A picture came up on my newsfeed recently: two people were sitting opposite each other and each had a speech bubble above them. One bubble contained a tangle of different coloured threads. The threads reached across into the other bubble, where they were separated, and each rolled neatly into their origin spool. This is the most accurate depiction of therapy I have come across – and one that is far different from most stereotypes.
I first went to therapy in Transition Year. I was sad most of the time, and crying a lot. I remember sitting down with my mam one night on the couch in our sitting room. She had noticed I’d developed a low mood (something I hadn’t yet identified myself) and suggested I start seeing a therapist she had found. After a few sessions, I already felt better. She helped me see that my sadness was a symptom of anxiety — something I didn’t know I had because I lacked symptoms associated with it, like panic attacks and nervousness. She taught me language to use to better understand it, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to fight it. These are tools I still use, almost every day.
“Just like our physical health, our mental health touches everything we do. It deserves as much — if not more — due diligence.”
Two things in particular stayed with me from that conversation with my mam. The first was that, if this were my physical health, I would have seen someone already. We rush to doctors to remedy minor colds and infections, but let niggling mental states fester, warp and take over our lives. Just like our physical health, our mental health touches everything we do. It deserves as much — if not more — due diligence.
The second thing was that seeing a therapist can be preventive as well as a cure. One of the worst and most dangerous misconceptions about therapy is that people who attend it have something extremely wrong with them; they are damaged, weird or dysfunctional. This stems directly from the taboo around therapy. The truth is that therapy is for anyone at any stage of their life. Although attending therapy is regularly associated with hitting rock-bottom (a protagonist’s last-ditch effort to get better after their whole life has fallen apart around them, Connell Waldron-style), in reality, why would we wait for things to get that bad?
Like the picture with the threads, therapy does nothing more unusual than unravel our multitude of thoughts. Put like that, it’s hard to understand why more people don’t go, especially considering we’re said to have about 6,000 thoughts a day. Our brains are (to put it lightly) very, very messy. Therapy can serve us, no matter what state we are in, by untangling some of those threads.
“Therapy should be normalised as a built-in part of our self-care…”
Therapy should be normalised as a built-in part of our self-care, like going to the gym, or at the very least, the dentist. I waited until things were very bad before I reached out, but I don’t intend to get to that point again. I aim to attend therapy on and off for as much of my life as possible, through both the ups and the downs.
It is important to address the elephant in the room. My view is an immensely privileged outlook on therapy. There are a number of factors required for therapy to work for you – clicking with your therapist, or logistical concerns like time, travel and connectivity. That’s not to mention factors determining whether you can access therapy in the first place. Private sessions cost upwards of €60 and public ones have long waiting lists. Things like familial openness might also affect whether you attend, especially if you are not financing your own sessions.
“Working on yourself, even at a slow pace, is better than doing nothing at all.”
However, there are often ways around things. Freephone confidential listening services are available day and night. Waiting lists to see talk therapists are long, but the important thing is to get yourself on them. Contacting the Student Counselling Services (who offer 8 free sessions per student per year, group sessions, and a range of self-help programmes), getting a referral from your GP to go public (students can also do this for free via the college health service), or self-referring to go privately are all ways to sign up for therapy sessions. If you think you can afford to go privately, but aren’t sure if it’s worth it, think about what you would be willing to pay if this was a physical health problem. Consider also that you could go monthly, or bi-monthly, instead of week to week, which would reduce the cost. Working on yourself, even at a slow pace, is better than doing nothing at all.
Another rose tint for me was that I clicked instantly with my therapist. If you don’t feel like you’re connecting with your therapist, it can be really frustrating. Opening up is daunting anyway, and it should be to someone that you trust, especially because you’re paying so much, or eating into your prized free sessions. It is worth researching around to get this right. You deserve the utmost care and best treatment possible. It is your mental health after all, and you should be as comfortable as possible in your sessions.
The sad reality is not everyone can access the care they require. However, if you are lucky enough to be able to access therapy, you should. Whether you’re at your wits end, or just feel a bit lost, there is everything to be gained from a helping hand unravelling your own tangled threads. My life could have been very different if I hadn’t had that conversation with my mam. I really didn’t realise that what I was feeling was unusual and not something everyone experienced. What’s more, it never occurred to me that I could feel another way, or that there was something practical I could do about it.
Lots of you will read this and think your problems aren’t big enough. You are probably right – other people have it a lot worse than you – but that does not mean you should not access therapy. You don’t just deserve to be happy, you deserve to be as happy as you possibly can be. All it might take is uncrossing those threads.
Useful helplines and services:
Student Counselling Service
01 896 1407
Trinity Health Service
01 896 1591
Listening online service
Listening and online chat service
1800 793 793
BodyWhys list of places that offer reduced cost counselling