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As at November 2012



Most of us will have an idea of what psychotherapy or therapy is all about.  The client or patient sits (or lies on a leather couch) and talks, the therapist listens.  I remember, before I started therapy, thinking it was just for people with no friends because I had so many lovely friends to talk to about my problems.  But it's not the same thing.  And many types of psychotherapy are not all about just sitting talking.


What are the major differences?  Well for a start it's confidential, which is a huge difference.  Instead of worrying if we're going to lose a friend if we say something we are in a safe space.  Just being in the safe space can give us the freedom to say things we didn't even know we were thinking.  It's very telling that many times we only say the most important things when the session is ending - another very safe thing about most sessions is that they end at a specific time - we get to walk away and not have to deal with a friend's reaction.


Also, it's about us.  Unless in very special circumstances (sometimes it is necessary for a therapist to admit certain bias if they have been in a similar situation) unlike chatting to friends we don't have them switching the conversation back to their life, their relationships, we get to be selfish and focus on our own needs (much like with a professional massage).


And, of course, they're trained.  Psychotherapists can often see what we're not saying or what our behaviour is all about when we cannot.


I tried psychotherapy three times,

and the third time it stuck.


My first therapist was very helpful, but I sometimes feel I got the most benefit from our first session when I went in, sat down and told her everything I'd never told anyone else.  I cried.  I felt better.  Unfortunately it didn't last and I had to keep going back.  I actually felt like I was arguing with her a lot of the time, she would be antagonistic and tell me the ex I was hung up on didn't sound like all that.  She also seemed to be obsessed with how much I slept and ate (I was working nights).  I understand now how much these things affect me, but at the time I thought she couldn't see the wood for the trees. I started lying to her about how many hours sleep I'd had and what I'd eaten.  The most useful piece of advice she gave me was this.  I had started freaking out in supermarkets (the big ones with no windows).  I'd get halfway round with a packed trolley and then have to leave with nothing.  I thought she would explain the psychological significance, instead she said this "Don't go to big supermarkets."  When I quit she told me I wasn't ready, but I was relieved to be done with it.


My second therapist was a trainee bless her.  She really just listened.  It was like talking to a wall but I learned a few things talking to the wall.  When I quit she said I wasn't ready but I felt like I could talk to a wall at home.


My third therapist... perhaps it's because she comes from a different school of therapy, perhaps it's because she's also a life coach, perhaps it's because she is deeply compassionate and understanding, perhaps it's because she's wise, maybe it's because she embraces Oriental and Western ideas.  I've got bored, I've walked away, but she never said "you're not ready", she said, "okay, take your time, come back when you're ready, or try life coaching, or something else."  I think this is why I feel so positive about exploring different escapes, there are so many ways to heal and so many paths and sometimes it doesn't matter which approach you take (in fact recently I've been listening most to Thich Nhat Hanh about resting, doing nothing, simply letting ourselves heal).  Sometimes it's harder working with a therapist you feel who really understands you; after about 4 years I told her some things which I'd never shared, I believed that I had already told her.  I heard a rather negative description of therapy yesterday, it was, you go for years and years and you're never cured.  I disagree, but as we move onwards and upwards we still need help, sometimes even more help.  If you've been with a therapist for years and truly feel that nothing has changed that's another story, but you know sometimes just not going too far backwards is a huge success!


If you're interested in finding a therapist

then I'd love to help you but I've always just picked mine out of a phone book when I was desperate.  I say trust your intuition.  (At the time I had asked my GP for help, but he told me that I didn't want the stigma of anything to do with mental health on my records so told me to find someone private myself.  I really hope that anyone going to their GP these days gets more help.)


Having said that there are an awful lot of related types of support

out there that can be as good or even better than some psychotherapists.  At my lowest point, yes lying on the floor, after I talked to my GP, I called the Samaritans to ask them for a psychotherapist's number, they couldn't help with a number but the person who I spoke to was so supportive and helpful and well trained that it was like a first, powerful, healing therapy visit.  (And it's free.)


I've also worked as a volunteer mentor and life coach, and there are organisations that offer this kind of support and more, for free or nominal charge.


You can also look into specific counselling,

for example grief counselling.  Somebody working as a counsellor, life coach or mentor may not have the same level of training as a psychotherapist but can also be very helpful (and should also operate under the same confidentiality agreement).  There are also group counselling options; one of the very best things I've ever done was a Forgiveness Workshop (run by my third psychotherapist) which "coincided" with a very powerful breakthrough moment in my life.  For more on options you can check out the Mind website.


Just one more thing on psychotherapy, for many people it's not easy.  You may have heard of states like denial where people block experiences they have had.  To really confront certain experiences from our lives can require us to grow and become stronger because we usually surpress them because we're not able to handle them at that time.  To move forward, often described as the path of the spiritual warrior, can be an intensely painful experience that we need a lot of help for, it is said "The only way out is through." but above all have patience and great big dollops of kindness for yourself if you decide to try psychotherapy.

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