What springs to mind when you think about seeking mental health support? Is it an image of lying on an old-fashioned couch with an elderly, bespectacled psychiatrist making rapid notes and saying ‘mmm … hmmm..’ to every statement you make about your thoughts and feelings? I’m here to tell you that as a happy recipient of years of therapy, that’s definitely not the case. At least not the sort of therapy I have been to anyway!
‘Talk therapy’ is the colloquial name for the majority of therapy practices, and the style that your chosen therapist uses will determine their approach to helping you with your mental wellness.
First off, let me explain the different types of mental health professionals, which can be confusing when you’re not sure who specialises in what. There are three main types of therapists: psychologists, who are specially trained in the workings of the mind and human behaviours, equipped with evidence-based methods for helping their clients and who have completed many years of university study; counsellors, who provide talk therapy but haven’t completed the level or duration of study of psychologists; and psychiatrists, who are medical doctors that can provide talk therapy, and prescribe any medication or treatments that may be required.
The next step is actually finding a therapist. There are hundreds of resources and websites online to help with this, but your GP may be a good person to start with, as they can connect you with a good therapist in your area (sometimes you may need a referral to access certain services) and prescribe any medication you might need. Alternatively, the Mental Health Foundation, the New Zealand Association of Counsellors, Talking Works, and even ACC all have excellent and easy to use websites to help find someone in your area who specialise in the issues you want help with.
Some of the questions worth thinking about when deciding on the right therapist for you include: What type of therapy do they practice? There are tens of dozens of ‘schools of thought’ within psychology, but the most important thing is to find the kind of therapy that works for you. Don’t ever be afraid to seek another therapist if you don’t feel quite right. It’s important to both get the right kind of therapy that suits you best, and to find a therapist who you like and trust.
When you’re starting out, you could ask a potential therapist some of these questions:
* How will this particular therapy help you with your specific problems?
* How will the treatment actually work and what will the process be like?
* How long has your therapist been practising?
* How many people have been treated successfully using this kind of therapy?
The hardest thing about finding the right therapist can be simply finding someone who you feel comfortable talking to. Be prepared that you may need to try out several therapists before you find the right one for you. It can be as simple as picking up the phone and having a chat with them, and asking them some of the questions I’ve suggested above. Or you may prefer to book in for an appointment and discover how you feel after talking with them face-to-face. It does boil down to how the two of you interact, or ‘click’, and whether you feel you can build a rapport and understanding based on the kind of therapy they practice and your individual needs.
A good therapist, in my opinion, is someone who can listen without judgment, but be able to provide you with practical suggestions for managing your concerns or issues. They should be able to kindly and gently steer you in the right direction to help you get back on more even ground. They are a sounding board for your fears, an ally, a coach and champion for building you back up, and their primary concern should always be about YOU.
My most powerful sessions with a therapist have involved a combination of tears, laughter, doubts, positivity, connection, and understanding. I walk away knowing that I have been given amazing tools to help me cope; or the support and affirmation that the steps I intend to take are right for me; but most importantly, I can offload to someone that I trust, and who can help me without a personal agenda of their own.
And you don’t have to lie on a couch! Most therapy sessions just involve sitting in a comfortable chair, and having a chat with someone whose only goal is to help you.
So if you think you could benefit from a bit of help from a mental health professional, I urge you to shake off the stigma that sadly surrounds mental health, and take those brave first steps towards mental wellbeing. Getting help is not a sign of weakness; it shows an incredible strength and willingness to be vulnerable and open; to be self-aware enough to know that you need a helping hand to cope; and most of all, the fortitude to address your fears and make positive changes.
In my book, that is the most courageous choice of all.Support Villainesse