need someone to talk to?

Some years ago in a television documentary I watched David Smail, a former psychologist, speak about the nature of depression. David suggested that counselling or therapy might for some, be the only place they receive emotional comfort. I  found his acknowledgement of this comforting in itself as I’ve been drawn to the comfort talking therapy can bring. It has been a way of telling my story, at times I have felt ‘addicted’ to its comfort , David acknowledges this can be an outcome.

As a child there were times the adults who cared for me,  for a variety of reasons, were unavailable to me emotionally. In later life this led me in moments of distress for a quest to be heard. Though I mostly found sufficient resilience  to be my own  counsellor, listening to my inner voice, and this calmed me, at other times that voice became muffled, jumbled and distorted. On occasion this has transferred to my ability to do practical things, I got overwhelmed, confused, the simple tasks of daily life seemed very hard. During these times my experience of counselling or therapy has been predominantly helpful,  it has ‘held’ me, the process hasn’t always been comfortable or benign, there are many practitioners, former practitioners and clients of therapy/counselling who will attest to this.

Jeffrey Masson, former analyst, in his book ‘Against Therapy’ reveals that he is one such renegade; Dr.Dorothy Rowe, former psychologist, said of therapy, something along the lines of, “all therapy works, but not all therapy works completely”. Ken Wilber and John Rowan view differing  therapies as working on different levels of consciousness, for example they consider seeing a transpersonal therapist could be inappropriate if you have little or no awareness of this level of perception, by level I didn’t understand it as a superior awareness,  just different to ‘everyday’ consciousness. Fancy and mystifying terms, and buzz words abound in the therapeutic community, just as much as they do in other circles, but woe betide if in some therapies you question the theory behind it. Depending on the skill or the orientation of the practitioner this might be interpreted as symptomatic of your ‘problems’.

I have both self referred and requested professional referral to all kinds of practitioners, mostly it aided me regain some calm and it has helped me to become more fully the person I wish to be, but at times I’ve found it almost abusive. It can be a space, either in one to one, or groups where a power imbalance exists and is misused.

My quest in finding “someone to talk to…..a new hiding place”..(Dylan), has involved sharing with friends, or even casual acquaintances along the way. It has helped as they listen to parts of my story, and I try in turn to listen to theirs. Having someone reasonably capable of ‘walking’ alongside you as you relate your story, either  in bite size pieces or big chunks can be reassuring, if that is a friend, someone you trust and who has the capacity, well and good. You may be fortunate to get a professional listener who views themselves as a ‘co-experimenter’, as some Personal Construct Psychologists describe their role, but even then these processes can unleash things that are hard to contain.

Someone advised me against the process some years ago as we had both read ‘Against Therapy’ and I was awaiting an appointment for a  therapy ‘suitability’ assessment. In part the course of therapy that followed, left me with an emotional whoosh of feelings and little way of stemming their flow. It was a ‘breakdown’ possibly a breakup/breakthrough of the then current untenable situation I was in just  prior to it. I  ‘fell into the hands of psychiatry’ with the resulting medication and electro-convulsive therapy. I’m sure the therapist did not expect that as an outcome, neither did I. Most likely I would align myself with the Post Psychiatry movement because similarly to them I think medication can help distressed people, but the commercial interests which are behind  it, makes an over reliance on it suspect.

I would not want my experience to discourage anyone from engaging with counselling/therapy if they are drawn to it. It can be a courageous step to discovering what your distress is about. Like many things it takes time to adjust to the process, but trusting your feelings about the counsellor or the theory they use is important, becoming informed about the different approaches can help, part of my recovery came from the wisdom I gleaned from books about the process, and also from song and poetry.

Stanislov Grof refers to some forms of apparent mental illness of ease as spiritual emergence, he does however distinguish between this and  spiritual emergency and what he terms ‘real’ mental illness……I’m not sure about these distinctions, though I would describe some aspects of my breakdown as spiritual.

Sam Keen refers to tapping into anger that has been turned inward ….inrage/depression once accessed, acknowledged and released becoming ….out rage, for a time a torrent or flood engulfing someone or anything  that  gets in it’s path, no matter how significant their role has been in the person’s life story., … muddied for some time……until the water runs clearer,….possibly channeled in a different way.

Despite my reservations,and experiences…….why am I willing to engage yet again ,with the process? I ‘ve had an appointment this week. Something happened recently which sent me into that confusing emotional spin, I made the appointment to tell another piece of my story, and because I’d had some  autonomy in choosing, where, when, how long, it might be, it seemed the safest place to test the water, for telling the next installment. The time gap between making the appointment and its arrival, had been space to regain some equilibrium and therefore I felt some apprehension about attending, ….should I cancel? Though nervous I kept the appointment. The waiting area was such a warm welcoming space, in it was an original black leaded fire range, complete with it’s oven! One of my family homes had a similar range……I felt relaxed with the memories it elicited of the family events enacted in the glow and warmth of the open coal fire….the ‘counselling’ went well, and I was given a choice of possible ways of working…..flexible follow ups with the same person seemed the most appealing on this occasion.

Writing a blog has also been partly therapeutic, another way of telling bits of my story and is my voice on wellbeing.

Sue Margaret

* details of the fireplace image by the National Trust


20 thoughts on “need someone to talk to?

  1. What an incredible post. It was so interesting to read and so honest of you to write. As I read it I recognised similarities between my own experience too. I’ve had a range of talking therapies over the past five years and previous to that I’d had no experience at all. I see pros and cons, there was a time at the beginning where I was desperate to talk to someone knowledgable as I was very scared, but going into CBT straight away didn’t seem to hit the mark, at that time I think I needed lots of reassurance and support and to calm, I was disempowered and I thought that they had all the answers. I have gained some insights with the help of therapy but also sometimes I wonder if it also made me dwell on things. I have been very suggestible at times and I’m not sure that all therapists have understood the extent of this vulnerability. Yet also ..I wouldn’t like to be without the option ! Sometimes I wished I’d just been able to speak to someone naturally without a speciality such as CBT or Pyschodynamic Therapy but rather a generalist as I felt both were limiting and seemed to take me down different paths. Very interesting, sometimes when people have no other people to talk to a counsellor is helpful.


    • Thanks for your comments, it isn’t easy being so open and honest in this kind of public way, as soon as I posted I began to have doubts about the wisdom of that! I’ve experience CBT, Psychodynamic and Humanistic, not sure what this most recent one was and it’s short term, 4 sessions at most. I’ve found books to be good ‘counsellors’. Dorothy Rowe’s books were a good starting point for me when I was ‘stuck’ ‘depressed’, she was a Personal Construct Psychologist before she retired, I found this a very practical approach, I have a couple of books about the way some work, I also did a short course about it. At least with books you are at liberty to interact with them on your own terms. I write all over the margins! but having someone, a friend to sound out ideas with can be supportive, I wish you success in your journey.


      • I’m really glad you posted this, Su. Sounds like you’d be a very good counsellor/therapist – you certainly seem to have read enough. I’ve found co-counselling to be really useful. I was lucky enough to find a mental health survivors support group operating locally, and for years spent an evening a month listening and being listened to. It was so healing to be able to rant on without being judged. Insofar as I’m in any way healed I think it’s my fellow ‘mad’ peers who have helped me along. I think there’s a role for a helper, but that it’s more of a spititual role, rather than a medical one – more about wisdom than a particular school. The other thought from your post was the importance of the range. We seem to make our therapeutic environments so bland – what if they were warm, human, interesting places, with fascinating objects and rooms to distract and inspire us?


  2. I appreciate your comments, reading enabled me to sift my ideas about my problems, counsel myself, although at one time I thought I would train to be a counsellor, I eventually thought that was misguided, having been pushed into the role of ‘counsellor’ as a child and in a very heavy way as a carer for someone with very complex psychological needs, has helped me develop some ability to hear others, I could only do it for love…..not money!,,
    I’m pleased you found something to help with your ‘madness’, it is so important to have friends with a mind of a kind, can we know more about it? the counselling I mean, I did try it, briefly, but it wasn’t for me, there was some direction and theoretical framework which reminded me of two other groups I’d been in and needed to leave.
    For a while, a self formed, local group of psychosis survivors I was involved with did help greatly, I guess we were .all 3/4 of us, co-facilitators, the only ‘rule’ we had was of confidentiality, we had no ‘rituals’ apart from making tea.!…..but after two plus years I knew I was moving away from identifying myself as a psychosis survivor, it was hard to leave the group, as real friendship had developed within it and I remember that with comfort and fondness.


    • Well I might well be in touch if I get stuck in Mobile again. I think co-counselling worked well for me because it was taught with a very ‘light touch’. There was some theory – that humans are basically good; that we can all recover completely from whatever bad things have happened to us, and that we have a natural healing system (involving things like laughing and crying), to help us do that. But the theory was a minimum and mainly we split the time and listened to each other. We just told our stories about getting involved in the MH system, and ‘intervention’ was mainly encouragement if you were getting stuck. I was in a very bad state at the time (just recently discharged from a psychiatric stay), and the other main people in the group (a GP, a primary school teacher and a very bright university student) all seemed really sorted. But when they told their stories and I saw them cry, and realised how damaged they were by their experiences, it made me understand that we’re really much the same – it was a great revelation. Mainly I think being properly listened to gave me the chance to burn off some of the anger I felt, and start to be able to do something useful with it.


      • Oh I didn’t know you were planning to go to Texas? if you get lucky, I’ll send an ambulance…Dylan therapy works for me!….seriously, thanks for sharing your experience of Co-Counselling, perhaps we can discuss further next week when you, Jean etc come over


  3. Thank you, Su, for sharing your experiences in such an excellent and interesting post.

    For a long time I used to think if only I’d had counselling instead of psychiatric treatment as a troubled teenager. Yes, if only… but that would have depended on being able to get a counsellor who would have listened and understood.

    Since coming out of the psychiatric system I did, later, think maybe counselling could help me come to terms with past trauma (including my traumatic experiences of psychiatry), so I did once (many years ago now) give counselling (short-term) a try. Although being on a low wage was taken into account, I still found the weekly amount I had to pay per session left me struggling to pay household bills. Regardless of cost, I stopped after about five sessions. The counsellor was judgemental and unhelpful in several areas, one being in telling me I should have known better than to have accepted the psychiatric treatment I’d had as a teenager which had proved to be harmful. Yes, perhaps indeed I should, but she had obviously never got into something naively and then quickly got sucked in too deep to get out under the influence of powerful psych drugs and ECT.

    Perhaps I was just unlucky with my counsellor and I guess I ‘should have known better’ than to continue for five sessions when I’d been given enough warning signs from the start that this wasn’t right for me. If I ever tried counselling again (I strongly doubt that I will) I would go for the person-centred approach, or perhaps co-counselling. I’ve never tried co-counselling but I like the way it does seem to get round the power imbalance in other counselling relationships and I can certainly see the possible benefits in receiving counselling from mental health survivors. Many people are helped a lot by counselling and I would never try to dissuade anyone from it. It seems that counselling can range from being extremely positive to highly dangerous, and we each have to decide what’s right for us and listen to our gut-feelings. Where I work now, I come across people who have had a mixture of good and bad experiences with counsellors, fortunately many positive. Most of your experiences of counselling, Su, seem on the whole to have been good for you, and I hope your recent foray into counselling will be helpful, too.

    It’s good the way a post such as this can open up debate and provide a springboard for sharing our experiences.


    • Thanks for taking the time to comment and share your experience with receiving counselling, the apparent judgemental way in which she dealt with you shows, being humans, that counsellors are often hung up on their own stuff, possibly hiding behind whatever theory they’ve attached them self to, it’s my experience in the survivor movement too that people can get an inflated opinion of themselves and their theory, promulgating it as ‘the’ truth. No doubt Jeffrey Massoon had his own axe to grind when he wrote ‘Final Analysis’ and ‘Against Therapy’ critical of all formal therapy and even those that appear informal ,since they often mask the theory of influential therapists. Carl Rogers as you are aware did not always act kindly to some on psychiatric wards and he rather revelled in his celebrity……


  4. Hi Great post

    I have recently been attending the Peer Support sessions at Mind in Horsforth which have been really interesting and helpful. At times I have been hesitant about attending Mental Health groups, perhaps fearing that I may shift into reverse and go downhill. The Mind groups have been really beneficial. The facilitators have been through mental health issues and sometimes still suffer, immediately this made me feel at ease ( not that I want anyone to suffer!!!) The facilitators seem understanding and non-judgemental and because it’s not therapy and we all share our experiences it feels like we are all in the same boat and a more equal relationship than therapist and client. In these sessions I sensed feelings of mutual empathy and respect which was quite touching. Solidarity!
    I have attended these sessions at a time when I am not in a crisis and have already had some counselling. I think counselling sessions can be good perhaps even essential but it is a gamble: getting the right counsellor at the right time. I’ve gained insights and support from counselling but also too have had warning signals which I didn’t act upon. I had some pretty heavy duty Psychodynamic Therapy at the same time as experiencing housing problems which I look back on and feel like that I wasn’t really ‘there’ maybe I was too ill/stressed! Now I think there would be so much more I could contribute to the sessions – were they a waste did I need supportive counselling at the time? But maybe i did get some significant insight? Maybe this intense therapy also steered my mind towards the past rather than coping with day to day tasks – which I really needed to do at the time, as soon as I started these sessions the community key worker support stopped which was a shame.
    In a nutshell: I don’t ever feel that anyone has hit the mark with me (including myself )and I am still confused – but maybe that is the nature of how things are and life. Sometimes I wonder if there is an eternal quest for the ellusive fix!
    Right now I am working with small goals and chunking things and trying to stay in the now. I feel like the sessions at Mind are helping me to build inner resources. Life does have it’s injustices and perhaps for me it is just about accepting that and keeping my head above water..


    • Vicky thank you for commenting it’s lovely, it really deserves to be a post as do the others for this topic, sadly the present design of the site means these valuable insights get limited to a few people.
      Perhaps we can consider that when we next have our admin. meeting.
      I’m pleased that the group work at Mind is proving so useful, it was part of my ‘recovery’ for several years. Well done for seeking this out and sticking with it.
      It has been my experience as my piece states, that it is a gamble in group or one to one work that you get people that handle you gently and respectfully. I’ve had a variety of counselling/Therapy from people working with Psychodynamic theory some were excellent, one or two plain abusive!, never the less some of my greatest insight came out of this challenging way of working and despite the difficulty of the relationship, it did not prevent me having a breakdown, in fact it may well have precipitated it, facing aspects of your past, present life can be overwhelming, my mind, facing the reality of what was unearthed, just went into overdrive. It would have been better if there was an alternative to heavy medication and ECT, but most of the staff including the psychiatrist were kind, none of my friends could handle me. Following my periods of hospitalisations support workers were amazing, perhaps more investment needs to be put into, it looks as if that ongoing support would have greatly benifitted you.
      You’ve hit the nail on the head I think, chipping away in bits, at whatever makes you ill at ease, you have appear to have so many talents to bring to whatever project you attach yourself. We are lucky to have you in LWB!


      • I agree we’re lucky to have you, Vicky, and that you have so many talents! I want to take issue with the last thing you said about accepting injustices though. I think injustice is a major cause of the psychological pain many humans feel. Someone forced to endure racism (or prejudice for being disabled, or anti-semitism or homophobia etc) is bound to be hurt by the experience. If therapy doesn’t address that, then we are just patching people up to go out and get hurt again. We mustn’t think ‘oh, it’s just me’. The world is unjust but we can only truly heal ourselves if we heal our world too! Terry


        • Sometimes it is really hard to fully convey our emotional feeling,verbally or in writing, that is why I find any type of counselling, including peer support groups can’t always understand what is going on for someone.
          The injustices you mention here Terry without doubt deserve serious attention, and I don’t think any of us who have been courageous enough to share our personal difficulties here, in such a public and open way are oblivious to that, nor I’m sure do they think it’s just them self that is suffering! Words that I would try to avoid when attempting to ‘hear’ what someone is trying to express…..would be words like must or ought.


  5. Yes, I wasn’t meaning to suggest any criticism, and sorry if I came over a bit preachy. But I think it’s a serious point that therapy can make us focus on what’s wrong with us, when it might be the world that needs changing. I’m thinking of when I worked as an advocate there was a woman on the ward who seemed to be in an abusive relationship. Yet as far as I know she was being given drugs and shock for depression. (I know that’s not therapy but you can see what I’m getting at). I think a bit of righteous anger at the oppressive aspects of our culture might be necessary for our healing….


    • Thank you for clarifying some of you thoughts about therapy, perhaps you are speaking from some experience in formal therapy.
      Although I have spoken of my reservations about counselling and therapy for the most part I was not asked to consider what was ‘wrong’ with me, I knew I was ‘stuck’ practically/emotionally and saw it as a way to sort that out, move on.
      I agree there is much to be ‘righteously’ angry about but I don’t think that means we shouldn’t strive for a greater understanding about our personal issues and in the spaces we feel safest.


  6. Yes, therapy does tend to focus on the individual ‘client’ when the source of the problem might lie in the social systems within which we live. The example you give, Terry, about the woman in a seemingly abusive relationship being given drugs and shock for depression makes the point perfectly. Treatment to change the brain (or personality or ways of thinking) of an individual to help them accept and live in an oppressive environment makes me feel very uneasy. Justifiable anger against oppression can be healing and powerful and, if channelled constructively, it may help us to change things in our society that need changing.


    • It is interesting that my recent post about my latest resort to counselling, should lead to a greater ‘political’ discussion! Anger was part of the distress that led me to take the ‘risk’ of discussing it with a stranger, it felt like justifiable ‘anger’, I admit my first thought was not about ‘changing society’ but getting a handle on my emotions sufficiently enough to make sense of them, in order that I could move on from them.
      Identifying an arena to make the ‘personal political’ can be complex, I would want to avoid transferring angry feelings of injustice, observed and experienced in childhood, solely on to psychiatry since that only part of the issues which impacted on my family’s lives.
      The example Terry gives of the women seemingly oppressed in her personal relationship and being given drugs and ECT for her resulting depression, is not an easy one to resolve practically or intellectually, the symptoms of distress which led her to be in hospital, was clearly beyond the scope and remit of the medical staff, hopefully they would have given her some guidance about finding support to deal with her oppressor.
      I have had long term friendship with women suffering psychological and physical abuse from partners, their emotional ability to disentangle themselves proved too great, it hasn’t led them into psychiatric hands but rather it’s their children that have ended up there, it has been hard as a friend to stand by and watch that perhaps only being able of offer a listening ear from time to time.
      Sometimes our domestic circumstances limit our political and campaigning capacity but I often re-read the afterword of Jefffrey Masson’s book’Against Therapy’, that ‘politicising’ oneself even in your own mind, telling your story, even if it’s only for yourself or friends is a powerful antidote to oppression.


  7. Trying to make gay people straight is another example – I don’t hear about that any more in this country so i think we’ve made progress, but I heard some disturbing news that it seems to be re-emerging in some states of the U.S. Still, I think you were right (Su) to pick me up on being a bit loose in saying ‘therapy can make us focus on what’s wrong with us’. I think it’s more accurate to say ‘therapy can encurage us see as personal issues what are wider social problems’. But I am sure that you’re right that it’s healthy to ‘strive for a greater understanding about our personal issues’, and that counselling/therapy can often be useful for individuals in doing that. Terry


    • My blog post was an attempt to express personal distress, one could frame it in the background of the wider context of social injustice, those therapies/counselling that I did find abusive may well have been working wittingly or otherwise to a political/medical model agenda, fortunately I was able to identify that, not internalise it and leave.
      Finding an appropriate focus for the personal and political issues that affect our lives and that of the wider community is an ongoing quest.


  8. I’d just like to make the point that I was talking about personal injustices that are relevant to me. It really did make me feel better to put things in perspective and to realise that injustices are not uncommon, it made me feel less alone and less angry. These injustices are not resolvable and so I had to work with the feeling that I was left with – in an ideal world I would have resolved them.


  9. This is such an interesting series of posts and I have really appreciated reading it and learning from it. Thank you to all the people who have posted so openly and honestly. I went to a Soteria event in Bradford recently and I continue to learn a bit more each day. All this continues to make me realise just how complex this all is and how much more I need to learn. It’s good to read a bit about the experience of the Leeds Mind peer support groups; providing opportunities for people to come together and talk in a supportive environment just feels like common sense to me and at least worth a go. Ditto counselling if you can find the right person. I’m anxious that there aren’t anything like enough free / affordable options available at the time when people need them. This is the challenge for 2013 and we might be making a little progress.


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