Counselling- a taboo subject in everyday life?

Counselling is a confidential service. This is an essential element of therapy. But it does mean that the process remains a bit of a mystery to many people, who understand little about what counselling really means. Unfortunately, there can be stigma attached to receiving help for mental well-being.

There seems to be a common misconception that if you are in counselling, or seeing a therapist, you must be suffering from serious mental problems. This reaction may come from a place of fear, or simply from a lack of knowledge. But the reality is that all sorts of people access counselling. Although some may indeed have complex mental health problems, many do not. Counselling is somewhere people can go if they need someone to talk to about a difficult transition in their life, or a life change that is becoming challenging to manage. Issues relating to relationships, stress at work or home, financial issues, change in circumstances, bereavement, physical health issues, and many others can all have an impact upon mental wellbeing and our ability to function adequately. Difficult times in life can mount up; and if so it can be helpful to have someone who is not involved to talk to - someone who can support you through the difficult period and help you to work your way through it.

The negative perception of counselling by some is, unfortunately, enough to put some people off coming for help. If you had a broken leg, you would not think twice about receiving medical treatment such as a plaster cast or physiotherapy. With a broken leg, it is easy for those around you to see that you may need some allowances while healing takes place. People are able to empathise with the difficulties that you will encounter. However, depression and anxiety cannot be ‘seen’ as easily.

The treatment may also not be as clear cut - and this can make it much more difficult for people to help, or even to understand your difficulty. A mental health condition like depression affects people in different ways, whereas a broken leg will affect people in more or less the same way. A broken leg is likely to require an x-ray, possibly a cast or surgery, and then recovery time to allow bones to heal. When it comes to depression, some people will need anti-depressants, others will manage with exercise and supportive family and friends, and some will find counselling helpful. Even within counselling, some people will benefit more from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) based on practical homework and experiments, whereas others would prefer just having someone to talk to, or someone to explore the possible reasons for the onset of their depression.

It is hard for people to understand what happens in therapy if they haven’t been there themselves. The stigma which is sometimes attached to counselling can mean that people feel they are inadequate if they are seeking help. They may feel pressure to ‘cope’, especially if everyone else appears to be happy and devoid of ‘issues’ (though this may be a misleading impression!). One thing that counselling can do is to help a person see that no one is perfect or super-human. We all have times when we find things difficult; but we often don’t realise that others may be feeling the same - precisely because those feelings are often kept hidden. Fortunately, societal awareness of the benefits of looking after our mental health has improved in recent years, and this has highlighted that many of us are dealing with difficult issues, and that being open can help. Asking for help can put us in a vulnerable position, and this can feel scary. But having somewhere confidential to go, such as a counselling environment, can help. Counselling represents a space where it is safe to open up, even if it is difficult to open up to family and friends. This can help to build up self-confidence, and to see that we are not alone. That is something that many of us need at some point in our lives.

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