One of the main sources of help for me has been learning about counselling and embarking upon training. I learnt in two ways, firstly by being a client and secondly by starting training.
I first encountered counselling as a patient following on from my psychotic breakdown. I knew I needed to talk and talk and talk about everything that was troubling me - the feelings of isolation, the feeling I was being punished for being bereaved, the practicalities of finance of getting work and most of all my family history and its problems that had led to my breakdown.
I was sent for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is one form of many talking therapies that are available. It didn't work. It didn't help and I felt more frustrated than ever as a consequence. Fortunately, I was not told that I had options in counselling; that I could ask for a different counsellor or a different form of counselling.
One of the reasons it didn't work for me then was because my emotions ruled by head. I was unreceptive to everything that was being said, unreceptive to the approach. I was not in the right place for that form of help at that time. So timing as well as the form of therapy is crucial for counselling to be of help. You have to really know what you need and want that form of support.
Looking back I now know I needed help in getting my head to take charge, I needed to understand the dynamics of my family and how my formative years had effected how I developed relationships outside of my family (work and friends). Back then I did not know how to voice why that particular counsellor was not for me.
It took a while, but eventually I was referred to another counsellor and this time it did help. It was certainly what they call a 'person-centred' form of counselling and may even have been CBT again. The difference was I felt more comfortable with the counsellor; the medication had calmed me down and most of all I was allocated a Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) and Social Worker who helped me with all the practicalities of life (paying bills, eating and sleeping and looking for work).
That enabled me to concentrate on all the emotional stuff in counselling. In turn that enabled me to work through, examine and devise better coping strategies. I've always been a person not to share troubles when they happen which meant they built up until (like a dam bursting) I couldn't hold it in any longer.
It's a habit that I still slip into, but less often than before and, when I do share things with others it's less of a shock to others and less intense (though it's still not always perceived that way). Such things are relative though and compared to how I was, it is a lot better.
Most of all it gave me the confidence to share what troubles me. It helped me to see I wasn't a failure for feeling helpless or depressed. Some people still might walk away when I am ever strugglinh, but by understanding better why they might it has become less of a disappointment and hurts less.
It has enabled me to appreciate that I am not the centre of their universe only the centre of mine, and that therefore they too could need to work through stuff of their own. It has enabled me to form stronger and more worthwhile relationships with people who do stay to listen. It has enabled me to be more open-minded about what people are trying to do to help. It has enabled me to articulate why some forms of help are not what I need at that time, which lets others know where they stand.
Good intent if not appropriately directed can actually be more harmful than some malicious intent. As a direct consequence of this I now have some close friends and stronger relationships with my family and work colleagues. I feel I am more respected and valued.
One of my closest friends is still not comfortable with my intense emotional side, but time and again has offered fabulous forms of practical support - helping me come out of those battening down the hatches moods and behaviours by getting me out to play badminton and socialising with others. Another helps with sharing feelings and allows me to help them too which is important in increasing my self-esteem.
Following my mother's death I knew I needed more counselling. In an early session I was remembered what the atmosphere at home was like as a child. All I could do was picture the house with a big black cloud continually hanging over it. I hyperventilated. There was no memory attached, no event, no incident I could recall. The counsellor said that I would remember only when it felt safe to do so.
That time came. The memory was all to do with being witness to my mother's distress in her illness; the helplessness, frustration and anger I felt in not being able to find a solution to make her happy. At that time I was referred for Cognitive Analytical Counselling (CAT) which is a form of psychotherapy. Frankly it transformed me.
Different situations require different forms of support and help to find the solution that's right for you at any given time. Only by informing your GP of what you feel you need can you get what you need. That changes each time because as we grow we develop and each experience shapes our development and alters our perception, sometimes gradually, sometimes dramatically. We learn by many methods and from many things.
- In counselling you are in charge, not the counsellor.
- You can request a different counsellor, but you must be honest about why it hasn't worked with the one you've got so people can help identify one that might.
- You can request a different type of counselling.
- Counsellors should never dictate, advise or tell you what to do.
- Counsellors should be acting as a catalyst to help you find out what you can do to take better control of your emotions and your life.
- Counsellors are bound by strict confidentiality. They should only break that confidentiality if they believe you are a threat to yourself or others. They are not allowed to share with your GP, authorities or family members otherwise.
These are all things that should be outlined in the initial assessment session. The initial assessment is for both parties to see if they will get on.
Training to be a counsellor
After I lost my Mum that I started training to be counsellor. All the above was pointed out in the very first session of my introductory course. Throughout the course we each had to keep a journal of our thoughts and feelings. We were encouraged to share this with the group but didn't have to share all or indeed any of it. Sometimes this would result in very personal and emotional revelations; sometimes it would be struggles with aspects of the course. I remember struggling with trying to define 'empathy' for ages.
Empathy is favoured above sympathy. Pity can be flashed from safe distances, but it's an inert, inactive emotion in itself. Empathy enables the counsellor to see things objectively and helps them not to be tempted to judge which is a natural human trait. Empathy enables them to see the whole situation better which in turn helps the client to do so too.
I found the course to be of immense value to me as it helped me to understand how we get into the pickles we find ourselves in by the way we perceive things. Learning to step outside ourselves and look in on what we do helps us to see where and how these situations arise, which then leads to us beginning to understand what we can do to avoid such things happening.
WARNING: It takes many years to become a fully qualified counsellor, it is not something you can just teach yourself and you should only go to qualified counsellors.
I recommend everyone doing an introduction to counselling course at some point in their lives but believe it's important to sign up for a course and not try to self-learn by reading alone. However I will recommend my favourite book in my first course, 'Introduction to Counselling' by Pete Saunders. As I am only at Level 3 I still believe it's irresponsible for me to counsel anyone yet. As an individual though I am free to suggest and recommend but that is all.