November 2, 2012
Irish Independent 2 November 2012
My mate said to me the other day, "I've started seeing | a counsellor." Really? I replied.Good for you."Ah yeah," he said. "Things were just beginning to get a bit on top of me. So-and-so said they'd been seeing this guy for a while and he was great; he felt he had done a lot of good work with him. And he wasn't judgmental, which is the main thing." He's not the only one in thecrowd I hang out with who isseeing someone at themoment or has seen someonein the past.In fact, there are times itseems that the majority ofpeople I know are, as they sayeuphemistically, 'seeingsomeone'.They are doing this for avariety of reasons.For a few, it's the usualthing — for example, recoveryfrom dependence on somesubstance, usually alcohol, isgreatly helped by counselling.For others, it's about morepersonal issues and, as oneacquaintance admitted,sometimes he goes "for a tuneup".In other words, as someoneprone to feeling the blues andgetting very down in himselfhe can figure out the tell-talesigns of the black dogapproaching him.And when he feels that dog TOW!ing, he has a good counsellor who talks him through it.The irony of so many of the people I know in some form of therapy is not lost on me — after all, they are among the most cynical sods you could ever hope tomeet.In fact, they would be theones you would expect to sneerat the very idea as some sort offoolish, emotional weakness.What are you, I can imaginethem saying, an American? But no, not only are theygoing to see someone, they'reeven quite happy to openlyacknowledge that fact. Andthat can only be a good thing.We've come a long way in ashort time. The idea of talkingto a professional was once seenas a sign of madness, ratherthan what seeking helpactually is — a sign of sanity.Don't get me wrong: I'mfirmly from the old school ofstiff upper lip.That's why I was sonauseated by the publicdisplays of grief when GerryRyan died.Wailing and shedding tearsfor someone you never met is apathetic self- indulgence, anemotional incontinence thatleaves you utterly incapable ofdealing with real-lifeproblems.But that doesn't mean thatthe world doesn't get on top ofpeople every now and then.And given the state of thenation at the moment, is it anywonder more people aren'tlooking for help?I have to say, I've changed my attitudes towards therapy and counselling alot in recent years.That's because I would oncehave sneered at it. I wouldhave seen it as affectation orsomething someone was beingforced into.Indeed, a mate of mine oncewent to a counselling sessionwearing a baseball cap withthe name of the Irish band'Therapy?' emblazoned acrossit.I don't think he was takingthe whole thing too seriously,between yourself and myself.But I have seen it dowonders for some of myfriends when they were lostand down and drinking toomuch or doing too much of theother stuff or just, in general,feeling pretty bloody rottenabout themselves.It doesn't always work, ofcourse.I know one guy who washaving a hard time and whenhe went to see someone andthe two of them just didn't likeeach other.Now, I know it sounds oddthat a mental healthprofessional would take adislike to a client.But my friend, who onlyattended the one session, isadamant: "I could see him lookme up and down and he didn'tlike what he saw."He was rude and dismissiveand kept on telling me I was adrug addict, despite the factthat I hadn't touched a line inyears and hadn't even thoughtabout the stuff. He was a dick." But for others, theexperience seems to have beenalmost universally positive,particularly, I would imaginewhen it comes to those whowant to talk about theirpersonal life.That's because, while as agroup of friends we try to helpeach other out whenever wecan, none of us is comfortablediscussing our private livesat home.So maybe by talking to astranger who doesn't know youand who, at the end of the day— let's be honest — doesn'treally care, the pressure is offand p
eople can properly off-load without having to worryabout the reaction from theperson they're talking to.Both my parents and my grandmother died within a few years ofeach other a couple of yearsago.It was, to be quite frank,a monumental pain in thearse.Someone I know suggestedgoing to grief counselling.At the time I demurred.After all, I knew why I wasfeeling down — three coffins inthree years, blah blah blah —and didn't need to paysomeone 80 quid an hour totell why I was feeling the way Iwas.But that's not to say that Icould never see myself 'seeingsomeone', nor would 1 beembarrassed to admit that Iwas.I'd like to think that we'vegrown up as a society (in someways, if not in others) and nowrealise that seeking help is apositive, assertive sign ofstrength rather than weakness.