person who truly knows you is you. A counsellor can only be the one who drags the truth out of you, providing you with tools to change unhealthy behaviours.
A counsellor isn’t your superhero. They aren’t going to swoop in and save you from destruction with a few well-placed words. What they can do is guide you to your own solutions, use their professional expertise to help you find out why you do the things you do the way you do them. They don’t have the answers; you do. They have the ability to help you find the answers and deal with them, but they won’t hand them out on a silver platter. And if a counsellor does hand you this platter, especially in the beginning of your first session? Run a mile.
I went to a session once and my counsellor just sat there, silent. I felt uncomfortable.
There are many ways of doing counselling. From CBT to person-centred counselling, there’s no one way that is superior to others. Techniques like CBT work great with the likes of OCD and phobias. Person-centred is the kind of counselling I thought everything was; I just sit there, prattling and the counsellor just sits there nodding their head. In the end, the best type of counselling is what works for you. And the best type of counsellor is the one who works for you. Just like there is no shame in rejecting a job offer when it’s not right for you, if you feel that the type of counselling or counsellor themselves are not a good fit for you, SWITCH! I lucked out in that the counsellor I matched is a very good fit. She knows when to push hard for answers and when to pull back. Her style is a mixture of various techniques, depending on my needs at that point in time. If it didn’t work for me, I could very easily (after having a panic attack, because, you know, anxiety) just tell her I’m not feeling it and change to a different counsellor. Every good counsellor knows this and will not get offended if you feel it’s not the right fit for you.
But it costs SO MUCH!
I have mixed feelings about the cost of counselling. On one hand, one cannot invest enough in their mental health. On the other, £150 a session? Not a chance in hell.
What I found surprising was that a lot of people believe that NHS doesn’t provide any counselling at all. This is not the case. NHS DO have resources that you can use, however it varies wildly between practice areas. Some GP surgeries have counselling in-house, some have links with other providers. Occupational health do counselling, but only for 6 weeks. CCBT is a big thing for the NHS at the moment, but certain programs are only available in England and Scotland is kind of forgotten.
It is a bit of a sad situation, as when I originally went to my GP to ask for help, he said “NHS do provide counselling but it’s a complete mess” and pointed me towards local charities, without giving NHS even a second of thought. And this is someone who works for NHS.
In Aberdeen alone there are a couple of places that do offer free counselling, but a lot of it needs to be privately sourced and paid for. A general ballpark for costs is £50 a session (lasts 50 minutes), but a few offer a sliding scale dependent on your income. For an example, with Hope you can get sessions from as little as £5 going up to £40, depending on your salary.
How do I find a counsellor?
There are a lot of cowboys out there. The term ‘counsellor’ isn’t legally protected, so technically I could hire a room, rock up to it and call myself a counsellor. Which is scary, as this is people’s health we’re talking about!
If you live in the Aberdeen/shire area, here‘s an absolutely fantastic list of some of the resources available. Outside of Aberdeen (and within as well), there are a few organisations you can rely on; Relate for relationship counselling, Cruse for bereavement care, MHM for online and telephone counselling (not face-to-face), The Samaritans for help in a crisis and your local Mind. If these are not an option for you, use the BACP or COSCA searches. BACP is the official register for counsellors in the UK and COSCA is Scotland-specific and by using them to find a counsellor you can be sure that there is some quality control behind your choice.
Hope for the future
For years, I’ve left my mental health to its own devices. For years, I have neglected to take care of a very important part of me. For years, I have been coping in various unhealthy ways. I have ended up at rock bottom. And the only way is up.
As Dr Frasier Crane would say; I wish you all good mental health.