By Gill Seaton-Jardine, Counsellor/Psychotherapist
Do I need therapy?
Do you need therapy?
Do we all need therapy?
Let’s start with considering what therapy is. The Collins English Dictionary gives a definition as follows: ‘the treatment of someone with mental or physical illness without the use of drugs or operation’. This struck me as a very broad definition of the word, so we clearly need to involve context in order to understand how we wish to use the word or indeed do use the word. In our context, that of Minds Anonymous, we are considering therapy in the world of mental health and mental illness, what is it, where does it fit, when might it help, and who is it for?
What is it?
Therapy is an opportunity to explore issues or parts of an individual’s life, which are causing stress, difficulty, concern and a whole raft of feelings which are interfering with life’s process in a negative way. This can be short or long term depending on such things as the issue, the therapist, the client as well as access, which could be physical, geographical and/or financial, to name a few! Therapy is normally held in a quiet, private, comfortable space designed to offer warmth and acceptance, without judgement, enabling the client/patient to concentrate on, and to consider those issues that have brought her/him/they/them to therapy.
As can already be seen, this is a complex subject. Perhaps we could clarify this question a little by thinking of therapy as time spent focussing on what life is like for you at this time and are there ways to change parts of it to make the whole experience more manageable, more fulfilling and more as you would like it to be.
Where does it fit?
Each adult individual encounters major life events during their lifetime. Some will be positive and some not. By the expression ‘life events’ I mean such things as going to university, getting married, having a child, developing a career, dealing with illness either in themselves and/or in the family or close friends and of course, bereavement. These events are part of the experience of living and can prove to be the most challenging times to deal with. As I just said, these are only part of the experience of living and come in on top of the demands of everyday life. We use our personal resources to manage normal everyday life – by that I mean the demands of our jobs, our family, our home and our interests. Our personal resources are our energy, time available, finances, transport capability, our own health, where we live as well as our own support network.
Sometimes these personal resources are sufficient to cope effectively with life’s challenges but sometimes people feel the need for something more and that may be where therapy ‘fits in’.
As we have already considered, therapy offers a private space, with a qualified practitioner, where we can consider various issues that may be asking a little more than our personal resources can handle.
When might it help?
I think the simple answer to that is when those personal resources are not enough and that, of course, is different for everybody. If you are wrestling with an issue that affects all the people close to you, it can be hard to discuss it with them. You may fear hurting them, fear their judgement of you, or be concerned about the fact that your decisions directly affect them. These are just a few examples of what may stop you going to them for help. Whilst conversations with family, friends and/or colleagues can be hugely helpful, they are just that, conversations. This suggests a two way discussion with turn taking being the built in rule about how conversations work. A major difference with therapy is that the focus is all on the person seeking therapy rather than turn taking. This allows that person to explore his/her own issues without worrying about the effect it may be having on the therapist. In fact, the good therapist will take care not to bring any of their own issues into the room, thereby offering the whole of the time and space to their client/patient.
We can feel very vulnerable when seeking help and sometimes it feels easier approaching a stranger, i.e. a therapist, than opening up to those around you. Again, a good therapist will not judge, but rather listen to the person’s lived experience and help them explore and investigate further, thereby enabling them to consider their options. It is important to remember that the therapist is not there to advise as she/he/they cannot know what is right for you. They are there to support you in searching for a way forward that you feel will be right for you.
Who is it for?
This is a complicated question that I found difficult to answer. Because it is such an individual concept, I could say that it is for anybody and everybody but that would feel misleading because of accessibility aspects. Accessibility means geography, finances, time, availability of practitioners and any other restrictions to access. I don’t believe that everybody necessarily needs therapy. I actually believe that each of us has clear personal resources, as I discussed earlier, which we use to make our way. If we assume that everyone needs therapy, there is a danger of devaluing these resources which could cause people to believe that they are unable to cope with life without professional, psychological support. I believe good therapy to be enormously helpful and I have seen many very good outcomes in my practice and in the practices of my supervisees (counsellors in the UK, if members of our governing body, the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP) are required to have monthly supervision with a trained, qualified and experienced practitioner).
I hope this article helps you if you are considering therapy. My suggestion is that you look into it carefully and make sure you find a therapist who is well trained and properly qualified with whom you are comfortable. If you are not comfortable, find another one. A good therapist will understand if you tell him/her/them that this doesn’t feel right for you. Making the decision to go to a therapist can be the first step towards putting things right in your life. Good luck!