Mental and physical health

We often think of our physical health and our mental health as being two very separate aspects of our overall health. The phrase 'parity of esteem' is often used to suggest that our mental health should be treated as being just as important as our physical health.

The link between our mental and physical health

Many approaches to counselling see physical and mental well-being as less divided. Our internal, mental world and the external, physical world (including our body) can be seen as indivisible - the whole of our experience occurs “in our head”.

Physical illness, for example, infections or broken bones, are experienced by us internally. The pain and other symptoms, although triggered by a physical issue, are experienced by our brain in our head. Similarly, mental and emotional ill health is experienced by us in our head, and may even trigger physical symptoms such as pain and digestive issues. Mental and emotional ill health is often triggered by the physical world, by our current experience and by our past experience, and one can feed into the other.

This means that our emotional and mental health has an impact on our physical health, and at the same time our physical health has an impact on our emotional and mental health. The “pain in the neck” associated with stress, for example, and the depression brought on by an episode of physical ill health or ongoing chronic ill health.

There appears to still be a tendency, however much improved, for our physical health and its support to be higher in our awareness, and with greater accessibility, than our mental health. I believe this to be understandable, as our physical health is more obvious to us than our mental health. In some sense we experience our whole life through a lens created by our mental state and, like wearing a pair of glasses every day, the lens itself becomes lost to our vision and instead, we only see its effect.

Sometimes, when our mental or emotional health issues manifest as physical symptoms, many physical tests and explorations can be undertaken, all with negative or ambiguous results. This lack of clarity and resolution can often make the problem worse: emotionally, answers are important. Likewise, when tests do return a positive, the psychological and emotional impact of that result may be overlooked. It is, therefore, important to consider what support you can find in either scenario.

Some questions worth considering at this point are:

  • What is available?
  • What fits in with our lifestyle and routine?
  • What is accessible by us, both physically and financially?

There may be other considerations that apply specifically to your circumstance, and being aware of what is open to you, through directory searches and other means, is important.

It can feel difficult to access services; our mental state at this point is often such that proactively seeking a counsellor may feel overwhelming, and making that first contact can feel impossible. A counsellor will recognise how difficult it is to begin, and whoever we choose to contact, we may find that the experience is less daunting than we imagined.

Counsellors are able to support us in a safe, comfortable and non-judgemental environment as we explore as much as we feel able to, without pressure to go further or faster than is okay for us.

By working with an experienced therapist, we can work towards the changes we choose to make and strive to accept things that cannot be changed.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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London, SE9
Written by Steve Hughes, MBACP
London, SE9

Steve Hughes is an integrative counsellor working in Welling in South East London/Kent. His experience is working in the third sector as well as in private practice, working with a diverse clientele with a complex mix of presenting issues.

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