It is okay to take steps to improve your mental health. I have been an active psychological counsellor in Mumbai for over 15 years. I decided to get a counselling degree and start my private practice after my kids grew up. I have always believed that good health starts with a good mind and once my kids had finished college I wanted to dedicate myself to improving society’s mental health. Now when I meet people and I tell them about my profession; the thing I hear most often is “Oh my God- you must meet so many crazy people!” I can’t begin to count how many times I have heard this statement or one that pretty much means exactly this. The knowledge about psychology counselling and awareness of its benefits are lacking in our society. This is why I decided to write this op-ed about what Counselling is and how it can benefit almost anyone. Let’s clarify a few things. Most people who initiate counselling do not have a serious mental illness. They have serious life challenges or are going through difficult life-cycle transitions that may be taxing their current ability to cope. This, in turn, may be adversely affecting their well-being and ability to function as well as they would like. Examples of serious life challenges can be dealing with chronic work-related stressors; career issues; financial problems; health issues or a recent health diagnosis; family or parent/child conflict; cultural assimilation; and academic issues. Examples of difficult life-cycle related transitions can be the death of a family member or friend; the ending of a romantic relationship or close friendship; family/couple changes related to the addition of a child; getting married or divorced; care giving for loved ones due to illness or disability; and decision-making challenges related to these life choices.
So what exactly is Psychological counselling?
It is a general practice and health service provided by specialists in professional psychology. It focuses on how people function both personally and in their relationships at all ages. It addresses the emotional, social, work, school and physical health concerns people may have at different stages in their lives, focusing on typical life stresses and more severe issues with which people may struggle as individuals and as a part of families, groups and organisations. Counselling psychologists help people with physical, emotional and mental health issues improve their sense of well-being, alleviate feelings of distress and resolve crises. They also provide assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of more severe psychological symptoms. Across all stages of development (i.e., childhood, adolescence, adulthood and older age), counselling psychologists focus on: 1. Healthy aspects and strengths of clients. 2. Environmental/situational influences. 3. Issues of diversity and social justice. 4. The role of career and work in peoples’ lives. The problems addressed by counselling psychology are addressed from developmental, environmental and cultural perspectives. They include, but are not limited to aspects mentioned below:
- School, career and work adjustment concerns.
- Making decisions about career and work, and dealing with school-work-retirement transitions.
- Relationship difficulties-including marital and family difficulties.
- Learning and skill deficits.
- Stress management and coping with negative life events.
- Organisational problems.
- Dealing with and adjusting to physical disabilities, disease or injury.
- Personal/social adjustment.
- The development of one’s identity.
- Persistent difficulties with relating to other people in general.
- Mental disorders.
Counselling falls under the umbrella term ‘talking therapies’ and allows people to discuss their problems and any difficult feelings they encounter in a safe, confidential environment. The term can mean different things to different people, but in general it is a process people seek when they want to change something in their lives or simply explore their thoughts and feelings in more depth. A counsellor is not there to sit you down and tell you what to do – instead they will encourage you to talk about what’s bothering you in order to uncover any root causes and identify your specific ways of thinking. The counsellor may then look to create a plan of action to either help you reconcile your issues or help you to find ways of coping. Counselling can help with addiction, bereavement, mental health issues, bullying, and trauma in addition to other things.
If we go back a few hundred years we can see that psychological issues were approached with fear and unnecessarily invasive treatments. Thanks to the evolution of science and technology we now have a clearer understanding of the human brain and are able to look at these issues in a different way.
My counselling approach includes understanding the issue at hand, understanding the deep rooted existential reasons for the approach, empowering patients with tangible tools to overcome. However, counselling does not come in a cookie-cutter format and each session is generally tailored to the individual. There is flexibility within this type of therapy that allows for a variety of counselling formats. I provide two types of counselling services
This is when you make an appointment with me to see them in person, usually at their practice. Face-to-face sessions are one of the more popular therapy formats because they provide an opportunity for me to react to any emotions that arise there and then.
For some, telephone counselling offers a helpful alternative to face-to-face counselling. This form of counselling can be particularly useful for those too busy to attend face-to-face sessions, and can be carried out in the comfort of your own home. This format also tends to be more flexible and can potentially reduce waiting list times.
My counselling process
Counselling often requires patients to discuss upsetting emotions and painful memories. Bringing up these thoughts can feel difficult to start with and, initially, patients may feel worse. This process is necessary to move forward and in time, patients should start to feel better. To get the most from counselling sessions one should aim to make them consistent. Some sessions will feel more helpful than others, but it is important to realise that everything I am doing is designed to help my patients in the long run, even if it doesn’t feel like it in the beginning. It is also worth remembering that counselling is not a quick fix and that I will not be able to tell patients what to do. The counselling process requires a strong relationship between my patients and I degree of effort on patient’s part – together these two elements create a successful method to help my patients resolve all their issues. So, if you are going through one or more of life challenging situations you’re not alone. Don’t worry about what judgemental and unaware people in society will think or say about you. Your mental health and your happiness can only be controlled by you being more proactive in managing it.
Psychological Counselling , can be an invaluable investment in your emotional, physical and mental health, an act of courage not weakness, and a gift to thosewhose lives you touch.
(Suchitra Bhide Shah is a well known counselling psychologist and can be contacted on [email protected])
Suchitra Bhide Shah