Published on 25th January 2015 in thejournal.ie – read it here
THE MOTIVATION FOR writing this piece is a personal one. I have experienced and continue to experience mental health issues. It all came to a head in 2006 but thankfully I found the services of One in Four and was able to address my trauma as a survivor of child abuse.
Since then I have gone from being a service user to a mental health broadcaster and more recently a provider of mental health support services through Insight Matters.
One of the main reasons why I decided to co-found a support service was because prior to finding One in Four I had to go through 10 therapists before I found someone I could work with.
Most were unequipped to deal with my sexuality, migrant experience or trauma and yet they wanted to take me on as a client. I remember feeling incredibly frustrated at the time as my knowledge around mental health was limited and I didn’t know what to look for in a therapist.
Evolving the conversation of mental health
The conversation around mental health in Ireland has mainly focused on stigma as it is still the greatest barrier to stopping people from seeking help. In recent times the topic is being spoken about more and more thanks to individuals sharing their personal stories, national campaigns such as Little Things and the tireless work of charities such as Aware and Suicide or Survive.
The conversation must now evolve from simply seeking help to gaining awareness on how to go about finding the right help for you.
What is psychotherapy and counselling?
Psychotherapy and counselling gives you a regular time to think and talk about the issues, which are stopping you from living a happier and fuller life. This is carried out in a confidential, safe and non-judgemental space. It works best when a collaborative and equal relationship is formed between you and your therapist.
Here you will explore thoughts, feelings and behaviours that may be causing emotional and physical distress. Together you will discover new healthier ways of coping and letting go of past experiences, enabling you to move forward with your life.
Before you begin your search… a word of caution
At present this sector is not yet regulated but is expected to be in the next 18 months. As a result of this, it is imperative that you shop around and “interview” a therapist before you begin work.
- Ask them how long they have been practising
- In what areas do they specialise and what approach do they take?
- When did they qualify and where did they get their qualification?
- Are they accredited and if so which body are they accredited with?
Remember this is your mental health, just like you wouldn’t trust your car with any mechanic you shouldn’t trust any therapist with your mental health.
Where to find a counsellor or therapist?
A good place to start is the accreditation bodies responsible for maintaining the professional standards.
- The Psychological Society of Ireland>
- Irish Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy>
- Irish Association of Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy>
What are the approaches?
It’s an understatement to say there are many different forms of therapy. There are over 400 in fact. If you’re considering engaging in therapy you certainly don’t need to know about all 400. What you do need is a sense of what will work for you in a therapeutic environment and essentially in a therapeutic relationship.
Most people learn this after their first positive experience of therapy, where they felt supported and heard. Others found their therapist too passive, sitting back and saying too little. Some like a therapist with a very “hands on” problem solving approach.
One such better known approach is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which aims to identify negative or faulty thinking which is creating difficulty for the person, e.g. “I’m stupid; I’ll never succeed at anything”. It then looks at the knock-on behaviour – if a person thinks this way, it stands to reason that they will experience low mood, negativity, poor motivation and a host of other effects usually described and recognised as common depressive symptoms.
The foundation of a lot of training courses is person centred therapy which allows the client to work at their own pace and to speak freely, with limited use of any therapeutic techniques.
The psychodynamic approach works well in looking at older issues that may have their origin in early developmental years while the person was growing up.
The use of mindfulness practice in therapy is increasingly popular. In this the therapist helps the client become more aware but less absorbed by their internal experience. In a lot of cases we can feel carried away by our thoughts and feelings – they have control over us, versus us having a sense of being able to direct them. Mindfulness practice develops our ability to observe our thoughts and feelings without becoming consumed and overwhelmed by them.
Considering the complexity of the human being it is reasonable to say that one size will not fit all – hence the birth of the integrative form of therapy and counselling. This increasingly popular approach aims to integrate various elements from different approaches in working with one particular person.
One in four or four in four?
The statistics tell us that 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health issues at some point in our life but many believe that the issue is actually much bigger.
Losing a loved one, loss of employment, workplace stress, illness, trauma, ageing, these are just some of the circumstances that can spark mental health difficulties and these are part of life.
It makes sense to invest in ourselves, to develop our self-awareness and proactively learn coping skills now that can serve us well in the future.
- This piece was co-authored by Dil Wickremasinghe and Anne Marie Toole.
- Anne Marie is Clinical Director of Insight Matters, and a lecturer in Counselling and Psychotherapy with PCI College.
- Dil is a social justice and mental health campaigner, broadcaster of Global Village on Newstalk 106-108fm, Saturdays 7-9pm and Training Director with Insight Matters.