Psychotherapy – a personal view
Is there such a thing a mental health or mental illness? For some people going to see a counsellor is like a visit to the doctor. We have symptoms of something wrong, we expect a diagnosis, some treatment and then we get better. In the article that follows, Dennis Richards - a Counsellor and Hypnotherapist at The Hope Street Centre argues that psychotherapy is more like a journey than a visit to the doctor.
When presented with symptoms like low mood, anxiety, obsessive behaviour, irrational fears or relationship problems, some people just want them to go away and a pill from the doctor is a tempting solution (over 50 million prescriptions were written for antidepressants last year). However, the medical profession is now admitting that medication does not solve psychological issues, covering up the symptoms rather than treating the cause. Psychiatrist Peter Breggin claims that psychotropic medications like antidepressants and tranquilizers disrupt the normal functioning of the brain rather than restoring a healthy balance of brain chemicals.
The relief they bring is by making the brain less sensitive. Current government (NICE) guidelines urge doctors in England to treat patients suffering mild to moderate depression with psychological therapies, including counselling.
Counselling can explore how we perceive the world, how we process difficult emotions, and how this is affected by our early childhood and wider society. It may involve developing new coping skills, discovering strength we did not know we had, or admitting our weaknesses without judgment and accepting the help of others. It may involve releasing pent-up feelings of the past or letting go of anxiety about the future in order to live more in the present. Invariably, it changes us, so we are in a process of becoming someone different.
It is this aspect that reminds me of a journey. The world looks different as we continue and we visit parts of ourselves we have never seen or have not visited for a long time. For some it will involve entering into the darkness of what might seem overwhelming emotions, before they can be transformed into something positive. Mythologist Joseph Campbell called it the hero’s journey, for it is found in the mythology of the world throughout history. The archetypal hero’s journey involves venturing into a region of supernatural wonder where fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won, before returning to the world with a gift for humanity.
We enter a region of supernatural wonder every night when we dream (everybody dreams, even if they do not remember it). I work a lot with dreams, where people can access strengths and qualities they may not exhibit in normal waking life. By working on the dream (exploring and amplifying its meaning) we can access new ways of being to enhance our lives and the world.
We can, therefore, see psychological problems not as an illness to be cured but an invitation to a journey of discovery. The destination may not be a problem fixed, but a new way of being that enriches our lives and the world around us. Are you ready to embark?
Peter Breggin, Toxic Psychiatry: Why Therapy, Empathy and Love Must Replace the Drugs, Electroshock and Biochemical Theories of the New Psychiatry
Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces.
Medical disclaimer: this article should not be construed as medical advice. If you have a medical condition or need advice on medication, please consult your physician.
Dennis Richards is a Counsellor and Hypnotherapist at the Hope Street Centre.