For anyone who struggles with mental health or has an addiction to learning about it, then I would really recommend doing a course similar to the one I did this summer at Regent’s University: Foundation/Introduction in Counselling and Psychotherapy (similar courses are held at Birkbeck, Metanoia and Roehampton).
I did it to start the first bit of my training to be a qualified counsellor, but the course is also for people who want to either further their knowledge on the topic or who have gone through a mentally tough experience and need the tools and time to process it. Growing up with a mother with an assortment of mental health disorders including drug addiction, psychosis and depression is primarily what led my interest; I wanted to understand what was going on in her mind and get a better understanding with the end goal to be able to help her.
I went into this course thinking I was very in touch with my emotions especially (without stereotyping) being a woman. Like a lot of girls, when I’m upset, I talk to my boyfriend or cry to my girlfriends and I always thought that meant I was dealing with my issues and was mentally strong. However, from doing this course, I learnt that I did not know my inner self in the same way I thought I did or how much situations/people play in your day to day mental health.
The course helps you recognise your struggles and gives you the resources and time to explore why they are difficult for you. (For me a big thing was my lack of confidence in myself and the anxiety I get when having to do things like public speaking.) This awareness should help relieve the issue as I was able to pinpoint the reason why I lacked so much confidence. Like most things, unless you deal with the issue, it only gets worse, and so, over the weeks I was able to unravel it and focus on the various situations that were attributed to it. This gave me relief and a better understanding of the issue, helping my confidence not only in the classroom but outside. You might be asking why this is necessary on a course where you are learning to be a counsellor and trust me, I asked myself the same thing when I started, but in order to help others you first need to understand yourself and learn the difference between sympathy and empathy.
The hardest part of the course is not learning how to be the therapist but more the client.
Every other day you are expected to speak, bringing your own material to the table, and at first, the therapist gives you little to nothing in response. This feels unnatural as one rarely ever speaks solidly without anyone prompting while a group of people watch you (luckily, they are analysing the therapist’s involved and not yours!). But as time goes on and the time you speak for is increased, the therapist is given more techniques which help guide the conversation slightly more. You also begin to enjoy the time in your day to speak openly in a safe and confidential environment, feeling like you are taking part in an actual therapy session. And in the role of the therapist, you begin to learn what type of therapy you prefer and even create your own personal style.
A common thing that people have asked me is whether it was hard to go home at night and forget about everyone else’s problems or stories. This was something I had thought about lots and was really scared about, especially as I am someone who cries over any TV program or emotional speech, even if I don’t know the person. But the course taught me skills to deal with these things (such as bracketing) and instead of feeling sadness at the end of each day, I felt strength in that my peers could speak about such challenges in their everyday life. It gave me more power to recognise that it’s okay to feel weakness and to be sad, and that being aware of your emotions and reactions will help you deal with your pain.
The best tip I can give when helping someone else is that no situation is ever the same, no matter how similar it is. It is common when trying to help people that we tell a story about being in a similar situation to make them feel better (e.g. if you have both lost a family member). Yes, having someone who has gone through something similar definitely helps, but no situation is ever the same and everyone’s pain and experience of the situation is different. The best thing you can do is give them the time and space to just speak freely and listen. Listening is the most important skill and one that we all have within us.
The thing I loved the most about the course is meeting a wide variety of people, of different backgrounds, ages and nationalities and yet we all had a common interest that brought us together. There was a bond that was different to normal friendships since we had witnessed each other in our most venerable states, gone through a journey together that wasn’t always that pleasant and at times even felt raw and unnerving; however it made us all feel empowered to go out and use our newly learnt skills. It is rare in our busy lives to take time to focus on ourselves and not the people around us. I would highly recommend a course like this to anyone and everyone.