Thursday, 4 April 2013

Therapy and mental health

I love this!

I've been talking a lot on The Mama's Hip about physical health and the changes I'm making to keep my body fit and healthy. I see nutrition as a safeguard against longer-term health problems, and I'm trying to make the best choices I can for my body. But that's only half the story. Mental health is as important too, and nutrition definitely has a huge part to play in my mental health. A lot of my reasons for wanting to clean up my lifestyle are to ensure that I am in the best mood every day to play with and interact with my kids.

One big step I've been making has been going to therapy. I've been going on and off for the last decade. Sometimes I'll go weekly for a few months or years, other times I'll have a couple of sessions and leave it for a while. I've had 3 therapists. The first wasn't such a good fit, but the last two have been fantastic. I go whenever I need help dealing with issues that I can't sort out alone.
I really feel strongly about the benefits of therapy, just like I'd put a plaster on a cut, I use therapy to heal and strengthen myself when I need it.
I used to use my husband and friends as my therapists, but it became a burden on my relationships, and I felt it wasn't fair to depend on them so much. Now I can have fun with them, knowing that my "issues" will be taken care of by a professional. Though I will still share what's going on in my life, I no longer feel the need to unload when I'm with my husband / friends.

For me therapy gives me a place and space to talk about what's going on in my head. I can say the same stuff every week if I want. There's no judgement. I'm not being pulled up about my attitudes to certain things. My therapist sits and listens. She rarely gives advice or opinions. That did drive me mad for a while, I wanted her to give me answers and tips. Instead she asked me what did I think I needed. Slowly I realised that I have all the answers, and I don't need anyone else's validation for the way I feel. Inbetween sessions I turn inwards and listen to my gut about questions I may have. I find if I follow my gut, everything else falls into place and my head is at peace.

It doesn't have to cost a fortune. If my therapy cost 120e per session I could only afford to go every couple of months and I wouldn't get the results I need. I googled "low cost counselling" and found some local therapists in my price range. For me it's important that I can get to it quickly, as my time away from breastfeeding children is limited. I also like that I can walk there, getting some fresh air and exercise before and after, and I don't have to pay for parking. All these things mean I can go regularly and it's not a big hassle.

I'm proud to say I look after my mental health, and I feel by dealing with my issues in a positive and proactive way I'm modelling healthy behaviour for my children. If they ask as they get older I will tell them that I have a friend I go and chat to if something is on my mind. When it's relevant I share this fact with people I meet, and I've been pleasantly surprised by how many say they go / have gone to therapy too.
One friend recently said to me she doesn't see the need for therapy, as it just opens up old wounds. I said to her "That's the point". It's only when you've unravelled all the knots and opened up every awkward mental box that you've shut stuff away in that you can progress. If you're unhappy with your behaviour in your daily life, if you feel stressed or anxious or like you've a short fuse, you're over-eating / over-spending / over-drinking etc you probably sense there's something out of balance. Therapy can help you to realise why you act a certain way, and once you realise that you can change it.

I've found you need a strong support system as you go through your process. There can be days when you don't feel like doing much, where you need other people to step in a give you a hand. Or you may need to cancel plans if you are feeling drained. This is all part of the process. Even one person, a partner / friend who knows what you're going through and dealing with can be a great source of comfort.

It's a long road, and we'll never get to the end of it, it's a journey, we're all works in progress. The easiest thing would be to keep our heads in the sand, because change can be scary. But stepping onto a new path can be exciting and more fantastic than you ever imagined. I hope my sharing my experiences here has helped some of you. There seems to be a shame and stigma about therapy in Ireland, we're way behind the States in terms of owning up to our issues. I hope we can normalise therapy and see it as being as important as going to the GP when we need it.

Nee x


  1. Always reading, never that quote at the end : ) I *think* I've become better at living in the present...that's my ideal, to be able to do that. Therapy is so healthy, it has done a lot for my family. There is a big stigma...why though??? Good on you for taking such good care of yourself.

  2. This is a great post! I wish it could be printed on the front page of the Irish Times!

  3. I love this post Niamh!
    I have always been very pro-therapy. and since I started in October, cannot recommend it enough.

  4. I keep considering going back to therapy as I know I need help from somewhere, but I feel that it will be just another chore that I have to squeeze in !


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