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Engaging with therapy like we do the GP

As an avid supporter of therapy – not just as a therapist but as a user, I am hopeful for a new perspective of therapy. With lots of campaigns currently being run by mental health charities – such as Samaritans, Heads together and Place 2 Be, it seems as a society we are opening our minds and hearts to the healing that can take place in the therapy room.

We are slowly dispelling the myth that asking for support is shameful and weak – although we have very far to go!

I have a dream that one day, we will engage with emotional health, mental health services and therapy just like we do the GP. With an understanding that we are complex human beings, that our experiences shape us and that when things aren’t quite right, we seek help. We place a lot of trust in our physical health practitioners; to know what’s going on with our bodies, to know how to keep them running well and to help us when they go wrong. We understand that the doctors are still learning too, and are always coming up with new ways to heal us when we get sick. We understand this in terms of progression for human kind. We also understand that we have different levels of care need and so will engage with services as appropriate. This is the same as caring for our emotional and mental health.

Does this all sound a little too abstract?

Let’s try this;

You wake up and realise you have a cold. You need to work so you choose to go in, but take some pain relief medication and maybe some tissues to work. You might choose to have some soup for lunch to warm yourself up and choose a quiet night in to recover; this is basic self-care.

You are playing in the park with your dog and throw him the ball. You trip and fall into an uncovered hole in the park, onto your arm and are in agony. Your partner takes you to the hospital where you are seen by a doctor and your arm is set in a cast. You have to rest your arm for six weeks while it heals and know you may need to do some physio after; here, you engage with a number of support systems;  your partner, the hospital, the physio and the understanding boss as your output is reduced due to the arm cast. You don’t blame yourself as you understand the environment was not ideal and have since spoken to the council to advise them of the hole.

You receive the awful news that you have cancer. Your world turns upside down. You have to spend a lot of time in a lot of doctors’ offices receiving tests, understanding your prognosis, understanding your treatment plan. You have to gain the support of your employer, as you understand you will need to take time to get better, your family and friends offer support and you ask for help when you need it. You might question why you got this awful disease but understand that there are many, many factors in the answer.

Our emotional and mental health can be seen with the same lens.

You wake up, you feel a little sad, you’re not sure why but have been affected by some difficult news, both in the media and within the family. You go to work, but decide to bring some comforting food for lunch and choose to have a quiet night in. You call a friend and tell them you’re not feeling great and they come over to give you a hug and have a cuppa together. This is basic self-care.

You are having difficulties in your life – your parents have decided to get a divorce and at the same time, you have decided to split from your partner. To top it all offer, you are struggling at work and feel bullied by your manager. You wonder if the difficulties you are experiencing in your relationships are due to your disruptive childhood. You choose to go to therapy to work through what’s going on, to gain support and to learn some new skills how to navigate your power hungry manager; here you are engaging with therapy on a short term basis, helping to heal some childhood wounds and learning to manage key relationships.

Life begins to fall apart; after many years of coping and managing, a very disruptive childhood, filled with abuse and neglect is creeping up on you. You notice you have many addictions, disruptive relationships and are not able to manage everyday tasks. You suspect you have serious mental health problems so go to the doctors for a referral. You receive a mental health diagnosis and begin a treatment programme including medication and therapy. You know this may take a while, and understand that many factors have brought you to this place in your life.

Now the idea of this article is not to pit physical, emotional and mental health against each other. I would like to demonstrate that our physical needs are as diverse as our emotional and mental health needs. By breaking down the stigma of engaging professional services, we can create health for ourselves. Trusting ourselves to get the support we need and working with the professionals to heal our wounds.

Therapy can provide support at many different points in your life. By asking for support early on, you give yourself a fighting chance. Just like with our physical health, if you neglect taking care of yourself and seeking help, problems can become more complex.

This post was originally created for the counselling directory and can be found on their website here.

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