To mark World Mental Health Day 2018, we spoke to some of our therapists about what they have learnt about mental health in this last year. 

Daniel Wiegand - counsellor in Hackney

Being a therapist has taught me how powerful simply being present and listening can be and to not get in the way of someone’s autonomy as they explore ideas of living that may work better for them. Instead, following where they lead, and by being caring and understanding, clients can learn to be caring and understanding towards themselves.

Natasha Kelly hypnotherapist in Balham

I've learnt how deeply environmental factors affect a person's mental health and how many symptoms are simply reactions to living in such an individualistic society.

Individualism is a double-edged sword. On one hand it makes for a more dynamic and innovative population but on the other, it leads to more competition, stress, anxiety and loneliness. It seems paradoxical that incidences of loneliness should be rising whilst the population rises. 

Rita Edah - counsellor in Ilford and Central London

It's reconfirmed to me that every human being is vulnerable to mental ill-health, psychological pain and emotional distress. No one is immune. We need to be mindful of our own mental health and emotional wellbeing, and also be mindful of those in our circles of influence and our wider community. 

I have learnt that at the most basic level, we each want to, need to, feel heard. Resentment, frustrations, rage and to a large extent, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem can be traced back to feeling unheard, unseen, unconnected/disconnected in fundamental ways.

I have learnt that so many are crumbling under the weight of false guilt and chronic/toxic shame. It breaks my heart that as a society, guilt-tripping and shaming still seem to be endorsed as means to supposedly correct and motivate children, young people, subordinates at work and even partners in intimate relationships. 

Guilt-tripping, shaming and emotional blackmail do so much harm to the psyche. What we need instead is respect, kindness, compassion and acceptance; seeing and treating each person as being intrinsically valuable and worthy irrespective of their achievements, performance, physical appearance or heritage.

I have been encouraged by the ability of many to cope with extreme suffering and to eventually recover and begin to live full productive lives when they have had access to and engaged with healthy relationships where they are valued, seen and heard.

John McKenzie - hypnotherapist in Altrincham

It’s brought home to me two of the things I often say to my clients:

  1. Looking after yourself is not optional. Self-care isn’t just for people who come to see me – it’s for all of us, including me. A busy diary has reminded me that I do my best work when I do more than work.
  2. Stop comparing your insides to other peoples’ outsides. Stop assuming that other people are okay because they seem okay, and that you’re the only person having those difficulties or feelings. After a lot of internal debate I started a ‘working with anxiety’ group at my business networking group. I thought I might get two or three people – instead 40% of the members attend.

And I’ve been inspired by the people who come to see me as well – by their openness about their thoughts and fears. As a result I made a conscious decision to be more open about my own depression, and I’ve encountered so much goodwill and support. I won’t pretend it hasn’t been negatively received at times, but never to the point where I wish I hadn’t.

Annabelle Hird - counsellor in St Margaret's

As a therapist I am continuously reminded that where mental health is concerned there is always something to learn. In 2018 I found myself privileged to be in a training run by the brilliant youth charity I work with, Off The Record. The training, solution-focused therapy, was well outside the confines of my comfort zone as my preference is to work with focus on the client/counsellor relationship. The very word 'solution' troubled the Gestaltist in me who feels uncomfortable with the idea that our work is about 'solving' our clients as if they are problems, and yet time and time again I find myself sitting with a person who desires exactly that, to be 'solved' or 'fixed'. 

Of course solution-focused work is not about fixing the client, but instead it is about equipping them with ways in which they can start to find solutions that work for them. I have found some of the learnings I took from this particular training sit very nicely alongside the work I do in raising a client's awareness. I have also found that it has given me an insight into mental illness that I had not properly understood before and that is the those struggling with mental health issues also struggle to be hopeful. 

It seems so simple doesn't it? Through solution focused exercises I have noticed that clients presenting as anxious or depressed are very unable to imagine a dream or desire. They cannot picture and describe a preferred future with their expectations managed in a way that will only allow them to go as far as 'I wish things were different' or ' I would like not to feel like this any more'. 

Driving instructors often tell their learner to 'drive the road they can see' with the understanding that anything beyond that will have changed by the time they get there. I have always liked this idea in terms of mindfulness and yet I am increasingly understanding that mindfulness is all well and good, but an awareness of where you would like to be going, just as it is when you are driving, is what keeps us from getting stuck. There are many reasons that we may prevent ourselves from hoping or desiring and a therapist will help you understand them better, allowing you a little more freedom to dream. I like to check in with myself every once in a while now and make sure I am still making space to work out what I would like and I urge you, without judging yourself, to do the same. 

Sandra Hilton - counsellor in London

This has been the year when I’ve set up my private practice, having worked with clients in low-cost services for the last four years. Being a therapist always feels like a privilege. Witnessing clients uncover and discover themselves in shadow and brilliance is a wholehearted experience. 

With each client I learn how adept we are at shapeshifting. How we lose sight of ourselves, in trying to be all things to others. 

I’ve learned that there is a golden thread in mental health. A thread of self-discovery, self-acceptance and self-compassion. It is about remembering and surrendering to who we truly are and then finding a way to live in the world from that place, rather than the constructed place that is borne of, and creates stress and anxiety and fear and guilt.