Depression and Anxiety - Why counselling/therapy is worth exploring

I use the words 'therapy' and 'counselling' in this article as if they are roughly the same thing. The shorthand explanation for what can be different between them is that therapy tends to be longer and more 'in depth', and counselling tends to be short term and more solution-focused.

Depression can be understood as an underlying sadness that never really goes away.

Anxiety can be understood as being scared or worried when there doesn't seem to be any obvious reason to be.

People who are struggling with such feelings can often feel that they are at fault or foolish for having them. They can't see why they cannot shake off such apparently irrational states. “Everyone else in my family seems to get along OK". "None of my friends understand why I'm like this". "The people I went to college with all just move on, while I'm so stuck and miserable.”

People with depression and anxiety often feel that if they could just stop being 'so silly' they would be all right.

Part of the difficulty in dealing with a long-standing sense of depression or anxiety is that the feelings can seem a bit vague and hard to talk about. In fact, although something like a bereavement or a relationship breakdown can be traumatic to experience, it can be easier for those who have had such an obvious loss to trust that they deserve some support and understanding, and to seek help with what they are going through. They often do not suffer the same self-doubt and embarrassment that someone who is depressed and anxious suffers about their feelings.

If someone with depression and anxiety is courageous enough to make a first therapy/counselling appointment, they are stepping over the first big barrier that gets in the way of them addressing their difficulty - the belief that they don't deserve help and that they should be able to get better on their own.

After all, if a child told an adult that they felt sad or frightened, most caring adults wouldn't tell that child to stop being so silly and just get on with things! Most adults would feel concerned about that child, would want to be sympathetic and get to the bottom of why that child might be sad or scared. But adults with feelings of depression and anxiety are often, in effect, more like an unsympathetic adult to their own inner child-feelings. It may even be that they are recreating the way that sad or frightened feelings they had when they were young were responded to be their care-givers.

They can therefore find it really beneficial to have the chance to spend time with a therapist/counsellor who is not going to be dismissive or impatient about their feelings, even if there doesn't seem to be an obvious cause for them. They can have the experience of sitting with someone who will

  • listen to them talk about their feelings,

  • help them trust they are not being stupid,

  • help them work out why these feelings might have come up, and

  • best of all - what they might be able to do differently to make positive changes in the future.

Very often people with depression and anxiety can end up with related physical symptoms, such as recurring headaches, digestive problems, trouble with sleeping, and skin conditions. These can lead them to seek help from their GP.

In addition to medication for their physical symptoms, they may then be offered anti depressants, or sedatives to stimulate or dampen down the nervous system. Such medication can be a helpful, short-term measure for people whose emotional states get so intense that they are at risk of harming themselves, but they are often not the best option for others.

Much recent research shows that counselling/therapy is just as effective in the short term as medication in helping with depression and anxiety; and actually more effective than medication when it comes to longer-term improvement. Perhaps this is not surprising if we think about the difference between a) taking a pill while sitting at home alone, and b) talking about what's troubling us with another person who has time to understand what's going on for us below the surface.

One of the great figures in therapy, the paediatrician and psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott , said that the aim of therapy was to feel well enough to both enjoy the world and allow the world to enjoy us.

That can feel almost impossible for people struggling with depression and anxiety. Therapy/counselling is so very worthwhile as it offers them a very good chance to be able to do both. 

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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London, SE18
Written by Sarah Van Gogh, MBACP (Accred), BA Hons, Member of UKCP, Senior Accred NCPS
London, SE18

I qualified as a counsellor in 1999, and gained my BACP-accreditation in 2001. I am also registered with the UKCP, and am a Fellow of the National Counselling & Psychotherapy Society.  I have over 20 years of experience of working with clients from varied backgrounds on a wide range of issu...

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