CN: counselling, self-counselling, anxiety, bipolar disorder
As the weeks roll on and term draws to a close, my mind is unusually focussed on something other than the thought of going home to my big double bed and meals that aren’t pesto pasta. I have been attending cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions at my University Counselling Service for the past 2 months, and will soon attend my last session.
As with many counselling services, particularly such as those at schools or universities which are in high demand and drastically underfunded, individuals are given an allocated number of appointments. When I first began attending, I counted down these sessions. Therapy was absolutely terrifying—confronting my issues head on made me realise they were real, and it hit home how severe I had let them become. I was asked questions I never let myself answer before because I knew I didn’t want to know the answers to them. I would leave every session in tears, wondering how this could be helping me when all I felt afterwards was worse. Even though I knew my mental health was in a downward spiral, and counselling was something I needed to do, I would avoid it as much as I could.
“I was asked questions I never let myself answer before”
But now approaching my tenth session, I’m at a place I never imagined I would be. My attitude to counselling has completely changed; I see my counsellor’s office as a safe, welcoming, non-judgemental place where as soon as I sit down I can relay my week and feelings willingly. That’s not to say it’s not scary facing the issues I have, but I now feel such a sense of relief in going there, a weight off my chest.
Opening up to counselling is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and in doing so I’ve seen real benefits from it. Perhaps this is why, as I approach my last ever UCS session, I have such an overwhelming feeling of ‘what now?’ – I am terrified my progress will be lost when I no longer have my counsellor to rely on, and I certainly don’t feel confident enough in my self-counselling abilities to continue the change on my own.
“Weeks ago I would will the sessions to be over, but right now I feel almost abandoned, like a small child not ready to let their mother’s hand go”
This is the problem with having a set number of sessions. For some it can be a goal to work towards, encouraging them to make their own change. For many, especially those with depression, this is a difficult, and in fact unhelpful, mindset to have. When you’re unwell your motivation plummets; goals seem unreachable, the future unthinkable. Weeks ago I would will the sessions to be over, but right now I feel almost abandoned, like a small child not ready to let their mother’s hand go. The feelings of terror and apprehension that first greeted me when I started counselling are creeping back in.
So now I must answer ‘what now?’. In writing this piece I hope to offer comfort to those in similar situations, and in part a solution, although if I’m honest I’m unsure of the answer.
“The most important thing to do is to try and arrange further counselling if you feel you need it”
The most important thing to do is to try and arrange further counselling if you feel you need it. This could be through a GP appointment, although waiting times can vary considerably so it’s important to try and get things in motion before your sessions end. Alternatively, you can ask tutors and pastoral care at universities for information about funds available for those requiring private counselling, for which fees are often way beyond the student budget. Such funds are often under the radar, so it’s worth searching to see what’s accessible for you.
Even if this isn’t possible, it’s important to remember helplines are completely free and confidential spaces – although they can’t give you the help a counsellor can, they provide the opportunity to talk about how you feel. Some examples include
- Nightline: open 7pm – 7am during term time, individual numbers vary by university
- Samaritans: open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – 116 123
- Anxiety UK: Mon-Fri 9.30am-5.30pm – 08444 775 774
- Bipolar UK: Mon-Fri 9am-5pm – 0333 323 3880
Counselling services frequently have long waiting lists, leaving the prospect of a period with no regular therapy. For me it seems like a massive gulf, a gap in the bridge between illness and recovery which I can’t quite cross. Below are a few methods of self-help that I’ve found incredibly helpful so far, and things I will rely on as I wait for further counselling.
Firstly, it has helped me massively to let those around me know my issues. Many suffering from mental illness, myself in particular, hold back from asking for help from friends and family for fear of being a burden. Instead of bottling up feelings until a session, informing your friends and family of your situation so you feel comfortable to ask for a chat when you need it is important. It’s difficult to do, but worth asking your counsellor to help you work on before you end your time there. To begin, a diary could be a useful tool in learning how to express feelings as well as giving yourself an outlet to discuss thoughts you may have previously reserved for counselling sessions.
“It has helped me massively to let those around me know my issues”
However, it’s important to remember that unlike counsellors, your friends and family are not trained professionals and sometimes may not know how to help. Being honest about what helps and what doesn’t is key. You could also refer them to online resources about helping loved ones who are suffering – examples include the CUSU Welfare and Rights Guide ‘How to Support Your Friends’ and the section on the MIND website ‘Helping Someone Else’.
Another way to involve those around you in your recovery is to write a list of triggers, and things that you know help. This can avoid friends and family feeling helpless when faced with situations by giving them tangible ways of helping you, as well as giving you piece of mind knowing you have people who understand your needs.
Personally, I have found mental health social media accounts to be particularly useful. They create judgement free online communities to encourage discussion and end stigma, showing readers they really aren’t alone in their feelings. For me, being able to make light of my illness has helped me come to terms with it, in turn encouraging me to accept help.
- Sad Girls Club @sadgirlsclub: funny memes, real life accounts and motivational posts – a really enjoyable account with relatable content.
- Hannah Daisy @makedaisychains: an artist best known for her #boringselfcare posts reminding readers to do the little things which are all the more difficult when you’re not well.
I can’t shake the feeling of ‘what now?’ that seems to loom over me, and ironically now dread my last session like I did my first one. My current fears have shown me how much counselling as changed the way I think, undoubtedly for the better – it was terrifying but ultimately one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
Header image by NATA PESTUNE