“Therapy has been really transformative for me, it’s like my whole world has opened up. I just wish it hadn’t taken so long for me to seek it out.”
“What do you think prevented you from coming in when you first started struggling?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t think I’d be taken seriously. I mean so many people have it worse off than I do… I’m not exactly living in a war zone am I. What right do I have to be depressed?”
Over the years I’ve had different versions of the above conversation with more people than I can count. I think people know on a basic level that mental health difficulties affect individuals from all walks of life, regardless of wealth, social status, or appearance, however often people who are aware of their privilege experience guilt or shame around seeking help own struggles.
Psychotherapy is not only for people who are in crisis, it can be helpful for anyone looking to improve their overall well-being, their manner of relating to others and/or develop skills in mental resilience. Existential psychotherapy in particular focuses on the individual’s subjective experiences. No amount of privilege can protect a person from grappling with fundamental questions about how to find meaning in life or the finite nature of human existence.
It’s important to recognize that sometimes perceived privilege can get in the way of people having their mental health difficulties recognized and seeking support. In some cases, privilege can even exacerbate mental health problems by creating pressure to maintain a certain image or live up to certain expectations from family or society.
Whatever circumstances you find yourself in, remember that mental health care is a fundamental human right. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a strength.
Here are a few things to reflect on if you are hesitating in reaching out for support because you feel guilt, or don’t think you fit the bill of being ‘worthy enough’ for it.
Don’t compare your difficulties with others. This isn’t the misery Olympics and the person with the most reason for unhappiness wins therapy! Every single person’s mental health issues are unique and valid.
Consider how your mental health issues may impact others in your life. Getting the help you need can improve your relationships, and put you in a better position to help others
Seek out positive role models who have openly discussed their own mental health difficulties. Mental health issues are common and that many people regardless of background struggle with them. This can help normalize the process of seeking help.
Focus on the positive outcomes you want to work towards, rather than getting stuck on a cycle self-criticism, thinking about what you ‘should’ do or have done in the past.
Take care of yourself and be patient, no one is invincible. Setbacks and relapses are normal part of the recovery process, and healing takes time and effort.
As a psychotherapist who sees a fair amount of children and young people, I’m approached frequently by parents and teachers with questions around how to best offer support for stress and anxiety around end of year exams. The pressure to perform well and achieve high grades can often lead to an all-or-nothing approach to studying, with students feeling the need to go to extremes from sacrificing important aspects of their well-being to focus on their work to complete avoidance. In this blog post, I’ll provide some tips for supporting a balanced and healthy approach to exam prep.
Help set realistic expectations: It’s a competitive world out there, and we all want our children to reach their highest potential. However, it’s so important that we avoid putting undue pressure on them to achieve ‘perfection.’ Rather, encourage setting achievable goals that align with their capabilities as well as with over all well-being.
Practice effective time management: Study schedules only work when we stick to them. Sit together and create one that allows for regular breaks, exercise and enjoyment in whatever form that may be found for the individual. Help prioritise the most important areas for revision and break them down into smaller more manageable parts. Discourage pulling ‘all-nighters’ and cramming, as we know that this negatively impacts mental and physical health.
Avoid comparisons:Remember how you got through your own exam periods, or how their siblings navigated them with flying colours? Not necessarily helpful here to a young person who is already likely comparing themselves to their peers. Any comparisons favorable or negative lead to increased stress, if not feelings of inadequacy. Remember that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Focus on their individual process and improvements. Celebrate efforts and commitment as well as achievements
Diversify sources of self-worth:When something as important as end of year exams comes up it’s easy for attention to narrow to the extent that we over-identify with it as a sole measure of our self-worth. Remind them that their value as a person is not determined by their exam performance. Highlight other important areas of who they are, such as their character, values, beliefs and relationships. Academic achievement is important, but so is having a well-rounded sense of self.
Ask for support:As with most things, it helps to talk. Remind them it’s okay to ask for help when needed, whether that be from teachers, parents or a mental health professional. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for exam stress or anxiety can provide skills and simple techniques that can help one avoid getting caught up in negative thoughts or worries about the future
Remember it’s totally normal and even healthy and desirable to feel some stress during exam times, it keeps the fire going! With the correct management performance will be enhanced. Embrace a balanced approach to the work and don’t forget to prioritise wholistic well-being during the exam preparation process.
I’ve been meaning to post on this blog for some time now, but struggled to know where to start… Today is National Pet Day, and as we celebrate, l’d like to highlight the contribution that dogs make as co-therapists. Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis was known for his groundbreaking theories and approaches to therapy. While some of his theories have been a bit controversial at times (don’t get me started!) one of the lesser known elements of his approach, and one that I fully embrace was his use of dogs in therapy.
Freud had several dogs throughout his life, including chow chow’s Jofi and Jo-Fi and a miniature dachshund called Lun. He often referred to them as his ‘analysts’ as he believed that with their keen sense of observation, intuition and ability to form strong emotional bonds they were valuable co-therapists. Freud’s dogs would often join him in the consulting room helping patients feel more at ease as they roamed freely. He believed that dogs, with their heightened senses and ability to detect subtle cues, provided valuable clues about his patients inner world.
My two Pomeranians Grizzly and Lily sometimes attend sessions with me, and (Grizzly at least) helps provide a relaxing atmosphere, intuitive understanding of human emotions and a nonjudgmental presence. Lily, as moody as she is, typically provides a sense of comic relief, and that sense of playfulness in sessions is an important balance for the heavier moments. Moments of joy and laughter alongside deeper emotional exploration are fundamental, in my opinion, for making therapy effective: strengthening teamwork, communication and adaptability.
Whether they are naughty (we are looking at you Lily) or nice (Grizzly the Good) dogs have a unique ability to positively impact the physical, emotional and mental well-being of individuals in therapy or at home. Do celebrate National Pet day, by appreciating the therapeutic power of all pets, and the joy and comfort they bring into our lives.
I commit to adding new posts every once in a while.
I will never write about current or former clients. All stories given are composites case scenarios that reflect common responses or sequences encountered. Any resemblance to a particular individual is coincidental.