By Roisin Noonan
By now we are all well accustomed with the term “self-care” and all that it encompasses. We millennials are even sometimes referred to as the “self-care generation”. In a world where we whizz around every day on an endless merry go round of work/study/exercise/eat/sleep/repeat, there is no doubt that self-care is a vital and necessary coping strategy. It has been proven to help ease stress and anxiety and to relieve tension, allowing us to re-centre and enabling us to focus on ourselves in our daily lives.
However, self-care goes a lot deeper than just running a hot bath, lighting some nice candles and slapping on a face mask. As important and wonderful as all of those things are, underpinning the very concept of self-care is mental wellbeing and care for our mental health. A more holistic approach to self-care would perhaps involve therapy and/or counselling as a way of caring for the mind. If you do self-care for your body in the form of a bath or yoga or a face mask, why not do self-care for your mind too?
That said, the notion of therapy in Ireland has been shrouded in stereotypes and stigma for decades now, just like the broader issues of mental health and suicide. Distorted views that therapy is only something “crazy people” do, misconceptions of therapy being self-centred, an expensive means of complaining to a stranger or something only Americans do. It was taboo. Nobody did therapy and if you did, you didn’t talk about it.
However, the increase in mental health and suicide awareness campaigns and the long-awaited move towards destigmatising mental illness has subsequently led to an increase in the popularity of therapy. It has shed light on the benefits and importance of it in combating mental health issues.
The “Therapy is Cool” movement has been around for some time now, with the hashtag #maketherapycool trending last year, thanks to bloggers and influencers like Sinead Hegarty sharing posts on the topic. The whole philosophy of the movement is that therapy should be something that anyone can access, whenever they need it for whatever reason, big or small. That going to therapy is something that should be celebrated as a sign of emotional intelligence and awareness of our own needs and feelings and not something that should be shamed or hidden. It’s the idea that therapy should be used as a tool as one requires it, and not as a last resort when crisis hits.
Therapy is so much more than just lying on a couch, talking to a stranger and paying money for it. It is a way to gain emotional insight into ourselves, to get to know ourselves better, in turn helping us in our relationships, our jobs and our daily lives. It is a chance for us to look at ourselves in a different way, learning about our strengths and weaknesses and how to manage them. Therapy is about gaining new tools and refining the ones we already possess to be able to navigate the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
I returned to therapy this summer for the first time in a few years. And it was the best thing I did for myself all summer. It was the best thing I did for myself in a long time, actually. In saying that I struggled to make my first appointment. I had not been to therapy since secondary school, and I almost feared going back as being some sort of a regression. I delayed it until after exams, and then until after work, until eventually I just had to face the fact that I knew I needed it, and I sent that first text to make an appointment. After that, everything was easy. The talking; the clearing out; the simplifying. My whole thought process became clarified and easier. Sometimes it’s just a build-up of little things, and it can take talking them out to realise that is all they are. That is what therapy does for me. Clears the brain fog. It’s like ironing out a shirt.
In the end, I wondered why I was so strung up about making an appointment in the first place. Why was I procrastinating so much? It all comes back to the stigma of course. The “ah sure I’m not that bad”, “I don’t really need it”, “I’ll be grand”. Then I saw this post on Instagram – “reasons why you should go to therapy”. There was a whole list of reasons but written over them all was “because you want to go”. That hit home for me. The best reason to go to therapy is because you want to go. I think I was waiting for some major crisis or breakdown before I made the call. I felt that something like that was needed to justify going back to therapy. Once I read that post on Instagram, I realised how absurd that was. If you want to go to therapy, then go. You don’t need a justification. If you had a physical illness, would you wait for it to get worse before you went to see a doctor? The notion of preventative care should apply to mental health just as it does to physical health. Why wait for the breakdown?
The Irish Times reported this week that free online counselling is to be rolled out nationally for people with anxiety and depression. SilverCloud has been contracted by the HSE to provide the service for people following referrals made by GP’s, psychologists, national counselling service or Jigsaw. This follows the results of a pilot study carried out which saw a massive 88% of people with depression and anxiety report a significant reduction in symptoms following 2 months of online therapy. No doubt this will be a very welcome new service given that the expenses associated with therapy and counselling are a major issue for many people in accessing services.
The Covid-19 pandemic has escalated mental health issues for people in many ways across the board. But one hugely positive outcome is that the move of therapy and counselling sessions online has made access to such services easier than ever. There are now several apps and websites where one can access online therapy and counselling sessions with qualified therapists, counsellors and psychologists. Therapy sessions can now take place over the phone or on zoom with the simplicity of a phone call. Therapy has never been more accessible.
Caoimhe Walsh, Student Union Welfare Officer, shared some information with me on the counselling services currently available to students in UCC. At the moment all counselling services are still being conducted online due to the pandemic, but this is set to change in the coming weeks as restrictions ease. Students can contact the counselling services by email at email@example.com with any questions or queries about services. Alternatively, you can get in touch with Caoimhe directly as she says many students choose to do. As Welfare Officer, Caoimhe has undertaken many different training courses including Disclosure, Bystander Intervention and Active Consent training in order to be able to help students with their concerns. “Many students that contact me just want a chat”, Caoimhe says, “they may not all need to attend a counselling session and might just want someone to vent or chat to for a while and so they contact me”. Should a student require counselling or request it, Caoimhe is trained to assess their needs and then point them in the right direction, be it the UCC Counselling Services, Chaplaincy or crisis helplines.
In following through with the promises of her election manifesto, Caoimhe and the Students Union have made huge strides into improving the services available in UCC. “We now have no waiting lists for counselling services in the college, the max time a student might be waiting for an appointment is a week, tops”. Caoimhe added that there are now two new mental health nurses added to the team of people working for both student health and the Counselling services.
There is also a room available in the ORB building all year round, reserved by Caoimhe, especially for students who may need somewhere to go to take their online counselling appointment. “It’s hard for students to try to find somewhere quiet and discreet to take their counselling or therapy calls in college” so this room is available for reservation by all students, whether taking a UCC counselling call or an external counselling session. To reserve Room 3.26 in the ORB just log onto the UCC Room booking portal or contact Caoimhe for more information.
Chaplaincy is another key branch of the counselling and student health services offered to UCC students. They operate an open-door policy to anyone looking for a chat, some help, advice or even a free cup of tea. The services are open to everyone, regardless of religious beliefs, so anyone can drop by for a cuppa and a friendly word. Chaplaincy also runs several campaigns and events throughout the year promoting mental health so keep an eye on their social media pages.
The pandemic has certainly opened up the conversation about therapy even more, normalising it as a tool that everyone can use. When I first started to go to counselling in secondary school, I felt it was something I needed to hide from people. Afraid of how people might look at me if they knew I was going to therapy. Now, I talk openly about it with my friends and family. I compare notes with some friends who are going too and recommend it to others who might not have considered it yet. Maybe the openness has come from just growing up and caring less about what other people think, or perhaps it is proof that society’s views on therapy and counselling really are changing. That we are starting to open up more as a country and unravel the stigmas. I really hope it is the latter.
If you have been thinking about therapy for a while, wondering if it is for you or contemplating making an appointment, just go for it. Bite the bullet and book a session. Do yourself a favour. Don’t let things build up and fester. If you’re a few weeks into the semester and struggling, reach out to one of the many available free services here in UCC. What have you got to lose with a chat? Sometimes just saying it out loud is all that is needed.
All counselling services in UCC are FREE.
To contact Counselling Services at UCC email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chaplaincy on email@example.com
Caoimhe Walsh, Welfare Officer SU firstname.lastname@example.org