Counselling - the difference between feeling and being better
A few years ago I broke my hand and had it operated on. This was okay because I was double hard! (Not really - I cried internally like a child who's ice cream had been taken by a seagull - and that's okay too!)
In the period immediately after the incident and for several weeks after, I took pain relief medication to give some sort of comfort and feel a bit better than I was. I asked for the strongest med's available - and asked them to double it. As long as I protected my hand, didn't move it, and took my medication, I would generally feel alright day-to-day. I could cope and adapt to the inconvenience of my arm in a sling and struggling to shower with my hand in a plastic bag. So far so good...but then came the physiotherapy - ouch! It involved a lot of work and trying to move my hand again which was very painful and stiff. As a result of the physio, my hand also came out of its cast exposing quite a horrible looking scar down the length of my hand. I had 4 x 20-minute sessions of physio along with homework of regular gradual movements of the hand. I did as I was told but my word, did I moan and bitch about it the whole time! Bit by bit, session after session, week after week it improved until it got to a point where although I had a scar, my hand was "better".
Today, I look at the scar and accept it as a part of me, despite initially feeling genuinely devastated at its appearance. I have full use of my hand as I did following the physio and homework and it is absolutely fine.
You may be wondering why I'm explaining my experience in such depth. Well, the title of this article is about how counselling can bring about someone being better as opposed to just feeling better - and there is a big difference. If anyone experiencing an illness had this option, it is likely they would take 'being better' every time.
People come to counselling for a whole variety of issues - for some of which they receive medication. Depression, anxiety disorders or trauma-based conditions are medicated to help stabilise the function of the brain. When doctors prescribe someone for mental health conditions they do so in an attempt to help that individual feel better and to chemically treat the symptoms of that diagnosis. What tablets for depression, anxiety or trauma do not do is address the cause or processing of this condition in the first place.
Self-medicating the moment
When we are struggling mentally there are a lot of things that we can do to feel better in the moment and medicating doesn't have to be in a pill or medicine form. Sometimes it can be through behaviour or action and this is maybe all that we feel we need. There are healthy and unhealthy choices that we can choose from to self medicate. We can practice self-care such as going out for a walk, run or any exercise (in moderation), getting out in nature, speaking to a friend or loved one and doing something that we can escape into such as writing, reading, meditating, gardening, DIY, or playing a game can help alleviate symptoms of a condition we may have.
There are also some not so healthy coping mechanisms that we can find ourselves prone to such as drinking alcohol, taking drugs, binge eating (eating our emotions), gambling, self-harm etc. These all represent just another way of us "medicating the moment", however, are likely to worsen or intensify the longer-term symptoms on the comedown.
The causes of depression, anxiety and trauma disorders stem back further than the "here and now" moments that we find ourselves medicating the symptoms of. Counselling gives an opportunity for you to look back over events in your life and determine a new healthier perspective with a whole new toolbox of useful self-management techniques to apply.
Once you determine your goals in counselling, the truth of the matter is that it's then your responsibility to do the work. Yes, at times this can be tough and uncomfortable - but so worth it! You are the one that holds the answers and the key to your own change and healing. Nothing external to you can bring about lasting change within you.
The therapist is there to help, guide and support you through re-aligning your thinking, realising your qualities and identifying your own route to the goals that you set yourself.
There are lots of different models of counselling available which means that you can try to explore the root cause of your issue in-depth if this suits you. Alternatively, you can work around it with a variety of other self-exploratory techniques. One of the benefits that counselling brings is developing a greater sense of self-awareness. After all, feeling better is a by-product of being better, as long as we can acknowledge its existence.
To put it simply, the objective of counselling as a practice is not to just help you feel better - it is to guide you to be a better, stronger and more autonomous version of yourself.
Let's finish with the concept of a Shakespearean comedy - where the loose ends of tales of hope and tragedy are tied together. More to the point - what the hell was that part about the broken hand at the beginning of this article all about?
This example was a physical version of the mental approach to getting better over feeling better. I had something that needed healing and was adapting my life around it. If I had just wanted to feel better, I had medication for that. Alternatively, I could have made a number of healthy or unhealthy choices to which I would have felt a little bit better in the moment but healing would have been limited. To get better I had to go through exercises that caused some discomfort with a professional to get the outcome I wanted - regular functionality. I did my homework outside of the sessions to maximise my healing potential. I still bear the scar as a reminder that it happened. It has faded greatly and I accept it as part of my past.
To deal with our mental health we can medicate or self medicate it but the issue will always be underlying unless we are willing to address it head-on. Talking therapies such as counselling are a safe, confidential and practical way of addressing this. Once we have done this work on ourselves we have a chance to heal from our past. We will always have reminders but we can change how we look back whilst managing ourselves better in the moment with greater awareness.
In summary, medication can be necessary (nay essential at times!) and does alleviate symptoms of diagnosis but it does not deal with the cause nor does it pretend to. Counselling continues to help millions of people reach new levels of life-changing awareness and gain sustainable levels of healing, acceptance and new-found strengths in the management of mental health.
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