I think counselling is something that everybody should do in their twenties.
(I’m using counselling as a generic term for talking about your head with a professional, so when I say this I also include therapy, psychology and psychiatry.)
I would never go 25 years without visiting a doctor or a dentist. And if I did eventually visit a doctor or a dentist at the age of 25, it’s likely I would have suffered through a lot already.
In the past five years since I turned twenty, old injuries have come back up to bother me. Tumbles and scrapes which seemed fine at first got worse over time – things I never mended properly or took care of. Parts that can’t do what they used to and other parts that have changed entirely.
And I imagine the same things have been happening to my head all this time too.
I think a doctor or a dentist would wonder why somebody would suffer through 25 years of ailments that were debilitating, stressful and uncomfortable.
They’d ask why I hadn’t visited sooner, before anything had gone wrong.
I was a teenager when I first had a crisis counselling appointment. It was a rainy day in a cold and quiet little office.
I felt like I was staring out of a car window, stuck in a sad Kelly Clarkson music video. I felt far away from everything, like my body was being managed from a tiny control room in my chest.
I didn’t want to be there and I didn’t think I’d have anything to say, because the problem wasn’t speakable. Nothing was wrong per se, I just wasn’t right.
I don’t know if I would ever have gone to counselling on my own accord. I felt like a lot of the sadness I felt was my own fault, and I didn’t feel like I could talk to anybody I knew about how I felt. I thought people would say ‘well duh!’ and ‘you deserve it’.
Eventually somebody stepped in and tried to make a plan for me.
It was more like a pinball machine than a plan but when I landed, I was here in the cold crisis office and I was feeling better. Just making an appointment felt like a tiny victory.
In my mind counselling was for wealtheir people who stretched across chaise longues evaluating rorschach images and detailing their childhood whilst an assistant fed them grapes.
In reality counselling is an objective person and sometimes that’s all you need. There’s relief and power in explaining a situation to somebody who knows nothing about it.
Having to condense all the people, places and things that I had dedicated years of thoughts, memories and emotions down into a few words was eye opening and weight lifting. Is that really how I would describe that person? That encounter? I guess so.
And a weight is lifted because it’s true. They are that person. This thing did bother me. That encounter wasn’t fair.
A good counsellor will do this thing where they wait for you to elaborate in silence. I’ll summarise something and look at them expectantly, waiting for them to ask another question or reply but they don’t. The pressure to keep talking pushes you to say more than you normally would.
Where friends jump in with support, agreement or their two cents, a counsellor supports you in a different way. They let you come up with your own interpretations, motivations and explanations instead of giving you theirs.
They get your brain going in a way other people don’t let it, because a good counsellor doesn’t decide it’s their turn to talk now, and that moment where you try to fill the silence is where the magic happens.
Ultimately there’s nothing I could say to push anybody to speak to a counsellor, but here are some of the things I hear a lot below and here’s why they shouldn’t stop you.
The NHS takes too long
I’m going to be completely honest and say, to me, the NHS mental health services are like being dropped into a scalding hot bath and trying to leap out with your skin still on. That’s a bit of an exaggeration but I was once made to wait three weeks over Christmas then sent to a mental health evaluation where a man asked me if I was going to kill myself then read me some poems. Just… really let that moment marinate.
Later I described the poems to my mum who finished the poem for me, incredulous that I had gone there with depression and been read a poem about addiction. She is a psychiatric nurse and it made her sad that was how the evaluation was conducted.
It is a spin of the wheel but for a free service that’s still somebody to talk to and frankly it’s better than relying on your unwell head to fix itself. It can take a while to be seen but that doesn’t mean you can’t be proactive with your health in the meantime. (For ways you can get help whilst you’re waiting in the queue, read my last point.)
I know people who have went through the same process and met counsellors who changed their life, but honestly I also know people who met counsellors that weren’t useful and it tainted their view of counselling. They thought every counsellor would be like that and gave up on getting help. Which takes me to the next excuse I hear a lot –
I don’t like my counsellor
I talk to people who tell me that counselling ‘wasn’t for them’ or they didn’t like the person they were given. Ask for another one! Go somewhere else! Your health is your responsibility and a doctor works for you, not the other way around.
I used to think they were all the same after my unfortunate experience with the depression anonymous poem guy. I didn’t really fancy being read another poem.
Here comes the doctor analogy again, really feeling that today. If I had a doctor I didn’t like, I can’t just decide welp that’s me over doctors, they’re simply not for me, fuck my broken leg, it will probably heal on its own and if it causes me problems in the future, fuck it I still don’t like doctors.
I tried counselling on and off over a few years and seen a few different people before I found ‘the one’. It wasn’t until my fourth counsellor over several years that I met somebody who gelled with me, and this was just from a random NYE resolution I made – go to counselling at least ten times.
I kept going without counselling, or going once or twice when something terrible happened and I felt like I had to, then I wouldn’t go back. Not shaming anybody who this works for, but I think talking about a current problem only solves that problem.
It doesn’t give you the opportunity to see a pattern in the way you react to things in life and the situations you find yourself in. You don’t develop an understanding of why you are the way you are, what experiences shaped you and how to be a shape you feel more proud of, or even the tools to deal with the next problem a lot better.
It’s worth the search for the right counsellor. Your brain is the most important piece of hardware, why would you skimp on it? It’s worth going private if you can too. (Booo I know.)
A good counsellor costs anywhere from £20-40 a session and that isn’t a lot to pay for your mental health. Since you’re paying that person, they’re inclined to do their best work and make you feel like things are changing for you in a good way, or you wont come back or recommend them, and they will make no money and starve!!!!
It totally depends on who you see, but in my experience (and this is my diary after all) paid counsellors want to get you on your feet and feeling more fab than you have ever felt. Free counsellors want to get you out the door.
But if you don’t want to spend the money, fear not and read my next point.
I don’t have the money or time for a counsellor
There are CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) apps like Woebot that are completely free and not only reply to your current situation, they offer little games that try to challenge the way you think about things in the future.
It works by asking you to tell Woebot how you’re feeling (it’s kind of like Smarterchild, ahh the memories) and asks you to write down three reasons why you feel that way.
After that, Woebot talks you through things it’s noticed in your reasons like future predicting, emotional reasoning etc. and I usually close the app feeling a lot better than when I opened it.
It’s limited in it’s questions so it isn’t the be all and end all but with the little GIF’s it sends and the way it annihilates my sad feelings, it’s a good little app to check in with and it’s free!
Another good app is Headspace, which has been recommended to me a lot recently whilst I’m struggling with some difficult panic attacks.
I’m not one for sitting still but it’s only been a few days and I can already feel a difference in the way I react to my body freaking out on me.
After the first time I used it mid panic attack, I could finally separate my head from my body and let it burn itself out whilst me and my brain hung out upstairs. That will make no sense to anybody who hasn’t used this app.
It might not even make sense to people who have, but whatever. I felt like I was holding my brain away from my jittery, stabbing, tingly, racing body and saying ‘don’t ever talk to me or my brain like that again!’ and it felt good.
There are other apps for more engaging counselling like Talk Space or Better Help, where you can speak with a professional, licensed counsellor for a lower cost. I would say in person is much better but these are amazing solutions to time, money or travel constraints.
There are completely free services if you text 85258 or 86463 when you feel shaky and someone will get back to you. There are so many people willing and ready to help you, whether you are the one struggling or supporting someone else in your life.
I can self medicate
I really have heard people say this… tee hee.