In today’s buzzing world of social media, it’s all too easy to edit your life down to the best bits: tweeting about holidays, promotions or #100daysofhappiness, but not mentioning the times when things are less than rosy. However, if you’re struggling to deal with your emotions, your relationships, a bad experience or anything else life throws at you, there’s no need to suffer in silence.
Therapy is easier to access than ever before, and you won’t have to look far to find something suitable. It’s a huge step forward to discuss your problems with someone who doesn’t know or judge you but has the skills to make sense of what’s going on. Here’s what you need to know about the most common options available.
Psychotherapy and CBT
‘Psychotherapy’ covers a broad range of treatments and can also be sourced by your GP. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, the most popular option, asks you to analyse the regular thinking patterns shaping your behaviour and work out how they developed. By learning to break down negative thoughts and compare them to reality, you can challenge your assumptions. Writing those thoughts down will highlight patterns like ‘all or nothing’ thinking (e.g. everything always goes wrong) or personalisation (e.g. a dispute at work must have been your fault, even though you weren’t there when it happened). CBT is sometimes offered as group therapy, where you meet with like-minded people to go through the treatment together, giving you extra support in total confidentiality.
Lots of online self-help courses are based on CBT, such as Beating the Blues, or a paid service called Fear Fighter. The online approach is useful if you can’t fit face-to-face sessions around a hectic schedule. Alternatively there are other strands of psychotherapy to explore in person, including interpersonal, humanistic and psychodynamic styles, but a good practitioner will tell you what’s appropriate for your situation.
This is recommended for all kinds of issues, from OCD to stress, and everything you discuss stays confidential between you and the counsellor. Together you’ll look for triggers that led to the issue and you’ll often explore potential coping strategies, realistic goals or lifestyle changes. Counsellors don’t give advice or force their opinions on you, but they do listen.
GPs can point you towards a free counselling service, and there will also be a range of private counsellors in your area (worth considering if there’s an NHS waiting list). Some offer subsidised rates for anyone on a low income, so definitely check if this applies to you. There are plenty of specific relationship counselling services, including Relate, providing support face-to-face or via email, phone and live web chats.
You’ve probably seen the headlines about mindfulness being the latest buzzword, but this isn’t just a health fad. The aim is to focus on ‘the present moment’, without dwelling on the past or dreading the future. You become more aware of your surroundings and senses, noticing the small details that you’d otherwise drown out in favour of worrying. Courses run across the UK (check the Be Mindful website) and mindfulness enthusiasts include mental health campaigner and comedian Ruby Wax.
Once you’ve learned the basics you can practice this alone, taking time out from your day to think about the sensations of normally automatic actions: sitting on a train, eating a square of chocolate or doing the washing up. It sounds bizarre but it really can change your mindset. You may also want to look at meditation and yoga, which have some similarities to mindfulness.
Tips for any type of therapy
It’s important you feel comfortable and you get on well with your therapist, otherwise you could find it difficult to open up. Don’t blame yourself if you don’t gel with the first counsellor you meet – it just means you need to work with someone else to get the most out of the treatment.
Find out if your therapist is accredited before you start working with them. Try the directory from the BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy), where you can find practitioners from scratch or check the register for someone claiming to be accredited.
If you’re really struggling or you’ve got a long wait for treatment, contact Samaritans for help via email or phone, or in person. You can also find peer support on forums, such as Friends in Need (for depression), or the Beat online community (for eating disorders).