My Journey In Counselling (Part 1)
One section of the entry requirements I was reading stood out. "You must have your own personal lived experience of mental health problems".
There was something I could relate to. It made perfect sense! After all, why would you go somewhere with an inexperienced guide? That could be dangerous. As I said, I could relate to it having had the experience of accessing secondary care for worse and also for the better, with both ultimately motivating me to begin training to become a mental health counsellor in 2015 having read that statement, that demand for the experienced.
Where I say for the worse, I am going back to 2006. A sense of all-pervasive panic blocked my recovery from a severe and life-endangering assault. I later grew to understand this was PTSD though, at the time, physiotherapists were unsympathetic, hospital staff ill were at ease with it, my surgeon unimpressed. My GP surgery of the time, there was a lack of knowledge, understanding, underpinned by a sense of 'why not pull yourself together?' Mental health treatment at the time (in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne) was scattershot and inconsistent. A session in 'counselling' or 'therapy' (not well explained if it was one or the other at the time) would be provided in one area far from where I lived then would be postponed and moved with little warning before being cut off due to lack of resources. The chance for the psychological damage to heal in tandem with the physical looked lost. Looking back, part of me wonders how I got through it.
Cut to 2014. Heading to ten years after the event, after talking with my GP about something different (but very much a related issue, not that I would admit it at the time), she refers me for twelve sessions of counselling through the NHS. I was hesitant. I had been burned before. The idea this would be for twelve sessions (who gets twelve sessions? On the NHS? Pull the other one) had my scepticism held up in front of me like a shield, like the life I'd been living since 2006.
Twelve sessions later, my scepticism was almost but not entirely gone. It was a process. Putting down that shield, living with life at arm's length, became less and less regular. As time went on, I was surprised at what I could tolerate. Without being engaged with, challenged when necessary, having my self-assumptions questioned and talked through, there is no way I could have put that shield down. It no longer had a handle on me. Without that lived experience, I couldn't swear to know how much support matters and how difficult it can be to accept. When you can't quite see what is wrong, when the problem lies underneath, the courage it can take to get through the fear, shame, even anger at ourselves to turn up and make a start is significant.
Having someone there who understands, who is there without judgment, not only can, it often does make a difference. Being able to look back now makes me think of how other people go through the same thing and what I can do now to make a positive difference for them.