When should you turn to a professional for support?
When you first think there may be a problem, or if the symptoms of your mental health change, you should always turn to a medical professional. Diagnosis of mental illness is not a job for your family or your mate - even if they themselves have a mental illness. While it can be useful to discuss what's going on for you with a trusted person, going to see your GP when there's something wrong is absolutely necessary.
Once you have a diagnosis, even if you're feeling better due to your prescribed drug regime, professional support is a step most could benefit from. But for many people, the decision is one of budget. In the UK, there is only a limited amount of therapy available free via the National Health Service (NHS), and waiting times are horribly long. In these circumstances, I'd recommend contacting national and local charities, who may be able to connect you with professionals offering low-cost, or no-cost therapy. Many therapists in training work on a voluntary basis. Charities offer screening, verifying with the training body that the trainee therapist is ready to work with clients, they also provide supervision. A number of fully qualified therapists continue to volunteer while they gain accreditation from their relevant governing body.
Even when budget isn't a constraint, one big question is what type of professional support to select. For the purposes of this blog post, the following is not only just my personal opinion, but is decidedly broad brush, for I cannot cover everything in such a brief article.
If your mental-illness is more complex than depression or anxiety, your doctor may refer you to a specific mental health professional. Even where they do not, if you have a body of complex health issues, I would recommend selecting a therapist with extensive experience of those areas.
The type of counselling generally offered by the NHS is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It's solution-focused, so better suited to the limited number of sessions available free. It aims to change patterns of thinking or behaviour that are behind people's difficulties, and so change the way they feel. In general terms, CBT can be useful when you know why you have depression. It is also recommended for those suffering from ADHD/ADD. However, if you need to uncover the reasons behind your depression, or the reasons are multiple and complex, short-term therapy like CBT is unlikely to be suitable.
A number of different schools of psychology underpin counselling and psychotherapy. Some therapists specialist in only one school, while others choose to combine a multiple. If you're interested in learning more about the different schools, the governing body's links below will provide more information, but you can also ask your therapist to explain their working methodology during your initial contact.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists are governed by national bodies - the BACP and UKCP respectively. I've linked to informational pages on both websites, and you can also find a resource on each to find an accredited therapist in your local area. I would always recommend selecting a therapist from these sites. If you're in the fortunate position of having health insurance offering cover for talking therapy, you will also need to check out your insurer's list of approved therapists.
When your focus is on change, that's when I'd recommend you choose a coach. A coach will help whether you need clarity on the type of change to make, or support in achieving it. It will involve goal setting and accountability, but you can also choose to work with a coach who incorporates other modalities into their practice, most popular ones being Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) or Hypnotherapy. These modalities allow deeper neurological work helping to facilitate that change. There are multiple governing bodies for the coaching industry, and I would recommend you select a coach with membership of a relevant body.
There are a myriad of other therapies - some which I have experienced, some which I have not. Before selecting a therapist to work with, I would always investigate if there is a relevant governing body, and check for evidence of membership and training. Whoever you chose to work with should also have insurance and a code of practice. You can ask to see evidence.
Finally, remember all therapists are people too, and you may find you simply don't gel with the first one you choose. Don't be put off the process of therapy because of that, please do try again with someone new, or someone with a different working methodology. I've worked with 5 different counsellors each from differing modalities, a couple of coaches and a hypnotherapist over the years. Each and every one of those experiences was beneficial, even those with whom I didn't gel.
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