The Role of Counselling/Psychotherapy in Restoring and Maintaining Mental Health

There has never been more discourse, debate and focus on the key area of mental health than at present. There are many reasons for this, including the tragic increasing instances of suicide.

It is now clearly understood that the concept of “mental health” is no longer something that only applies to those among us who have been diagnosed with a clinical psychological disorder (e.g. schizophrenia, bipolar disorder etc) or who have been hospitalised due to some type of nervous breakdown.

Rather it is recognised that the term applies to the everyday emotional and psychological wellbeing of all of us as we make our sometimes treacherous way through our busy daily life with its ever-increasing responsibilities, pressures and demands. It’s a long time since poet William Henry Davies wrote...

“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass
A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare”
 (Davies, W.H. 1911)

...but perhaps in today’s crazy world, it holds truer than ever!

Time for standing and staring....the ideal scenario for positive mental sadly at a premium in modern society.

When we speak of positive mental health therefore, we mean key areas such as peace of mind, self-esteem, ability to cope with loss, to deal with conflict, to be able to be in relationship with others (personally and in our place of work) in an effective and productive way, to cope with pressure....and to have reasonable problem-solving abilities.

There are times in all our lives when we experience distressing events and feelings which leave us helpless in these key areas. Sometimes we can attach those feelings to a particular person, event or set of circumstances; and sometimes we have little rational understanding of why we feel like this.
A random sample of issues which people bring to counselling would be Loss, Conflict, Relationships, Financial pressures and Childhood issues. Those closest to us and to whom we feel we could talk to at such times are perhaps too close to the situation to really listen to us with an open mind or with impartiality.

In matters of loss and grief, those closest to us are perhaps also feeling some effect of the loss and thereby are on their own journey and not fully emotionally available to us. In matters of conflict, there is also potential for individual agendas of others close to us not allowing us the space to fully explore our conflict in a non-conflicted or otherwise non-contaminated space.

In areas where we don’t understand our own feelings, we are unlikely to “embarrass” ourselves by trying to explain to someone close to us that which we can’t understand ourselves.

The postman, who in more innocent and nostalgic times brought a smile, a friendly hello and with a bit of luck, a letter from America....has now become for many, a person to be feared for it is s/he who will bring the dreaded bank statements, unwelcome bills or other pressurising news as the nation’s economic woes seriously bite all of us. Again, those closest to us are probably having their own financial woes, and are emotionally or practically “out of reach” to be of adequate support.

Issues relating to childhood issues are often kept quiet within families for loyalty, potential divisiveness and/or potential collateral damage reasons, so once again there may be no-one to talk to.

And even if we were lucky enough to find a trusted confidante, very often the conversation eventually goes round in aimless circles. In the genius lyric of his song “To Ramona”, Bob Dylan highlights this problem for the one trying to assist:

“I'd forever talk to you
but soon my words
would turn into a meaningless ring
And deep in my heart
I know there's no help I can bring”

The net result of all or any of the above is the pretty constant erosion of the average person’s individual mental health and the parallel health of couples and family....with apparently no confidential and uncontaminated space to deal with it.

This is where counselling/psychotherapy can become a siginificant mental health resource.

Of course we are all no doubt familiar with the common resistance felt when we are feeling out of control: “What is the use of talking about my situation; nothing will change?”

So, if that be truth, how can counselling/psychotherapy help? Research clearly shows that talking does in fact help....but only in a safe and agenda-free space which a professional counsellor/psychotherapist can offer. Much focus within counsellor training is placed on the need to provide such a space for the client, which precludes therapists from advice-giving, agendas, imposing own values etc.
A client with a closed mind may present a challenge in therapy....but a counsellor with a closed mind renders therapy impossible.

 “What is the use of talking” and “the beneficial space which therapy provides” are the subjects of our lecture on 4th September in Kilkenny’s beautiful Butler House which focuses on the role of counselling/psychotherapy in addressing, restoring and maintaining mental health where the constant erosion as mentioned above has left its mark.

As in all matters relating to health, “prevention is better than cure”. But human nature being what it is, most of us tend to wait just that little bit too long. But either way, there is strong evidence to state that the restoring and maintaining of mental health is much more effective with the benefit of counselling than without.

To find out how and why this evidence exists, you are invited to this lively and interesting free lecture in Kilkenny’s beautiful Butler House on Thurs 4th Sept where a typical PCI College welcome will be extended to you.

Willie Egan MIACP (August 2014)
Counsellor/Psychotherapist, Supervisor and PCI College Lecturer

William Henry Davies (1871-1940), British poet. Leisure, Songs of Joy (1911).
Bob Dylan (from the Album: “Another Side of Bob Dylan)

Course Venues:   Athlone   |   Belfast   |   Carrick-on-Shannon   |   Cork   |   Dublin   |   Kilkenny   |   Limerick