BLOG POST – Autumn 2018

IT’S HARD TO ASK FOR HELP

 Most of us get depressed from time to time or we might get a bit stressed or anxious. However, sometimes these sorts of feelings can all seem a bit too much. Put simply, we might be finding that our worries are getting on top of us. We have got a problem; possibly one of the common, low-level, mental health issues that life occasionally throws up. It can happen to any of us. However, all too often, people are reluctant to admit that have a mental health problem or ask for some professional help. Somehow, seeing a counsellor or a psychotherapist is something to be ashamed of. It is a ‘bit of a stigma’. Often, this is because emotional concerns or psychological discomforts are frequently, (but very wrongly), associated with the more severe mental illnesses – with ‘going crazy’. The fact of the matter is, that at sometime in their lives, about 1 in 6 of the UK population develop some sort of an emotional or a psychological issue; one that is sufficiently troubling to be considered to be ‘of clinical interest’. However, they are far from being ‘mad’ or ‘oddballs’. They are certainly not ‘crazy’. They are simply people who, just for now, are finding life is getting a bit too difficult to handle without a little professional help.

But why should we call such people ‘mentally abnormal’? After all, from time to time, lots of us get a feeling that we are not ‘being ourselves’. We come to feel, for whatever reason, that we are ‘not right’ or that we are behaving in ways that makes us uncomfortable and that we cannot explain. The reality is that most of us at some time or other conduct ourselves in ways that others might call abnormal. The big question, one that is very difficult to answer, is just what constitutes ‘odd’; what exactly is ‘abnormal’? After all, what seems normal to me might seem weird to you, and vice versa – that’s life!  As they say in Yorkshire – “they’re all daft except me and thee and I’m not so sure about thee!”

We all of us find ourselves distinguishing between normal and abnormal behaviour on a regular basis. Fortunately, we do not have to do so in detail about everyone we come across during our daily lives. After all, if we had to make considered judgements, and then take actions, about all the apparently aberrant behaviours, (as we happen to judge them), that occur in the world around us then we would do little else. Actually, what most of us usually do is to just make judgements about the behaviours of people who we know about or who we are interacting with. We can usually ignore strangers and bit-players in our lives; people who are just passing through. However, in the cases of the people that we either know or who we are currently encountering, we usually have some ideas about what to expect from them. How does, (or how should), that person usually behave? Because we think we know what to expect from people we are familiar with, if they unexpectedly change and behave in ways that disturb us then we might conclude that something unusual has happened or that something is wrong. Sometimes, sudden significant deviations from expected behaviour can be useful indicators of psychological dysfunction. The danger of course is that such an ‘out of the blue’ change in someone might actually be a perfectly understandable reaction to a sudden shift in that person’s circumstances.  Most changes, sudden or otherwise, are not caused by mental instability but are simply reactions to life’s events. For example, someone who suddenly becomes extremely sad and withdrawn might be clinically depressed or alternatively might simply be grieving over a recent bereavement.

 

However, for counsellors and psychotherapists, deciding what is normal or abnormal, (what is or what Is not mentally healthy), is not just a matter for intellectual debate. They often need to come to some workaday conclusions about their clients/patients’ behaviour and the quality of their psychological functioning. So, the key question might be – “how should therapists define abnormality”? Fortunately, as therapists we don’t usually have to come to authoritative conclusions, (except in the case of the serious mental dysfunctions and that’s a story for another time). All we have to do is to ask our clients about what is worrying them; what their problems are. If, for whatever reason, they are uncomfortable with their lives, (or with some part of their lives), then that’s all we need to know. If our clients say that something is wrong, then it’s wrong. ‘Normality’, (or ‘Abnormality’), does not come into it. Our clients are simply asking for our professional assistance with the problems or worries that are currently troubling them. The only judgements that we have to make is how best to help them.

So, in sum what I am saying is that consulting a psychotherapist, a psychologist, or a counsellor just means that you need a bit of help. That’s all – nothing more. Yes, in official parlance you have a Mental Health Problem but don’t let ‘therapist-speak’ scare you. It certainly does not mean you are going crazy. You don’t need to feel ashamed or think that the world sees you as a failure. In fact, asking for help means that you have been honest enough to accept that you have a problem and courageous enough to want to try do something about it.

Finally, here’s a bet! If you ever let it be known that you are seeing a counsellor or a psychotherapist I’ll wager that some pretty unexpected people will tell you that either they themselves, or someone they are close, to has done, or is doing, exactly the same thing. They will also tell you that it helps.