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Myth Busting-Counselling Myths and Misconceptions

The truth is counselling is purely about having time devoted to helping yourself, for whatever reason, it is about self -care.

I remember when I was first told that I would benefit from counselling, I was 19 years old during the early 90’s and had just moved away to university. I was incredibly homesick and was feeling down and after a visit to the GP it was suggested that I see a therapist. I remember thinking to myself  ‘why do I  need counselling I have lots of friends and family to talk too’ and ‘that counselling is only for people with mental illness’, ‘why do I want to talk to a stranger’. We all have misconceptions and pre-conceived ideas. 

This was a time when mental health wasn’t in the public domain and it certainly wasn’t something that was discussed as freely as it is today, so with this in mind I am going to try and break down the myths and pre-conceived ideas that I had and that you might have around counselling.

It’s easier to talk to friends and family about my problems.

There is a common belief that seeking the support of your friends and family is just as good as getting professional counselling. But while being able to share your problems with your friends and family is obviously helpful, it is very different from the relationship with a trained counsellor who has specialist skills in exploring and treating a range of cognitive, behavioural and emotional issues. What’s more, counselling is confidential, meaning you don’t have to take the feelings of your loved ones into account when you speak. This is something that I personally found invaluable!

Counselling is only for people with serious mental health issues.

© simpsons

Many people believe that in order to see a counsellor, you need to have a psychological disorder or be seriously mentally ill, of course the reality is entirely different. Counselling can be beneficial for everyone. Whether you seek support for everyday matters such as stress management or relationship issues, mental health challenges like depression, or life events such as a bereavement, counsellors are expertly trained to help people with a wide range of concerns. There are lots of reasons speople choose counselling, it is a very positive step to take.

I have found in my client work that some people just need a few sessions to gain clarity about a specific issues, and for other counselling can take a lot longer, but it is always driven by the client’s needs. 

Going to a counsellor is a sign of weakness.

The reality is sometimes we think strength is about keeping everything in and not being effected by difficulties, it’s a very British way to “man up and get on with it’ However I believe that it shows enormous strength to face your problems and try to improve ourselves and our lives. Counselling is a positive step towards helping yourself, and it is all about self care. 

The counsellor will tell me what to do.

Professional counsellors do not give advice. I may give you information, but don’t expect me to say whether I think you should do A or B. It is my job to help you explore issues, so you can make up your own mind about what you choose to do. You know yourself and your stuff better than anyone else, and you know what’s best for you, its’ my job to help you discover that.

And my personal favourite myth…I will have to lie on a couch.

Thanks to countless cartoons, TV programmes and movies a lot of us wrongly believe that a counselling session involves lying down on a couch, staring at the ceiling!

© simpsons

Counselling is an active process that requires the client to be just as engaged as the counsellor and for the client to commit they need to be involved in the process.  Sitting in a comfortable chair or on a sofa is a more appropriate position and is adopted by the vast majority of clients, and the counsellor will typically sit opposite their client in a similar way. I have worked in many different settings, school offices, doctors surgery’s, therapy rooms and even in clients own homes. Where ever you are it is important that you feel comfortable and if you are not, just say so to the counsellor!

The key for me is that you need to feel comfortable with whichever counsellor you choose as it’s the quality of the relationship you have that is important – all counsellors are different and have different personalities, styles and approaches.

So don’t let myths about counselling prevent you from getting help! 

New Beginnings, Is September the new January?

Do you feel inspired to turn over a new leaf in September? Or is this just me?

Following on from my blogs on ‘goodbyes‘ and ‘change’ I feel inspired to think about self-care and what better way than to think about new beginnings! September seems to be a great month for a fresh start, new resolutions and to make a change for the better. 

September is traditionally a month for new beginnings. From a young age we are programmed to accept new starts from September with the beginning of the school year, everything starts here. New pencil case, new uniform and very shiny school shoes, exciting times for most but it can also be very scary!. 

I have just moved house and I am settling into a new area, meeting new people and starting new work. My children are back to school and life settles into a routine, holidays and the lazy days of summer are over and the days are shorter and nights are cooler. This could be time for me? 

Let’s make September a time for self-evaluation and reflection. To make it clear what is important to us and perhaps focus on what needs some attention. This could be a relationship, our health, some more self-care, a new job, or just some simple re organisation of priorities. For me simply returning to comfortable or ‘normal’ routines that give predictability to the days and weeks ahead makes me feel happy.

With a change in routine and more time for reflection it is important to be aware that things that have been troubling you, stuff that you may have put to the back of your mind may spring back to your immediate thoughts. Maybe it is time for some self-care and counselling can help you re-establish what’s important to you, and manage the issues that are causing you  anxiety .

Make September exciting and do the things you want to do, maybe you could:

  • Gain a new skill.
  • Form a new habit.
  • Or finishing something important to you.  

So by thinking of September as a time of new beginning it can bring a sense of anticipation. Everything feels fresh.  It’s an opportunity we don’t dare to waste!

So what is your September resolution? 

Accepting change, a personal battle…

A new home, a new part of the country to familiarise myself with, new friends to make and new work to focus on. This is my New Leaf. Change is something that I am very familiar with as I am part of a world where I have to move on every few years. I often leave good friends and colleagues behind and places that I have loved, but doing it regularly doesn’t make it any easier for me to accept it!

Change is hard and can be scary, but we should not be so fearful of it.  Why is it scary? Because it is unknown. Humans naturally crave comfort, thrive on routine and only think to change when something is not right.

Change is part of life, it is inevitable and one thing I can’t control. By accepting it in a way that is beneficial to me is now the only way that I can deal with it in a positive way. Part of my process is too stop the ‘blame game’, it is no-ones fault it is just the way it is. People move on, loved ones pass and every year the leaves fall off the trees. When change occurs it is easy to blame ourselves or others for the way we are feeling but that doesn’t help our stress and anxiety levels.

Change is a natural part of life

In order to accept change and not be afraid of it, we have to be comfortable with the unknown. We don’t always know the outcome of certain things, and when a change initially occurs, it can feel like we are losing something—a friend or a job. But you don’t know what will happen in the future.

What feels like a loss now could end up being a win later.

Life is constantly moving forward, often I will look back and think, “Thank goodness I made that change, it was so hard at the time, but it was necessary to lead me to the better, more positive place I am today.”

Let’s all embrace the change for a better future

My 5 steps to accepting change...

  1. Embrace your feelings about change. Whatever type of change is unsettling you, embrace that feeling. If you embrace your feelings, it will be a lot easier to accept and move on.
  2. Understand that change is an inevitable part of life. It is necessary for old things to go and new things to come. Simple as that!
  3. Try to put change in perspective. Try to reframe the situation, are the worry’s and concerns you have about the impending change realistic or accurate?
  4. See the positives. Use this as an opportunity to turn a loss or negative change into an opportunity or a way to improve your life
  5. Why does the change unsettles you so much. It’s hard to accept change, if you’re unclear about why it makes you so uncomfortable or unsettled. Think about when change has happened in the past and how this made you feel then. Understanding where these habits have come from helps us to understand why we fear them.

Finally some self-care tips- It is important to manage managing the stress and anxiety that change brings. 

  • Talk about it with those close to you. 
  • Set some goals and address the challenges that it brings.
  • Take up mindfulness or other relaxing exercise.
  • Keep busy! 

Mother guilt: My nemesis…

Mother’s guilt is only natural and is the consequence of wanting to be a good mother to your children. However, in the end it won’t do us any good..

The summer holidays are well under way and this is a time when I tend to reflect on the past year, how much my children have grown emotionally and physically and how proud I am of what they have achieved. But with this comes my own internal battle am I a good mum?

I truly believe that being a mum is the hardest job in the world, children don’t arrive with an instruction manual, just as you get over one ‘phase’ another one arrives to surprise you and we are constantly faced with enormous expectations from society, media, family and friends about what mothers “should be like” and what we “should do.” Then there is the ‘mum guilt’

Maternal guilt is the feeling of guilt, doubt, anxiousness or uncertainty experienced by mothers when they worry they’re failing or falling short of expectations in some way.

As a mother of two boys and with my own experience of serious mental illness I know only too well what mothers guilt is and what it can do to our self-confidence and self-worth. There are many issues I have felt guilty about with my own children but by talking to a counsellor and sharing with close friends I have learnt to accept that some things are just out of my control, and that my kids are wonderfully happy and secure with the choices I have made. 

I believe that all mum’s at some time will experience it, the feeling that we aren’t good enough, or that we are not doing the best for our children. Whether it is the choices we make for them, going back to work, not being able to attend a school play or event or even serving fishfingers and chips for tea instead of ‘freshly made home grown food’, it’s the constant battle we have to be the perfect parent and this is exhausting for us all. 

We wonder if choices we have made, such as what school to send our kids to, have not had far-reaching negative consequences, if a different path would have resulted in happier, more well-adjusted and secure kids. The choices we make are often very considered, but it still doesn’t stop us worrying about them. 

The truth is that no matter what we do right as parents, we tend to more often focus on our failings. Mothers then become their own worst critics.

The guilt and resulting feelings of shame drive feelings, thoughts, and behaviours and can show up in some of the following ways:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Negative thoughts. 
  • Massive amounts of time and/energy focused on social media.  
  • Overdoing, overworking and overscheduling.  
  • Addictive behaviours.  

Counselling can help with understanding these feelings and finding the root cause of the ‘guilt’

If I am realistic I know that mother’s guilt isn’t going anywhere in a hurry, it is part of being a mum. When I think about my own mother, she has shared her memories of parenting and what she believes she could have done differently, so she stills has her own mum guilt and I am 45 years old! Maybe embracing it is the way forward? Or trying to ease it might be a better solution.

So here are my top tips for easing the mum guilt :

  • Be realistic– being perfect isn’t achievable, we all make mistakes and this is where we get the best learning experience. 
  • Look out for the ‘should’s – these come from other people’s expectations not your own. 
  • Pick your battles and don’t stress over the little stuff.
  • Stop judging yourself – your best is good enough- don’t compare yourself to other mums either, the chances are that they are struggling with mum guilt too!
  • Acceptance of what you can’t change and learn to laugh at things when they go array 
  • Be honest with your children, explain why you feel guilty. They will appreciate your openness and it will keep that all important communication open between you. 

It’s also worth remembering that guilt can also be positive, a catalyst to stop a damaging pattern of behaviour. As a Counsellor I often see women who wouldn’t instigate change for themselves, but will for their children, out of a desire to be a better mother than their own.

Finally remember that guilt means you care and that you are a good mum, all children really want is to be loved and supported – remember that you are trying your best and this is good enough. We’ve got this!

“It’s not about how much you do, but how much love you put into what you do that counts.” – Mother Teresa

Goodbye, farewell, adios – it’s all about endings…

How are you with goodbye’s?

Saying goodbye is the hardest thing that most of us do. Endings by definition are final and are therefore something that most of us find difficult. 

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” 

So with the ending of my time in Somerset just round the corner I have been saying goodbye to people that I have become close to -new friends and colleagues, people that I see every-day– and- of course -the clients that I have worked with over the last few years.  It is tough, but I feel ok with the sadness that this brings. 

Relationships end all the time and most often we don’t have the ability to choose how to end relationships. People stop turning up, stop responding to communications. People fade away, people move, or other things happen that prevent the relationship from ending the way both parties would prefer. 

In today’s world staying in touch has never been easier, but is staying in touch the right thing to do? A question I often ask myself when moving on. The chances are, many of you have people you used to spend time with- and even the ones you attempted to stay connected to often faded away with time and distance. That’s because it takes a significant amount of energy to sustain emotional connections while confronting the demands of everyday life. 

I am ok with goodbyes, it is something that I am familiar with and a way of life for me, I have moved on so many times it has become part of my every-day, but it is emotionally draining and for me it is hard to watch those people who I am leaving behind struggle with the endings that I am inflicting on them – being ok with planned endings has made me stronger and more resilient to life’s unexpected endings. A skill that I feel will be useful in the future.

So acceptance of goodbyes feels like a way to be kind to yourself, making sure that you give yourself space for the relationships you can manage to maintain. 

Finally – is there an art to saying goodbye well? Here are my top tips for managing those difficult moments… 

  • Focus on the positives and what have you gained from the relationship. 
  • Embrace the present and live in the now, try not to dwell on what has been.
  • Understand that sometimes endings are just out of your control.
  • Exit with kindness and grace, this is the last time many people will see you so leave a positive impression. 
  • Finally instead of pulling away from the emotional discomfort, embrace it. 

While there’s never going to be a perfect way to let go of the people you’ve grown accustomed to having in your life,  goodbyes are something we all must face. So let’s do it well and make them as positive as possible.