I decided to ask the Twitter world if they would consider counselling to improve their mental well-being…
I was pleasantly surprised to see the response. For me, the idea of counselling was actually quite embarrassing, as it was an admittance that I couldn’t deal with the problem by myself. It would be interesting to see if the above responses were from UK citizens, as there seems to be a higher level of stigma attached to counselling in the UK, in comparison to countries such as the US.
I asked this question because I would highly recommend counselling, having had a positive experience of it. These reasons sum up why:
- Non-biased opinions. Sometimes it can definitely help talking to a close friend or family member about how your feelings, but often an objective voice can be more believable and can offer a perspective you hadn’t considered before.
- Easier to talk about sensitive issues. Sometimes you need to open up about issues such as sex, family relationships and self-harm, even suicide. For most people, these are issues that would be near impossible to talk openly about with family members or friends. It feels strange at first opening up to stranger, but eventually, it becomes easier, as you realise there is no judgement from a counsellor.
- Professional voice. Counsellors have often experienced and listened to problems similar to yours, and have seen what works and what doesn’t. Although everyone is different in how they will respond to counselling, these people are professionals and they can offer very effective guidance and advice.
- Regular opportunities to chat. Whereas your friends or family may not be available when you need them, you can rely on your counsellor to stick to a specific weekly appointment. It’s useful knowing you have that time to offload and work on your problems.
- Learn self-help techniques. Counselling is not just about that hourly chat. They will often give you ‘homework’ to do in your spare time, so they are offering you constant guidance even when they cannot be there. They will give you self-help techniques you can use after you leave counselling as well, which is incredibly useful in supporting your future mental well-being.
But what about the 19% who can only afford free counselling?
The downside about free counselling (at least in the UK) is that we have to wait. When I was first referred, I was told it would take a few months and this was not viable at the time. Sometimes we need it immediately, and in those cases, I would advise to spend the £20 on at least one paid session.
However, if you are suffering from a condition that doesn’t seriously affect your life (i.e. doesn’t stop you going to work or socialising), such as a low form of generalised anxiety, it is worth asking your GP to refer you. It can be arranged very quickly, and they can offer you different forms of counselling, such as group therapy, workshops or a 1-2-1 session. Opting for group sessions will mean you have a much shorter wait list.
Is group therapy for me?
I attended a group therapy session, ran by the NHS, and I would recommend this if you need something organised more quickly, and you can always go for 1-2-1 sessions after the set of group sessions have finished if you feel you need further support.
The best thing about a group session is it makes you realise you are not alone. There are people of all ages, ethnicity, gender and class who have to deal with mental health issues. You will often be taught cognitive behaviour therapy techniques which are very helpful in supporting you to cope alone. The atmosphere is supportive and inspirational, and I never felt uncomfortable.
How do I find a counsellor?
To find a suitable counsellor, I would recommend firstly talking to your GP. He/she can offer guidance on how to find paid services or refer you to NHS services.
In summary, counselling is a great way to get help, particularly if you have low-level symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.
It is a sign of strength, not weakness to seek help and advice. We do not need to cope alone!