Last week UKCP therapist Michelle Bridgman was invited on to BBC London’s Drivetime show and spoke with Eddie Nestor about counselling and the taboos surrounding therapy.
Following her appearance we chatted to Michelle about these taboos, when people should seek support and why psychotherapy should be an important part of the overall mental health conversation.
Is there still a taboo surrounding therapy?
On the Drivetime show, Michelle spoke about her thoughts on the negative reaction to psychotherapy, counselling and seeking help in general. ‘I think the perception is that if I need to see somebody I have failed or there is something intrinsically wrong with me,’ she told Nestor.
‘There’s a lot of shame involved, depending on the issue. People will obviously feel; “I should be coping better, or there’s something wrong me and I don’t want to endorse that by going to see somebody who’s just going to tell me that”.’
Michelle told us she believes there are still negative perceptions surrounding therapy and that seeking help is still seen as a weakness, particularly by men.
‘I do some employee assistance programme work and almost every time you meet somebody they say, “well, I thought its worth giving it go but I don’t really know what it is about” or “my boss thought I should come”.’
Michelle said she believes the profession has not done enough to educate people about the real benefits that quality psychotherapy can bring to people’s lives. ‘It’s not their fault, it’s the fault of us as professionals,’ she explained.
What do people know about psychotherapy?
Michelle thinks there should be a wider education on psychotherapy and the benefits it can bring to people’s lives. She suggests that people may still be blinkered by old-fashioned stereotypes of ‘chatting to the doctor’.
‘I am doing doctorial research at the moment and one of the things that came up in almost 100 per cent of the participants was that they thought therapy was something they would use if they felt down and not as an integral part of their treatment or their growth.’
She explained that even in her work, where she specialises in working with people with gender identity problems, the wider benefits of psychotherapy as part of clinical treatment are not promoted.
‘The gender clinics, in my experience, pay lip service to psychotherapy. They provide counselling for people because they know it [gender dysphoria] is a very stressful experience, whereas I think it could be a very integral part of clinical treatment and it should be in my view.’
What are the benefits of therapies such as psychotherapy and counselling?
On the BBC show, Nester asked: ‘What is it about counselling that makes you feel better?’. Michelle told him: ‘I tend to call it psychotherapy but that’s a whole different conversation. What I would say is that it’s not about me fixing something. It’s about empowering the individual to make the changes that they want. I can’t stress that highly enough. My job is to help them understand why they are thinking the way they are or why their habits are the way they are so that they can make the changes.’
When should people seek support or admit that something is wrong?
Speaking to Nestor, Michelle suggested that if something is ‘not a problem and you’re living with it ok, then that’s fine, but if it becomes a problem then you need to deal with it.’
She gave the Drivetime listeners an example scenario of someone who may have obsessive behaviours. ‘If you have to put your left shoe on first every morning before you go out, I would argue you could probably live with that. But if you have to put your left shoe on 165 times and if you lose count at 130 and have to start again, you might argue that that’s causing you distress,’ she told Nestor.
‘Intrinsically as a person we’re not broken but some of our behaviours are not serving us well anymore and if we think of it in that way it’s not a definition of you or me or the client as a person, it’s the fact that there’s something going on that there needs a bit of help with.’
But you don’t have to wait until you are in crisis, Michelle told us. ‘Psychotherapy can be useful for a lot of different reasons: you might be stuck in your career, you might feel your self-esteem is a bit low, you might be suffering a bereavement, any manor of things really.’ She emphasized that people should not to be afraid to speak out if there’s something in their life that they can improve.
Do people need to be ready to seek support?
Michelle told us that she believes people won’t engage if they are not ready for therapy. ‘You’ve got to decide; “I want to do something”,’ she said. ‘You can’t make somebody go to a therapist because they won’t engage with it, as we all know. But maybe if they were more aware of what they could be getting, they might be a bit more willing.’
The Drivetime show is available to listen click here, the show will be available for 21 days. Michelle features at 42.30.
Click here to find out more about Michelle.