Since becoming a therapist, I have been even more aware of others ideas and conceptions regarding not only therapy or counselling but mental health in general and it's led me to ask the questions, why should someone come into the process of therapy, why does it matter and maybe, what’s holding them back?
There is no one definitive answer to these questions. Each one of us thinking about talking to a professional is doing so with their own unique reasons, backed up by their unique experience of life.
Talking therapy has been around a long time and in that time it's gone through many changes. These days there is a plethora of choice when it comes to therapy, but essentially it all intends to support the client work through difficulties they face in their life and restore some balance and control.
Whilst meeting a friend the other day, we talked about the taboo of mental health. They made a really good point, people don’t really prioritise their own mental well being. We can get into ruts where our own needs come way down the list of things to address. Maybe putting others needs before our own could be a sign of not wanting to face what is really going within us, maybe we were never taught as kids that our own needs are important, so we might not even recognise when we really need help and support. Whatever the reason, it still feels like getting the help we need is a tough decision for some.
So, why therapy? Why not a good holiday, a night out with friends or even just telling yourself, “I'm ok, it will pass.” Because these feelings rarely disappear long term. Like a bad penny, they keep coming back and a lot of time when we feel them, we keep walking away from them. Like a nasty cold, you just can't seem to shift. Yes, a holiday might relieve the symptoms for a week, same with a night out, but gradually and probably when you least want to be bothered by them, these feelings return. It could be feelings of sadness, overwhelm, depression, anger, stress, anxiety, shame or frustration. Only you know what it is and how it impacts your daily life. You may know exactly where it has come from or it might be a mystery, but whatever the context, it's still there and it keeps coming back. Therapy supports you to face these feelings, which to some is a terrifying thought. Alongside someone who is trained, a client is able to feel ‘less alone’ in their journey, which for some makes facing their stuff a little less daunting.
Talking to a complete stranger also seems to help a lot of people. Someone who is not connected to you or your situation in any way. There is freedom in this. You are at liberty to say what you need to say without the judgement of others and the repercussions of hurting relationships. A therapist’s intention is not to direct or cloud what you say but to listen. Not to offer solutions or choose what’s important, just to be there. And that’s all a lot of people need, is just to be able to speak, for as long as it takes until whatever it is, becomes more understood.
I wonder if sometimes we feel like we can handle it all? If seeking support is frowned upon. Or that we NEED to feel like we can handle it all and there are many, everyday situations in which that is exactly what we do. We juggle, negotiate, handle situations in our lives so much that it feels natural to take this action in everything that causes us some kind of stress or pain. But sometimes we also need to understand that we are not programmed like robots. We all have feelings and emotions and we can’t do it all. In order to function at some relatively basic level, we need to feel ok at that relatively basic level and that does matter because we matter. It sounds like a cliché, but it's true. If we want to support others, do our best, be happy or at least ok, attending to our emotional state is just as important as attending to the physical.
But it’s all just words. I’m a therapist, I would think like this. I see the benefit of therapy but I also accept it’s not everyone's view. Which leads me to my last question, what holds people back from therapy? Well, this could be an entire book if we had the time! As I mentioned above, some people just don’t feel ready or able to face it. There is genuine fear in going ‘there’ with many people. Digging up the past, acknowledging the present and thinking about the future is something to be avoided at all costs. There is a fear in even thinking about it and what most people do when they get a wif of pain, is they turn around and try and avoid it. It's our instinct to protect ourselves from harm. But when these thoughts and feelings become too much and we are not able to regulate them it might be time to talk about some of these worries to someone who is trained to help. Another factor that put’s people off is the cost. Therapy is a financial commitment, with the therapist’s around the Midlands area looking for £40+ per session. It’s a lot of money. But like me, there are many people who offer a free consultation so you can at least go and investigate if its right for you. That’s why its offered. Make use of them. Make sure if you are going to take the leap in therapy and spend all this money, you feel safe and comfortable with your therapist before you start paying. You might not need months or years of therapy. You may just need a few sessions to bring you back to baseline. In my experience, the initial panic and fear of therapy soon dissipate when they get into the swing of it.
So, to answer the initial question, “why therapy?” Therapy gives someone a chance to talk through a situation or a particular way they are feeling, with someone that isn’t connected to them. It can help to finally face and understand what’s going on with the support of another, whose intent is just to support, not advise or persuade. Sort of like pressing pause, giving time and space to actually see and feel what is happening, hopefully being able to work through whatever is going on and restore balance and to finally end those nasty feelings that wouldn’t go away.