In America having a therapist is considered as normal as having cereal for breakfast. But whilst there’s no denying the trend has crossed to our fair shores it doesn’t seem to have gripped the nation with quite such fervour – yet. One reason for this may be the stiff upper lip we are so keen on adopting in this country. God forbid we might ever need some help to see us through this crazy life – we can manage well alone, thank you very much. But can we manage well alone? Or should we, in fact, be taking a leaf out of the books of our transatlantic cousins?
During the more emotionally turbulent periods of my life I have considered – albeit briefly – the option of speaking to a therapist. What stopped me on each occasion was the feeling I would be a bit of a fraud. Compared to other people who actually needed therapy, I reasoned, my own paltry set of ‘problems’ would pale into comparison. I don’t have a chequered past, nor have I been abused in any way. I’m not a drug addict and I’ve never been depressed or suicidal. I’m just a regular, middle class girl from a reasonably well off family who has never wanted for anything (apart from maybe a brother or sister, but when your parents split up when you’re five years old that makes siblings kind of impossible).
True, I’ve had my heart broken (or to be more specific, ripped out of my chest, fed through a mincer, thrown to the ground and stamped on until it virtually ceased to exist – though I’m obviously not bitter), and you could argue my parents’ divorce and sometimes turbulent relationship with my dad are the root cause of my adult neuroses, but generally speaking I see myself as fairly middle of the road. I do not need therapy – or at least not just yet.
But if I did feel I needed therapy, there would certainly be a wealth of options to be explored. A quick scan of the NHS website details no less than six different types of ‘talking therapy’:
– The best-known and most readily available type of therapy – on the NHS this usually consists of 6 to 12 sessions of an hour each. You talk in confidence to a counsellor about how you feel about yourself and your situation. The counsellor supports you and offers practical advice.
– Counselling is ideal for people who are basically healthy but need help coping with a current crisis, such as anger, relationship issues, bereavement, redundancy, infertility or serious illness.
2. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
– The aim of CBT is help you think less negatively, so that instead of feeling hopeless and depressed, you cope better with and even start to enjoy the situations you face.
– In CBT, you set goals with your therapist and carry out tasks between sessions. A course typically involves between 6 and 15 sessions, which last about an hour each.
– Like counselling, CBT deals with current situations more than events in your past or childhood.
– CBT has been shown to work for a variety of mental health problems. In particular it can help people suffering from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, obsessive compulsive order, post-traumatic stress disorder and some eating disorters.
– Unlike counselling and CBT, psychotherapy involves talking more about your past to help you overcome problems you’re having in the present. It tends to last longer than CBT and counselling. Sessions are an hour long and can continue for a year or more.
– Psychotherapy can be especially useful in helping people with long-term or recurring problems to find the cause of their difficulties. There’s some evidence that psychotherapy can help depression and some eating disorders.
– NHS psychotherapists normally work in a hospital or clinic, where you’ll see them as an outpatient. Private psychotherapists often work from home.
4. Family Therapy
– This may be offered when the whole family is in difficulty. A therapist (or pair of therapists) meets the whole family, and explores their views and relationships to understand the problems the family is having. It helps family members communicate better with each other.
– Sessions are between 45 minutes and an hour-and-a-half long, and usually take place several weeks apart.
– Family therapy is useful for any family in which a child, young person or adult (a parent or a grandparent) has a serious problem that’s affecting the rest of the family. Many types of cases are seen by family therapists, including child and adolescent behavioural problems, mental health conditions, separation, divorce, domestic violence and addiction.
5. Couples Therapy
– Couples therapy can help when a relationship is in crisis, for example if one partner has had an affair. Both partners talk in confidence to a counsellor to explore what has gone wrong in the relationship and how to change things for the better. It can help couples learn more about each other’s needs and communicate better.
– Ideally, both partners should attend the weekly hour-long sessions, but they can still help if just one person attends.
6. Group Therapy
– In group therapy, up to around 12 people meet, together with a therapist. It’s a useful way for people who share a common problem to get support and advice from each other. It can help you realise you’re not alone in your experiences, which is itself beneficial.
– Some people prefer to be part of a group or find that it suits them better than individual therapy.
Of course if traditional therapies don’t float your boat you could always try alternative or complementary therapies such as acupuncture, reiki, ayurveda, shiatsu, aromatherapy, herbalism, homeopathy – the list goes on. Whereas once such therapies were considered by many as ‘hippy’ practices, today they are recognised by the National Health Service and routinely recommended by practitioners to their patients.
Even those who shun the very concept of therapy may find – if they do a little soul searching – that even they need it from time to time. It may just be that they find their therapy in less officious channels. They might be fortunate in having particularly strong support networks in their friends and families, or they might have strong faith and take solace in their spirituality. They might even find the best form of therapy for them is to switch off and punch some bean bags in the gym for a few hours a week.
But whether it’s psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, flower therapy, friend and family therapy or no therapy at all, the bottom line is that everybody is different, and what ‘fixes’ them – if indeed they feel there is anything needing to be fixed in the first place – will be a unique combination of factors. Some people may find therapy of some description or other helps them to navigate the often stressful and confusing maze of life, others may not. Some may dip in and out of therapy throughout their lives whereas others might require it for one intense burst to help them through a traumatic experience and safely out the other side.
Whatever each individual chooses, there should be no stigma attached. We should celebrate our uniqueness rather than fight against it. Because sometimes, just sometimes, everyone needs a helping hand.