Is now the Time to Talk?
As we all become attuned to the new normal with all its attendant social distancing and communication restrictions, it seems the need to talk about what we are feeling is more powerful than ever. It has been reported that mental health helplines have received unprecedented levels of calls over the last year. 80% of callers to one such helpline mentioned lockdown – with the fear of isolation and money worries leaving callers desperate for help. We have also seen an unprecedented increase in the demand for talking therapies. This is not a trend that is easing up any time soon.
At the same time that many of us feel the need to reach out for support, others may still believe that simply talking about it all will not help. Talking about our problems may for some conjure up images of lying on a couch with a detached observer monitoring our every word. However, such images are borne of a different age and are not readily applicable to the modern framework in which most talking therapies now operate.
Talking Therapies – the aims
Talking as a therapeutic treatment has advanced considerably in recent decades, especially through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme which can be accessed within the NHS and via our Richmond Wellbeing Service. These therapies are now as commonplace as going to your GP.
At their heart talking therapies are treatments which involve talking to a trained professional over a period of time about your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. There are many different types but they all aim to:
- give us a safe time and place to talk, cry, or just think;
- help us make sense of things and understand ourselves better;
- look at our problems in a new way and help us resolve complicated feelings;
- help us recognise unhelpful patterns in the way we think or act.
Our most intimate feelings
For many of us the very thought of talking about our most intimate feelings to a complete stranger may feel uncomfortable and strange. Isn’t this what our friends and families are for? Isn’t this why we have cultivated close relationships over the course of our lives? So that when things are difficult, they are there for us. People who know us. Understand us. Love us.
But it may simply be that the people who are closest to us are not the best people to talk to about what is happening to us right here, right now. We do not have to doubt their love for us, but it could be that they are just too close to the situation. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger than to relatives or friends. A special kind of stranger. Someone who has been trained in the role of confidant. Someone who will approach you and your issues, non-judgmentally. Someone who will take the kind of interest in your emotional difficulties that a family member would; but without being part of those problems themselves.
The path to change
A trained professional can see parts of us that those closest to us cannot. Our patterns of behaviour and the way we relate to others, developed over the course of our lives, are not ingrained in the relationship we have with a stranger. It is precisely the person who is outside these dynamics and is not mired in these roles, that can help us bring new sides of ourselves to the fore and help release them into other more fruitful ways of being.
A therapist is not an instructor. It is instead their job to help us to identify, explore and broaden the range of thoughts and feelings we are comfortable with. This approach allows the therapist to assume a facilitatory role, enabling us to take the initiative. This exploratory process not only helps us to understand subtle and often unnoticed emotions, but also to begin to manage strong and often uncomfortable thoughts and feelings more effectively and in the process create the path to change.
English psychoanalyst Anthony Storr said:
“Instead of looking to the therapist for direct advice or specific instructions, the patient learns to use psychoanalysis as a means of understanding himself better; and through this, begins to learn to solve his own problems.”
(from Churchill’s Black Dog, Kafka’s Mice and Other Phenomena of the Human Mind)
Storr here is talking about psychoanalysis but his point can be equally applied to any form of modern talking therapy.
If you would like to talk to someone in confidence about what you are feeling right now, RB Mind runs our own helpline. You can find details here.
We also run a low-cost Psychotherapy and Counselling service where you can access one-to-one talking therapy; and talking therapies are a key part of our free Richmond Wellbeing Service where most of the work is done in groups. Full details of all our services can be found here.