Strong people come to counselling
I would hope that most counsellors would agree with this title. Yet, despite many campaigns to raise awareness and understanding of mental health issues, I still see many clients who are ashamed of the fact that they are coming to counselling.
Things must be bad if they have had to come and see me. They do not want others to know, and will use the rear entrance to the building, and lie about where they are if anyone asks them. Thankfully, these people and many others do see counselling as a healthy and beneficial process, but the stigma still clearly remains.
I hear clients describe themselves as 'weird', 'crazy', 'pathetic'. It is as if feeling sad, anxious or depressed is their own fault, and a choice! Who would choose that? Self-help books and apps tell us to focus on the positives. If you are positive, you will feel better! Look at everything you have to be grateful for!
There is always someone worse off. This is entirely true - there is always someone worse off but does that mean our own feelings are not valid and we should not feel them? How do we measure who is worse off? Should a person on their deathbed consider themselves lucky because they will soon have nothing to worry about? Emphasis is placed on being strong and getting on with things. "I'll be fine!"
What most people fail to see is that the reason why they need to come to counselling is that they have been strong for so long. They have continued to get on with things and, quite often, pushed aside everything that has been tough.
In my therapy room, I see unexpressed anger, unprocessed grief, unspoken hurt. It is almost as if we feel this is our lot and what we deserve; that there is shame in finding life difficult. That we should accept without question. And, yet, we don't apply this rule to others. We will fight injustice. We will protect our loved ones and we will challenge unfairness when we see it happening to anyone else. We will encourage others to take holiday, rest, take care of themselves.
It seems that empathy for others is acceptable, but empathy for ourselves is not. Practising self-care is seen as an act of selfishness but, if we are on our knees, we cannot care for others.
It often takes us to get to a point where we can't eat or sleep, or we eat and sleep too much; our thoughts are intrusive, negative, muddled; we can't stop crying; we can't get out of bed in the morning; we feel physically unwell; we want to end it all. Only then do we take action - when our bodies and minds let us know that we have had enough. Even then we judge ourselves, and often find ways of coping that are not healthy. That's the point when we will see a counsellor. As a last resort. When we have nothing left to lose.
I hope for a time when going to a counsellor is as normal as going for a manicure. When it is seen as an essential part of keeping ourselves mentally and physically healthy. That keeping sight of who we are, and what we want from life is a priority rather than doing what is expected of us based on the needs of others.
I hope for a time when there is a counselling service on every high street, where people are not ashamed to walk in the front entrance and make an appointment. Where the extent of how counselling can help is embraced and acknowledged, and services that serve to fix us quickly so that we can get back to work are a thing of the past.
So, if you're thinking of coming to counselling, why did it take so long? And if you're not thinking of coming to counselling - why not?
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