“Go to therapy” has become a common retort in social media debates, and although it’s meant as a throwaway line, it could actually be good advice. We often think of counselling as being something we seek once we’re at breaking point, but there’s a case to be made for going to therapy when you’re doing pretty well.
I’ve struggled with my mental health for years, receiving counselling on and off since my teens as well as starting antidepressants four years ago. But since the start of the pandemic, I’ve not had any counselling. I completed my undergraduate degree, moved cities twice, and started a postgraduate course. While I always meant to resume therapy at some point, I didn’t feel like I had the time.
I came off antidepressants last September, and my mental health is manageable at the moment. However, I decided 2022 would be the year I prioritised my wellbeing – as much as it might be easier said than done – and I would look into getting counselling again. But why?
There’s still a stigma around reaching out and getting help, particularly for men, as if counselling is only something you seek if you need to be “fixed”. In a 2020 survey by Anxiety UK, almost one-third of men named the stigma around male mental health as an obstacle to seeking help, and it’s not difficult to see the link between this and the troubling male suicide rate.
There’s no shame in having counselling, and your therapist will have almost definitely heard it all before. You might be surprised by how many people, who seem to have everything together, find themselves in the comfort of their therapist’s room at least a couple of times a month. There are lots of reasons why someone might want to go to therapy, and all are perfectly valid. There’s no right or wrong reason.
You don’t even need to tell anyone you’re having therapy. Every counsellor I’ve had has made it clear that if I was to walk past them in the street – regardless of who I was with – they wouldn’t acknowledge me beyond a simple “hello” if I initiated the interaction, to protect my privacy.
I’ve found that while counselling doesn’t solve my issues, it helps to talk things over with someone impartial, who doesn’t appear elsewhere in my life. You can discuss things you might not want to bring up with a partner, family member or friend, no matter the area of concern.
Listening to your word vomit is what they’re there for, so you’re free to get thoughts off your chest before they start to build up. A counselling session serves almost as a “reset” button, clearing my head so I’m ready to go for the next week or two until my next appointment, and making potential triggers for depressive or anxious episodes seem much more manageable.
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“Reactive rather than proactive therapy, when it is accessible, is always recommended. By waiting until things get worse, trauma can compound, exacerbating or creating unhealthy coping modes, and making it more challenging to process,” says mental health expert and award-winning counsellor Ruth Micallef. “Too often we wait until things are at breaking point to reach out for therapeutic support – my suggestion is always to go to therapy when things feel… well, OK!”
Maintaining your mental health can be a real challenge, particularly at this time of year. The excitement of the Christmas period is over and we’re back to normality, with some of us finding it harder than others. We might be flagging with our new year’s resolutions, struggling with money after Christmas, or feeling the bite of the “January blues”.
Of course, therapy won’t be easily accessible for everyone. Paying for counselling sessions isn’t possible for all, and waiting lists for free services can be lengthy. Research by the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that two-fifths of patients waiting for mental health treatment resort to emergency or crisis services, while a report from Mind Cymru shows that hundreds of people in Wales are waiting more than a year for mental health help.
Mental healthcare services are underfunded and overstretched, and to some degree, even having access to counselling is a privilege. But if you’re able to, it pays to reach out sooner rather than later. Or, in Ruth’s words: “When we engage in therapy with a relatively clean and calm mind, it can really give us the power to make active, sustainable changes in our lives, reflect on situations current and past, and work through traumas and adversities much more smoothly.”