Monday 20 November 2017

'If I were made Taoiseach in the morning I'd make it mandatory for every 10-year-old in the land to have counselling'- Tanya Sweeney

Everyone should have therapy, writes Tanya Sweeney

Tanya Sweeney
Tanya Sweeney

If I were made Taoiseach in the morning - don't laugh, stranger things have happened - I'd make it mandatory for every 10-year-old in the land to have six hours of counselling... and the same when they reach 20, 30 and so on. Not because I think everyone in the world is mentally unwell, but because a great many societal ills could be halved if people had the tools to process their own feelings, fears, insecurities and anxieties. And even if you grew up on Walton Mountain in the most nourishing and functional upbringing possible, you're sure to have plenty of those. It's called being human.

Still, most people think of therapy as the very final vestige of a person on the edge. A last resort. An admission of failure and inability to get on with life like a 'normal' person.

A very progressive friend, also working in the media, made mention of a man she had been on a date with. He made the fatal error of disclosing that he had been to therapy. "I mean, it's just someone moaning on like a selfish prat, isn't it?" she concluded, before sending him merrily on his way. If my intelligent, liberal pal thought this way, what hope was there for everyone else?

The Irish find themselves at a curious juncture. Now bereft of the reassuring balm of close-knit communities and religion, many of us have found there's no-one to turn to at times of crisis. And while we've fallen hook line and sinker for Starbucks, cronuts and other Americanisms, we find the idea of starting sentences with "my therapist says…" a bit off.

In my group of friends, however, those who haven't been in therapy are in the tiny minority. Some needed a bout of counselling to get over a tough time at work, or a financial pinch. Others have decades of unpicking their own minds and lives under their belt. There's no shame in our game, because we can't imagine how our lives would have turned out without it.

As to finding the right therapist… well, it's a bit like dating. You have to try on a few before you find one you can really trust and open up to. And when that finally happens, you just know.

The first time I sought out a therapist was for bereavement counselling. After a quick Google, I settled on someone close to home. She was experienced and eminent in her field, but we simply didn't click, and I aborted mission after a few sessions.

The next one was a younger woman (a personal preference, but I prefer the maternal balm of a slightly older therapist), who had a curious habit of staring off into space whenever I found myself on the cusp of a mental breakthrough.

Psychotherapists have different approaches: hers, as she mentioned in our first meeting, was to let me do most of the talking - to almost leave me find a resolution for myself through my own talking. It may work for some, but it wasn't for me. I'd leave her office a little rattled, feeling exposed and in dire need of cake.

The third time is, as they say, a charm, and my third therapist, recommended by my GP as someone who would be able to cerebrally 'match' me, was the 'just right' to my shrink-seeking Goldilocks. She was gentle and maternal when needed, though had no problem getting her feet wet whenever I wanted to delve hither and thither. Nothing I could say shocked her. "Stop being so horrible to yourself", was a common phrase during our hour. I'd leave her office feeling calm, replenished and full of resolve to stay on the psychological straight and narrow. A bargain, honestly, at €90.

A few weeks ago, she gave me a clean bill of psychological health and told me that I no longer needed to visit her regularly.

From here on in, I'll get a 'tweak' every couple of months, to make sure that I am still able to cope with the vagaries of life on my own. It was a proud moment, and one I almost certainly would never have reached myself. The best bit is, if ever I find that I'm floundering in the future, she'll always be there… just out of sight, but just where I need her.

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