Written by Jane Bostock


The defence of the counsellor

Prince Harry talked this week about how counselling helped him gain some control over his life. It could help you too, says Jane Bostock.

Scrabble tiles spelling out 'mental health'
Our quirks and troubles are like a big old bank of bad that we – often unwittingly – keep paying into. It keeps us in our discomfort comfort zone; we dare not breach it for fear of what lies beyond. What lies beyond is often a better way of being. But the idea of change and difference is uncomfortable and frightening. Oddly a familiar discomfort often trumps the unknown.

It’s an odd and exposing experience, walking into a room with someone you’ve never met before and speaking your deepest fears, fantasies and wounds. The social diktat is often that you have to be very troubled indeed to seek such help. Which is why it is helpful so many influential figures are coming out in favour of seeking talking therapy.

Why is it useful? Friends get distracted, cannot deal with everything you want to say and may tell other shared acquaintances about what has happened. Counsellors are trained to listen without judgment; they don’t get bored and interrupt. Well, the good ones don’t, and there are good and bad of anything in any walk of life.

People need therapy for lots of reasons. There may be so much emotional pain and turmoil that has never been allowed to surface that living feels unbearable, the sadness and hurt you feel unacknowledged, unprocessed.

You might be obsessed with someone, something, perpetually stuck in an inescapable moment in time. You may fret about someone not liking you to the point that nothing else matters. A trauma or abuse may have occurred which stops you from doing certain things or trusting anyone. You may be perpetually in a state of high anxiety and hyper-vigilance, waiting for the next disaster to occur.

An abusive relationship scarring your trust in future love and relationships. A family dynamic that continues to disturb or irritate. Why do you always end up on the wrong side of the boss and leave? Why do we always blame others for our endless misfortune? Truth be told, is that really possible every time? Old wounds and stories are endlessly played out; “Why,” we ask, “does it always happen to me?”

“Friends and family mean well when they try to change the subject when your feelings become intolerable. But a therapist does not do that: they allow you to speak the unspeakable, unbearable truth of your sadness.”

I am not saying others are without fault. If you see them as troublesome, there is a chance they have an equally chaotic internal world to battle with. But there is not much you can do about other people. What you can change is how you deal with them and potential difficult situations. Why do you assume certain people are not for you? Are they just simply dicks or do they remind you of someone who has hurt you? Do you need to cut them some slack?

The death of a loved one may shut you down emotionally, allowing you to carry on but stealing your emotional responses to the point that relationships feel impossible to develop. Grief needs to happen and a therapist can help.

Friends and family mean well when they try to change the subject when your feelings become intolerable. But a therapist does not do that: they allow you to speak the unspeakable, unbearable truth of your sadness and that allows you to grieve.

Look at the world today. It’s been argued many times that many of our leaders are unconsciously acting out from being, say, neglected and harassed in boarding schools. Uncaring parents who are only interested in achievement have been linked to narcissistic attributes. Many of our leaders act like hurt children, lashing out because developmentally that is exactly where they are at. Without any conscious reflective capacity to turn out of such a destructive spiral they drag the rest of us down with them.

We see this in the workplace and socially, too. People endlessly reliving a destructive past, bullying their way to the top, hoping the outcome will be different this time. They just want to fill the void but never can. Without self-knowledge or reflection, the chance of change is unlikely.

Counselling is not a silver bullet. It often takes time, perhaps years, and courage to express exactly what is going on. This is hard, as we all design ourselves to be as tolerable as we can be for others. It is hard and courageous to strip oneself bare.

For me, therapy was life-changing. Unhelpful repetitive patterns have been disbanded. I do not look for disappointment like a heat-seeking missile in order to reaffirm my uncomfortable comfort zone, or feel like I need to prove myself anymore. If people think I’m a twat, rather that despairing about it for days, well, I don’t. I can be a twat and some people don’t like me and that’s OK.

Life is better than it ever has been for me and I am pretty sure without the assistance of a skilled listener, I wouldn’t be saying that to you now.

You can read more about finding a therapist here: www.bacp.co.uk / www.psychotherapy.org.uk.


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Written by Jane Bostock

A human, like you.