Listening to the radio this week I heard a victim of Ray Teret talk about her life.She stated that being raped by him had been so traumatic that she needed counselling. It struck me how often we hear this construction, counselling as the bar by which inability to cope is measured.
There’s a bias in our society, deep-rooted, long-standing and
institutionalised, that mental ill health isn’t really ill health at all.
I’m sure most of us have heard these biases overtly or read them in the
newspapers, and even more often felt their unspoken presence. Those of
us who work with mental ill health, or have lived or familial experience of it,
know the truth – and feel the injustice of it every day.
These two seem linked, the idea that only those who have somehow failed to cope with life need counselling, and the stigma that treatment for mental health issues still attracts. In the first meeting with clients I tell them they are brave, it is not just reassurance. They are. Seeking help is not a sign of not coping, it is, in fact, a sign of self awareness and self care. In out current society though, when we treat mental illnesses differently to physical. the idea that needing counselling is somehow a sign of not being fully competent persists.
I wonder how much as counsellors we are complicit in this? If we go back to the foundations of person centered counselling, Rodgers core conditions, we start with;
1. Two persons are in Psychological contact.
2. The first, whom we shall term the client, is in a state of incongruence, being vulnerable or anxious.
3. The second person, whom we shall term the therapist is congruence or integrated in the relationship
As therapists we are constantly reminded that this should be a relationship of equals, but the very heart of the relationship is an inequality, one party congruent and integrated, the other incongruent and vulnerable. Rodgers made clear that this was only within the therapeutic relationship, but we seem to have reached a place where one attends counselling because within the whole of your life there is anxiety and incongruence. Counselling seen as an emergency intervention which is offered only to the most desperate.
Under the current economic climate it is perhaps not surprising that money is spent on patching the roof after the rain comes in. However, if we look at the approach to physical well being, we see that preventive measures are seen as more cost effective than emergency care. Everything from healthy eating advice to advertising about sensible drinking is aimed at stopping people from needing medical intervention. If we were able to tackle the idea that counselling is something only provided when people have reached rock bottom, not only might we be able to tackle the stigma, but also the length of time so many are left to struggle without support.