Saturday, 1 March 2008

Head healing

Therapy is still scoffed at by people who can't see the benefit of airing their problems to complete strangers. Aren't they just a bunch of charlatans out to profit from your hang-ups?

Well, it's true the jury's still out on the benefits. Yes, people who bare their soul to Dr Tell-Me-More do often emerge happier, more self-aware and better able to cope with the difficulties in their lives.

But then those who just think things through on their own are equally likely to find some answers and shake off the depression and confusion they started with.

I spent a few months in therapy myself once, when I'd just been rejected by a woman I was sweet on and felt hopelessly muddled about my future.

It was a very liberating experience. Unlike most people I encounter, Laura gave me the space and security to talk about absolutely anything I wanted, no matter how abnormal, embarrassing, vulgar or unfashionable, and to keep talking about it until perplexity slowly turned into clarity and understanding.

As the weeks went by I stumbled on all sorts of unexpected insights into love, sex, relationships and human needs. And I started to see paths through the mental fog.

Laura gave me the help that my friends and acquaintances, however well-meaning, couldn't give me. Their instant opinions and cheery platitudes simply didn't get to the root of the problem. She was the essential catalyst I needed.

PS: My mind turned to therapy when I heard the British government are to train 3600 new psychotherapists as an alternative to doling out drugs. A new report says most anti-depressants have no effect whatever.
..................................................................................

"Each year, more than twenty thousand workers are fired or lose wages simply for trying to organise and join unions. That needs to change." Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope

..................................................................................

Out of work: I no longer work for (insert major British charity here). I accepted voluntary redundancy and am now job-hunting once again. Which lucky employer shall I choose??

21 comments:

Dave Hampton said...

I had two experiences, one good, one equivocal, with therapists.

My wife and I were struggling with how to help our son, who was going through a rush of teenage drugs, sex, alcohol, bad grades, out all night. We went to a counselor to try get some clarity on our options and some mediation in helping us to talk things through and to work together. I don't think it helped much: at best, it kept us occupied while he outgrew that phase of life.

At a later point, I went through hard times when my department was eliminated at work and the management started systematically dismantling the people and programs that we had created. Like you, I went in with a conflicted rush of feelings and hopes, and she really helped me to sort it out. At two critical points, she provided a much-needed push that helped me to break through a reluctance that I had, and to act. Everything worked out great in the end, and I credit the 9 monthly meetings with her for turning things around.

As you say, the freedom to talk about things and simple human support for helping me to find my own solutions was key to the latter, successful one, but also left my wife and I drifting in the first. 'Cuts both ways.

Nick said...

Interesting, Dave, that you had two very differing experiences of therapy. I'm sure the result depends on several factors - the skill of the therapist, whether you and the therapist click, how keen you are to solve the problem, how open you are etc. I'm glad the second experience was so productive.

laurie said...

while i can't believe that antidepressants do no good--i have seen results in people who are resistant to the idea, and in people who have medical conditions such as Alzheimer's and don't realy know what they're taking--i do think that talking to an intelligent and sympathetic but disinterested person could be extremely helpful.

Nick said...

If you've seen visible improvements, that's certainly difficult to dispute. Though the report did say that a small minority of severely depressed people may benefit. And is it possible the improvement was due to other factors known to relieve depression such as exercise or better diet or supportive friends?

Baino said...

I've never been to a therapist although God knows I've had things happen in my life that would justify it. Not for any particular reason than I see it as my own coping mechanism failing, silly I know and probably foolish pride. We had an offer of 'counselling' after my mother was killed but the family network seemed enough at the time. I've found myself being an 'agony aunt' to a number of particularly younger people because talking to a disinterested stranger is better than revealing their depression to a family member. It seemed to help.

Sorry about the job Nick. I've been there .. took a voluntary redundancy about 7 years ago. Just don't take the first thing that comes up, it's rarely the right position. Good luck!

Nick said...

That's the thing, Baino, talking to your family or friends can work if they're genuinely sympathetic and open-minded, but sometimes only an outsider can give you the unbiased attentiveness that helps you work things out.

I'm with you about not taking the first thing that comes up - but it's tempting to grab at something out of insecurity.

Thriftcriminal said...

What you are saying (and some of the comments) reinforce my thought that therapy is another mechanism for stepping outside the established patterns of behaviour in order to analyse those patterns. Which is a fine thing, as long as people want to do that (hence the issue with the youngster in one of the comments). This can be achieved in a number of other ways, including blogging. I tend to look for a quiet moment of introspection and try to recognise the patterns myself, which often does the job, but not always. When it doesn't it's typically like a difficult technical issue, let the sub-concious gnaw on it a bit while you distract yourself and the answer can pop straight up when you return to it. Hill walking is my favourite therapy.

Dave Hampton said...

I agree that virtually all of the time, I solve problems with long walks in open places (or sailing), or by having a cup of coffee with a close friend who I trust. The counselor was most helpful when I just needed to step out of the stream of things for a different perspective.

I agree, then, that my positive experiences were very focused, short-session, short-term.

This leads me to a related topic: support groups. I attended one, once, to hear a clinical lecture, and found that it had become a club for people who had given up. Unfocused, frequent, and long-term, the experience embodied the negative side of counseling, even though it was facilitated.

Nick said...

Thrifty - A good way of looking at it. As you say, a means of standing outside the familiar patterns and analysing them. And that's also true, often if you let the subconscious chew over the problem, answers come up of their own accord. Hill-walking is one of my passions as well, though not usually therapeutic in that sense!

Dave - Yes, long walks in the open can be helpful, though I find they're generally more mind-cleansing than mind-repairing! And I've had the same experience at support groups - clubby rather than useful.

steph said...

An interesting post, Nick.

I've dipped in and out of psychotherapy training over the years and you demonstrate a keen understanding of the concept of the talking cure. I'm so glad it worked for you.

Something that hasn't been mentioned here is the prohibitive cost of private therapy (the waiting lists for publicly funded therapy are a joke in the Republic). Neither mental or physical well-being should be determined by ability to pay.

I'm sorry to hear about your redundancy and wish you the very best of luck in your job search.

Wisewebwoman said...

Nick;
Good post. I think the venting to a disinterested outsider can be very helpful. I know that for me it saved my life when I didn't know what all the rage I was feeling was about and I was suicidal.
I'm going back to when I quit smoking 20 years ago. (They say that nicotine is the only effective antidote to anger and I for one swear that it's true!!).
I found it so incredibly helpful to get a handle on what drove me to this but had to see a lot of quacks before finding a 'miracle therapist'.
So like all things, caveat emptor, buyer beware...
XO
WWW

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I think the difference between a therapist and even the most loving family member/friend is that the latter usually goes into "there there pat pat" mode and tries to be supportive by telling you you're right and then giving examples of similar situations in which they felt the same thing.

Hopefully, a good paid therapist won't do that so the troubled party can stay on track with his/her own feelings and insights.

conortje said...

I always thinks it's a very healthy step to get therapy. Finding the right therapist though is difficult.

Good luck on the work front. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Nick said...

Steph - From what I gather, the waiting lists for therapy in the UK are also absurdly long, and private therapy just as expensive. Surely mental and emotional health is just as vital as physical health, so why are NHS therapists still so thin on the ground (and 3600 extra across the whole country is still not enough)?

www - Glad you got the help you needed over the smoking crisis. But it's true, there're a lot of bogus therapists out there (or maybe just ones you don't click with so there's no combustion).

Heart - You've hit the nail on the head about the "there there pat pat" mode and the (supposedly) similar situations. That's exactly what I was presented with and why I needed something deeper.

Nick said...

Con - Indeed, finding the right therapist is tricky. If you're a bit naive about the therapy process and don't realise the importance of finding someone compatible you could be easily disappointed (and a lot poorer). Thanks for the crossed fingers!

Caro said...

Sorry to hear you're back on the job market, Nick. I suspect you won't be for long though.

I actually posted a comment to this effect yesterday but I think Blogger ate it.

Nick said...

Nasty nasty Blogger!! Thanks for the vote of confidence, Caro. Hopefully someone will pick up on my dazzling range of skills and abilities....

Mudflapgypsy said...

Not so keen on the idea of keeping bigpharma in canapes by taking pills when I feel low or depressed.

Health food shops sell 5-HTP which is cheap and gets converted to serotonin. Who needs ssri's when you can just up the serotonin levels in the first place. I don't reach for them until I am in a low place for a few days and then they help ease me back to where I was.

Some people get nauseous when they take them though.

Nick, may the perfect role end up on your doorstep.

Nick said...

Never heard of 5-HTP. Sounds like it's worth a try if I'm feeling down. I'm a remarkably cheerful and optimistic person though, never had a serious depression in my life, but you never know....

Dave Hampton said...

This thread is probably over, but one last comment: I was reading an article about reading groups, and the author made the point that you don't learn as much if you just read the book and reflect on it as you would if you discussed it with others.

I tend to agree, and I suppose that this can extend, in some ways, to some types of support groups. If you only talk to yourself about your problems, it's a bit of an echo chamber, and you never can be sure if you got an insight or not. Perspective comes with distance, with differing prior experiences, and with diverse possible answers. A discussion group, rather than a victim's club, might function constructively in the same way.

Nick said...

Dave, I think you're probably right that a discussion group can be more productive than thinking things through yourself - that is, provided it's properly focussed and doesn't just meander everywhere. I've been in a book group and that did indeed bring out a lot more insights into the books than private reading.