What is counselling? – Alex Blaldock

Recently I was asked to give a talk on why counselling should replace mental health services.  I initially accepted this invitation, and then when I got to thinking about what I was going to say, I started to think that the question was all wrong. 

Counselling shouldn’t replace mental health services, because it is part of mental health services.

However, when we hear the phrase ‘mental health’, what do we think?  Schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar, phobias, PTSD.  Top-end issues each with their own carefully attached label.  Or the ‘crazy’ person we see wide-eyed weaving the streets who we think should be ‘locked up’.  Or those with severe learning disabilities.  Issues that are not ordinarily associated with counselling.  And yet mental health covers everything from management of daily life to psychopathy.  Counselling definitely fits in along that spectrum.

Over the last couple of years the government have made promises about providing additional funding for mental health services, creating thousands of new jobs in the sector, including having a counsellor in every school (how, when they are cutting school budgets?).  The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry have fronted a mental health campaign.  Sports stars, pop stars, stars of stage and screen, have all signed up to be involved, to encourage greater awareness of our mental health.  And they are not just talking about the issues listed above.

They are encouraging us to engage with our day to day thoughts, feelings and emotions.  That having a down day might be just that; we all have them and it’s okay to acknowledge it to someone.  Or it might be because yesterday wasn’t great or something happened; that happens too and it’s okay to acknowledge it to someone.  Or it might be because we haven’t really talked about anything for years and we have ended up not being able to manage the everyday issues that are not usually a problem; the little things have become too much. 

Talking about it is a positive thing to do, man or woman.  You might not have listened when your nan told you that a problem shared was a problem halved, but she was right.  Getting it out of your head, being heard, being listened to.  That’s what counselling does.  It’s not about being given a solution.  It’s about finding out about yourself. 

Every time we have a new thought the chemical balance in our body changes.  So, we are in a constant state of biological and psychological flux.  And it can take a lot to manage that every day.  So, whatever is going on in your mind, no matter how big or small it may seem, if it is there it is affecting you.  If you want to let it out, whatever it might be, talk to a counsellor.  We will listen.

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