Monday, 30 September 2013

Confronting the Fears and Speculations of Counselling

With Mental Health Awareness Day just around the corner (10th October) I thought now the appropriate time to write about what some may consider a taboo subject – counselling.

I completely understand the awkwardness surrounding the topic. Counselling is an extremely intimate, personal experience that not many people would be happy to openly discuss, especially on the internet. I, however, am not afraid to delve deep into the mystery and stigma associated with an unquestionably beneficial service.

In an attempt to loosen the grip on those ropes of tension by which counselling is grasped by you lot, I wish to speak to you about my own bout of therapy. As many of you may already know, and as I have already shared with you in previous posts, I have experienced my fair share of trauma these past few years. Although I am proud to say I faced a large amount on my own and pushed through, I would’ve fallen more than a few feet short had I not made the decision to speak to the school counsellor. I will never forget that day because it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I was the definition of an absolute wreck and I felt less than worthless. Going into her pokey room that afternoon with nowhere to hide, I firmly believed no amount of professional help could save me – I was already dead inside.

I spent over nine months battling through each little war I faced into. During that time I was asked to leave the school, which I undoubtedly refused to do. I was appalled that an institution who supposedly had a care team watching my every move could even suggest I run away from my problems. As part of an “agreement” which would allow me to remain a student in the school, I was obliged to attend counselling with an alternative counsellor outside the school walls.

By the end of the nine gruesome months I had attended sessions with three different counsellors, only one of which I actually benefitted from. Despite my unsuccessful encounters with the other two, I would not be here writing this today were it not for that one counsellor that stood by me through my darkest hours. You won’t be surprised to hear that the one counsellor I hold all the gratitude towards is the first one. The counsellor I chose to speak to without any outside influence.

From my own experience I can tell you first-hand that counselling really did save me. I had other outlets I relied on too, obviously, such as writing, music and speaking to friends, but nothing helped me more than the realisation that I needed professional interference. Counselling is useless and a complete waste of time if you don’t believe you need to be there. Anyone can be pushed into an hour a week of some stranger reminding you in polite terms how fucked up you are. The only time that is beneficial is when you agree with them from the bottom of your heart and you’re not kidding yourself. For one particular counselling service I was placed on a six week waiting list, just for one session. If you’re not committed to the help you’re receiving don’t waste your time, or theirs. There are plenty of people out there dying (quite literally) for the opportunity you are being granted and ironically taking for granted.

What I’m trying to say is that when you open up to the idea of counselling, the rewards at the end of your final session are priceless. One thing I learned from my time there was communication. I always struggled to express my feelings in the correct manner, leading to a massive build-up of frustration within me. Even a few weeks into the sessions and I could feel an improvement – both mentally and emotionally. I felt the knots inside of me begin to untangle themselves. Another lesson I learnt was how to trust in someone. I don’t mean the ‘I trust you with my secret’ kind of trust; I mean the ‘I trust you will save my life’ kind. I finally found someone I knew would remain loyal to me no matter what I told them, no matter how I spoke to them, and no matter how awfully I treated them on occasion. I realised that regardless of how problematic I was, this person would never stop believing in me. In my case, this person was a female. But having worked with both male and female counsellors I believe it’s simply down to whoever you connect with first. For me, it was a woman named Grace. A complete stranger when I initially spoke to her who became my saviour overnight.

If it was up to me, every faculty of education would provide a counselling service for students all year round. You can’t predict when someone will need help. Feelings aren’t timetabled; you can’t expect someone to avail of the services simply because they are only on offer this week and it’s either now or pay for it privately outside of school. Counsellors should be employed in every school and by this I am not referring to career guidance teachers who claim to be a “guidance counsellor” on the side. No, I mean an official counsellor whose only concern is the mental wellbeing of the students wearing that particular uniform. In my school we are currently being assigned slots in which we must decide our careers with the guidance counsellor. These slots are fifteen minutes long. If my school can only afford to designate fifteen minutes per student for the entirety of the school year to career advice, how can anyone expect a student to approach this teacher to discuss personal issues which may take longer than the assigned time to resolve?

One day when all schools have a full-time counsellor in place, I hope students are less afraid to speak out than we all seem to be right now. It’s great to see the progress being made in promoting suicide awareness, but could we not take it a step further and do something which could possibly prevent it from happening in the first place? Maybe if counselling wasn’t seen as such a shameful service more people would be brave enough to make that one decision that could save their life. Young people in particular need to stop being so scared of asking for help. I’m not alone in saying that you will not regret it. I think one of the best feelings of my whole experience was knowing that if I ever did relapse, I had a safety net there to pick me up again.

If there is anyone reading this and considering getting professional help, I would encourage you that the sooner you speak up, the better. It can be a long road to recovery but the journey you are taken on is so worthwhile. I learnt more about myself in those nine months than I ever could have in my seventeen years. I can promise that you will too. The only regret you’ll have is that it took a seventeen year old ex-counselee to persuade you to seek the happiness everyone in this world deserves, including you.

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