On online counselling

As we tentatively move out of lockdown, the focus is moving to our mental health. It’s estimated that a third of us could be feeling anxious or depressed which is hardly surprising – we’ve been through seismic changes in our psyches over the past year. If you’re feeling a little shaky, I’d truly recommend talking it through with a therapist. During the pandemic, many psychotherapists and counsellors have taken their sessions online – and it could well be a game-changer.

I thought I’d be fine during the first lockdown, that I might even flourish – after all, I usually spend swathes of the year in silence, on retreat, by myself; I actively relish alone time. Yet that wasn’t the case. I found myself swept up in an overdose of empathy, buffeted by the news, sad and angry in equal degrees. My usual strategies weren’t enough and, when I found my mood slipping badly, I turned to online psychotherapy.

I’m a huge believer in the power of talking therapies and, over the years, have had several bouts of therapy. However they have always been face to face and I did wonder how a Zoom session would work. Could it possibly be as effective as sitting in front of a therapist ‘for real’? Well, as it happens, yes.

Mandy Bennett has over 30 years of experience as a therapist and, after our initial trial hour, I knew I felt comfortable and safe with her. It did feel a little strange to begin with but actually it was nice not having to travel anywhere further than my sofa, and to have my dog cuddled up next to me during my session.

Some of Mandy’s advice was really simple and straightforward – practical tips for navigating each day. However I was surprised at how deep we went, even after just a few weeks. Every session was thought-provoking and I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that I felt better for them.

‘I think more people have become aware of their own mental health in the pandemic, because we have been stuck with our situations and our memories,’ says Mandy. ‘Looking back all the time is making people question things about their pasts whilst they try and come to terms with the new way of living.’

Yes, we can talk to our friends but there is always something different about talking to a trained therapist. All those years of training and experience give perspective and Mandy honed in on things I had never considered. I had several ‘aha’ moments that have gently tilted my world (for the better).

What makes me sad is that there is still so much stigma around counselling. When I tell friends I’m having therapy, some shrink back in horror. ‘Oh I couldn’t do that – people would think I’m weak,’ one said. I couldn’t disagree more. In Charles Mackesy’s wonderful book The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse (Ebury), the boy asks ‘What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?’

And the horse answers simply: ‘Help.’

A version of this first appeared in Natural Health magazine.

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash