Beating the 'black dog'

Many reading this will recognise and understand the term 'black dog', but if it's new to you then it's a term some people use to describe depression. If you haven't already seen it, do have a look at the World Health Organisation video entitled 'I had a black dog and his name was depression', as I feel it so cleverly demonstates what depression can feel like.

The big question, of course, is how do you shake off depression? I use that term 'shake off' because it can often feel that something is pressing you down; a black cloud, a pressure that squashes all the life out of you and leaves you feeling helpless and hopeless.

In my experience working as a counsellor with people who feel depressed, there are usually two or three main reasons they feel this way, or it may be a combination of one or all these reasons. The first could be depression caused by a deep-seated, long-term issue, which may have started in childhood (e.g. parent's divorcing), or could be the result of some form of trauma. The second reason could be depression caused by a recent life event (e.g. bereavement, job loss, relationship break up etc). The third reason, which is often a result of the first two, is that something fundamental in that person's life is missing; there is a gap somewhere, a need that isn't being fulfilled.

As human beings, there are a few fundamentals that we need in our lives to help us to be resilient to life's up and downs. These can be separated into the practical and more emotional aspects of our lives.

If you think about this in terms of building a house, it is vital that you have strong foundations, and in terms of what we need as humans, these foundations consist of somewhere safe and secure to live, food, water and rest. The ground floor of the house would represent our human need for love, friendship, support, and belonging. The second floor would represent our need to feel fulfilled, to be respected, and to accomplish our creativity, spirituality, and inner potential.

Only when this building process is finished can we begin the process of buying furniture, choosing carpets and curtains, furnishing it with those personal touches like paintings, ornaments etc. This might represent feelings of happiness, joy, and pleasure which are so often missing when someone feels depressed.

It can sometimes take a little while to uncover why someone may be feeling depressed, and counselling can help this process by exploring someone's life to determine if there is any historical reason that may be contributing to it. Bringing these deep-seated issues into the light, examining and questioning them, can often help people to lay these ghosts to rest.

Doing a 'life wheel' (an internet search will show you examples of this) with the client can often then highlight and illustrate where the 'gap' may be where the need isn't being met. The next stage will be much more solution-focused - how can the client take small, practical steps to fill that gap or gaps?

In a way, feeling depressed is actually like a warning light that something is wrong, and although it can be very debilitating, it can, with the right support, be turned from that big frightening 'black dog' into a harmless puppy.

It takes courage and determination to face up to depression, but the rewards are enormous, and working with a counsellor who offers you warm, empathetic, professional and non-judgemental support is often the first step in the process.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Settle BD24 & Skipton BD23
Written by Pip Carr, MNCS(Accred) Ad.Dip.Psy.C
Settle BD24 & Skipton BD23

A counsellor with a Level 4 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling, who integrates different counselling techniques dependant on the needs of her clients.

Although my training and experience mean that I can support people with many different issues, I have particular experience working with people affected by cancer; including grief & bereavement.

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