Sunday 21 December 2014

Ian O'Doherty: Seeing a counsellor is not a sign of madness -- it's a sign of sanity

Published 03/11/2012 | 06:00

Tough talk: Gabriel Byrne as psychotherapist Dr Paul Weston In Treatment

'So," my mate said to me the other day, "I've started seeing a counsellor." Really? I replied. Good for you.

"Ah yeah," he said. "Things were just beginning to get a bit on top of me. So-and-so said they'd been seeing this guy for a while and he was great; he felt he had done a lot of good work with him. And he wasn't judgmental, which is the main thing."

He's not the only one in the crowd I hang out with who is seeing someone at the moment or has seen someone in the past.

In fact, there are times it seems that the majority of people I know are, as they say euphemistically, 'seeing someone'.

They are doing this for a variety of reasons.

For a few, it's the usual thing -- for example, recovery from dependence on some substance, usually alcohol, is greatly helped by counselling.

For others, it's about more personal issues and, as one acquaintance admitted, sometimes he goes "for a tune up".

In other words, as someone prone to feeling the blues and getting very down in himself he can figure out the tell-tale signs of the black dog approaching him.

And when he feels that dog growling, he has a good counsellor who talks him through it.

The irony of so many of the people I know in some form of therapy is not lost on me -- after all, they are among the most cynical sods you could ever hope to meet.

In fact, they would be the ones you would expect to sneer at the very idea as some sort of foolish, emotional weakness. What are you, I can imagine them saying, an American?

But no, not only are they going to see someone, they're even quite happy to openly acknowledge that fact. And that can only be a good thing.

We've come a long way in a short time. The idea of talking to a professional was once seen as a sign of madness, rather than what seeking help actually is -- a sign of sanity.

Don't get me wrong: I'm firmly from the old school of stiff upper lip.

That's why I was so nauseated by the public displays of grief when Gerry Ryan died.

Wailing and shedding tears for someone you never met is a pathetic self- indulgence, an emotional incontinence that leaves you utterly incapable of dealing with real-life problems.

But that doesn't mean that the world doesn't get on top of people every now and then. And given the state of the nation at the moment, is it any wonder more people aren't looking for help?

I have to say, I've changed my attitudes towards therapy and counselling a lot in recent years.

That's because I would once have sneered at it. I would have seen it as affectation or something someone was being forced into.

Indeed, a mate of mine once went to a counselling session wearing a baseball cap with the name of the Irish band 'Therapy?' emblazoned across it.

I don't think he was taking the whole thing too seriously, between yourself and myself.

But I have seen it do wonders for some of my friends when they were lost and down and drinking too much or doing too much of the other stuff or just, in general, feeling pretty bloody rotten about themselves.

It doesn't always work, of course.

I know one guy who was having a hard time and when he went to see someone and the two of them just didn't like each other.

Now, I know it sounds odd that a mental health professional would take a dislike to a client.

But my friend, who only attended the one session, is adamant: "I could see him look me up and down and he didn't like what he saw.

"He was rude and dismissive and kept on telling me I was a drug addict, despite the fact that I hadn't touched a line in years and hadn't even thought about the stuff. He was a dick."

But for others, the experience seems to have been almost universally positive, particularly, I would imagine when it comes to those who want to talk about their personal life.

That's because, while as a group of friends we try to help each other out whenever we can, none of us is comfortable discussing our private lives at home.

So maybe by talking to a stranger who doesn't know you and who, at the end of the day -- let's be honest -- doesn't really care, the pressure is off and people can properly off-load without having to worry about the reaction from the person they're talking to.

Both my parents and my grandmother died within a few years of each other a couple of years ago.

It was, to be quite frank, a monumental pain in the arse.

Someone I know suggested going to grief counselling.

At the time I demurred. After all, I knew why I was feeling down -- three coffins in three years, blah blah blah -- and didn't need to pay someone 80 quid an hour to tell why I was feeling the way I was.

But that's not to say that I could never see myself 'seeing someone', nor would I be embarrassed to admit that I was.

I'd like to think that we've grown up as a society (in some ways, if not in others) and now realise that seeking help is a positive, assertive sign of strength rather than weakness.

After all, as that old BT ad used to say: "It's Good To Talk."

Irish Independent

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