The fastest route to beating depression is to get help from those who understand your feelings. Talking to others who have been through similar experiences to you will help you feel less isolated. Much depression is created by the negative effect that others have had on us; likewise, people who have a positive effect can accelerate recovery from depression.
We have a distorted perception of ourselves when we are depressed. We feel that something is wrong with us, that we are different from everyone else, that we are not normal and that we are alone. These things can be tackled with good reflection from other people.
When I went to see a therapist, I said over and over again that I thought something was wrong with me. I said this for weeks and each time she would reply, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you except your distorted thinking about yourself.’ Although it took a long time for this to sink in, I came to believe her because she kept saying it. She never budged.
Whether or not I could have got through depression without this information is a question I will never be able to answer. However, I ate it up like a hungry infant and allowedit to nourish me, even though I didn’t believe it for a long time.
This is the kind of help we need: accurate information that we can grasp and assimilate. There are thousands of places to go for help, but I have simplified them into four categories, listed below. If you take up two of the suggestions, a network will appear and you will discover other resources available to you.
The stumbling block people often put in front of themselves is ‘it’s not for me’. If this is your voice then here is the bench- mark: If you can get good information about yourself from your close circle then you need look no further. However, if talking to your friends doesn’t work, get help.
When I first started talking to people about how depressedI was, I felt really angry about the fact that I was even there. I hated talking to others about myself and dismissed most of what I heard for a couple of years. This is not unusual. Many of us have to be crawling on our knees before we ask for help. It is the nature of depression, because we feel so much shame for needing help. If it hurts enough, we will either medicate our feelings or find someone to help us.
FINDING A THERAPIST
When you begin to look for help, you must spend some time getting the conditions right. This can be very difficult. Finding the right therapist can be a bit of a lucky dip. You are going to be bearing your soul to this person, and you need to know you can trust them.
Obviously, client confidentiality is the bottom line, but there are other factors to consider. It can be a mistake to go for the first person you hear about. Finding the right therapist is like anything else of great importance – you need to shop around.
I know to my cost that rushing into a therapy situation without taking a view on the person, their working practices and the environment in which they work can be detrimental to the recovery process. I have opened up to people who needed more help than me!
As an example, I went to one therapist who, in hindsight, actually had severe depression himself and would tell me about it during my session – an absolute no-no, as therapists should not be talking about themselves in your time! Together we wound ourselves into a web of inappropriate behavior that resulted in him coming around for dinner and me counseling him on his day off. At the time I thought I was cool. In retrospect I lost all self-respect. And the bizarre thing about it was I was paying him $100 per hour!
Below are some sources of help placed into three categories:
These three areas are to help you get started and to give you ideas of what to expect. They are not the absolute gospel, simply an idea of what’s out there. Take a risk on at least one area, but the ideal scenario is to get help from an individual and from a group.
The one-to-one feedback will encourage you to stop running away from your pain and will give you information on how you see yourself. The group will help you to see how others see you and also help you to feel less isolated – you will suddenly realize that there are others out there who know how you feel.
Taking a risk and making the first call is part of getting better. This is because we are doing something to help ourselves and going forward. It takes more strength to take that first step forward than to step backward by medicating the pain. This is our ultimate choice and we may swing from one to the other.
We may go for help and seem to make good progress, then we decide we’ve had enough and go on a ‘bender’ for six weeks. This is common: nobody is perfect. We cannot recover overnight, it takes time and sometimes we can get fed up of waiting for change. However, any help goes towards a ‘credit’ in the recovery bank balance.
One-to-one therapy is the way to receive objective information about our lives and ourselves. It gives us an idea of what is normal and how far off normal we may be. Some people say the idea that there is a ‘normal’ in the first place leaves us prone to judging ourselves. However, there is a normal pattern of development that all humans go through.
If we are depressed, then this pattern of development has been arrested. With therapy, we can go back to when we stopped growing, address any trauma, retrain ourselves and then heal. If we have a good therapist, we won’t even realize we are going through this process – it just happens.
So how do we find a good therapist? It can be difficult, because the industry is not regulated and any of us could set up as a therapist tomorrow. Even if it were regulated, there is no guarantee we wouldn’t fall in with a qualified person who also happened to be inept or just not right for us.
Therapy is different from analysis and psychoanalytical psychotherapy, whose practitioners are strictly monitored by their regulatory bodies. Therapy is a goal-orientated process that usually ceases after a set period. Analysis can last a lifetime, is more general, and more costly. Therapy can provide the treatment required for the emergency situation of chronic depression, whereas someone seeking analysis is likely to be approaching the concept of his or her ‘self’ from a more existential perspective.
The secret is to find help that is beneficial to us and does not hinder our recovery. I found the perfect therapist after asking for recommendations from counseling authorities, universities who held counseling courses, pastoral centers etc. When one name kept coming up, I took the chance and went to see her.
She was the perfect ‘leg up’ to help me out of my depression.
There are three ways to approach your prospective therapist:
First, go in with the idea that you are interviewing them.
Secondly, take a tape in on the first session so you can listen to it later and assess the conversation objectively. If the therapist doesn’t like it, then that’s a warning signal.
Thirdly, take in someone you trust to sit in on the assessment meeting and get them to give you their view later on.
These tactics will sift out the weak therapists and give you a better chance of finding someone who can really get to grips with your issues and take you through some incredible changes. And it can take just a few sessions to really get an overview of where you are going with the therapist. The whole process in itself can leave you feeing better because it is the beginning of change.
What do we want the therapist to do for us?
There are several jobs that we require the therapist to under- take in order to get our money’s worth.
We need the therapist to listen. Many of us have never had the experience of ‘being heard’. By this we mean having someone listen carefully to our exact words and assimilate the essence of what we are saying, in order that they can reflect it back to us – so that we can hear our problem coming out of someone else’s mouth. This allows us to listen to the problem in a way that lets us get a firmer grasp on our concerns. It also gives us an opportunity to put them right when they don’t get it spot on.
Try this out with a friend in order to get an understandingof the power of true reflection. Ask someone to listen to you speak. Tell them what’s on your mind in under two minutes, then ask them to repeat what you have said, and listen to your problems being retold. You will be amazed how this technique takes the heat out of a problem that had otherwise seemed insurmountable.
We need the therapist to offer an objectivity that we can’t find ourselves.
When swamped with a crisis or trauma it is almost impossibleto take an overview of ourselves, as we often feel out of control and buried under a mass of anxiety and fear.
We need to get an indication of our situation without being influenced by our own neurosis.
We often need practical assistance in how we behave. An objective view can help us achieve this. We can make incorrect decisions about how we respond to people and situations when we are traumatized. A good therapist will help us find the right course of action that will leave us intact and will be for our own good. We must ask them to be objective on our behalf in order that we can move forward through the dilemma, outlining the options they can see and helping us weigh them up to a positive outcome.
We need a therapist to comfort us when we feel pain. Many of our problems stem from us running from painful feelings. By trusting a therapist we are allowing another human being to help us face those feelings. When we do arrive at the point where we can feel our feelings, we need support and encouragement to express them, because so many of us are frightened of releasing pain for fear that ‘if we start, we will never stop’.
While feeling pain or grief, we need to know we are not odd; we need to know we are going through a normal procedure of releasing our pain in order to move on; we need to know we are not the only person to whom this is happening. We do not require patronizing while we move along this path, but we do require patience and understanding. The words that will soothe us are those of hope, that no matter what has happened to us we have the capability to survive and can actually create a great life in spite of our losses and our pain.
Why is this? This is because when we grieve for our loss, we grieve for everything we have lost, not just our current loss. The most important loss we can grieve is the loss of our dreams. No matter what or whom we have lost, it is the dream of what could have been that hurts the most. Once we can allow the pain to surface, like the bursting of a dam our grief will also wash away so many smaller losses that have been tucked away and ignored.
Well-managed grief can wash away our losses from years ago, allowing a backlog of pain to be released and for change to take place. This enables us to feel freer than we have ever felt. People often discuss the powerful spiritual experiences they have had after a time of mourning – a closeness with a God, a sense of peace, a contentment they have never had before, a fulfillment in the simple things in life. These experiences have filled many books and are often lost on the rest of us who are still running from the backlog of our life losses. It is vital to find a therapist who can understand the profundity of this journey and who can assist you in yours.
We need a therapist to explain to us what is ‘normal’.
We need to know that there is a pattern of development that we are programmed to go through, that allows us to grow into our full potential. If this development is hindered then we become unhappy. A good therapist can help us by pointing out how far off that course we are, and can suggest ways we need to change our thinking and behavior in order that we can retrace our steps and find our way out of the darkness.
For example, if we have suffered frustration in our career, a therapist would help us to explore what we need in order to feel fulfilled from our work, taking into account our individual circumstances. Likewise, if we suffered neglect as a child, we can learn what is ‘normal’ in terms of what a child needs, and find ways of catching up with ourselves by getting attention in appropriate ways to make up for what we’ve lost. If we do this, we will no longer seek it from others in ways that may be detrimental to us as adults.
Finally, we need a therapist who understands that we must grieve for a given amount of time and then stop. It’s easy to think that we are never going to recover from depression and the grief behind it. In continuing with our grief for longer than is necessary, we re-traumatise ourselves. Some therapists expect a person to be with them for years – something that will serve them well as they have a continuous income stream.
No one, unless they are mentally ill, should need to be with a therapist for more than two years. Some people stay with their therapist for much longer if the therapist allows it, and this can become another dependence. A good therapist will know when we are ready to move on from our grief, and indeed may shove us out of the nest if it appears we are settling down for the long haul. If you are doubtful as to whether or not your therapist can offer these basic services, consider finding someone else.
Unfacilitated groups are self-help groups that run without a facilitator. This means that they are a bit of a free-for-all, but there are some really good sources of help and support amongst them.
The most common of the unfacilitated groups are the 12-Step groups. The 12-Step groups were started by BillW in the 1930’s to help alcoholics stop drinking. All other 12-Step groups are loosely based on the original Alcoholics Anonymous format.
Volunteers, not professionals, run 12-Step groups. People sit in a room, hear some opening readings, and listen to someone sharing their experience. Then the meeting is opened to allow others to share what is on their minds. The steps have been adapted to embrace other forms of compulsive behavior with a view to helping all kinds of people through the recovery programme. The meetings are anonymous and use first names only.
THE ADVANTAGES OF 12-STEP GROUPS ARE:
They are readily available, with a range of meetings in most towns
They cover a broad range of subjects
They are anonymous and use first names only, which ensures a feeling of safety through anonymity
There’s a nonchalance and informality about the problems they are covering and this can be helpful, as it may engender the feeling that we are not alone in our struggle
For many, there’s a feeling of ‘coming home’ when they hear others talking about how they feel
The ‘secrets’ are out in the open and others talk about their sex addiction or cocaine usage as if it’s ordinary; this helps dispel the shame
They are not run by professionals but by ‘people like us’ and so there’s a feeling of belonging
They are all volunteers so there is no financial motive for anyone to be there
People can be very supportive and will offer assistance to help others attend meetings
They are based on donations only and are affordable to anyone
THE LIMITATIONS OF 12-STEP MEETINGS ARE:
They are open-access groups (many people aren’t comfortable with talking openly about their problems!)
There are no facilitators and you have to rely on the structure to create the right environment
A lot of ‘robust’ opinions can be aired, with people wanting to tell you what to do, where to go and what to say – and the loudest voices often dominate
The anonymity is questionable in some groups; I know of a meeting that quadrupled in size in one week because word got around that a celebrity had attended
However you feel about groups, 12-Step meetings can be a fantastic starting point for depression. Identify how you medicate your depression, or what you feel is the main cause of your depression, and go to the appropriate 12-Step meeting. There will be one you will fit into. It is said that when you have attended six meetings in a row, the denial will start to lift and you can better experience your core difficulties.
Here is a brief look at the purpose and limitations of perhaps the most typical 12-Step group, Alcoholics Anonymous:
AA is designed for those who have a drinking problem and wish to give up. The idea is that you attend meetings where you listen to other people’s stories and share your own experience of drinking. Support from other members is encouraged to enable each member to become sober.
It is recommended that a new member attend 90 meetings in 90 days to become sober. The intensity of meetings can then reduce. The success rate is high compared to other methods of treatment for alcoholism.
AA is perfect for those wishing to attend to their drinking problems, but for those wishing to then look at why they began drinking in the first place, e.g. childhood abuse issues, that’s where the help stops. It’s considered ‘inappropriate’ for AA members to discuss childhood abuse in AA meetings.
It is also deemed ‘wrong’ to discuss strong feelings like anger, because the message is that we should ask our ‘higher power’ to take away these feelings rather than embracing them. The 'sponsorship’ program – which encourages members to ask a fellow member to mentor them – can be off-putting, as might team up with a person who is not someone you want to be talking personally with.
These are groups that are run by a professional facilitator. There are thousands of them to be found. They range from groups for sexual abuse survivors, men’s therapy groups, groups for recovering addicts, parenting groups, and groups that focus on recovery from various addictions such as workaholism, overspending, food addiction, sexual addiction etc.
Groups can be found in every area of the community. Doctors’ surgeries offer groups run by nurses for giving up smoking; Christian centers offer groups for assisting a spiritual life-foundation; therapists offer groups for women who struggle in relationships. The list is a long one.
Like the search for a therapist, investigation and recommendation come high on the list when looking fora facilitated group. Having a therapist registered with an ‘esteemed’ organization does not guarantee good service. Ask around, interview the facilitator before going into the group, don’t pay for more than one session at a time and leave if you feel unsafe.
Be aware, though, that we can feel unsafe in any group – we have to try and discern what is our own historic fear and what is bullying in the room.
If you find a group with a proficient facilitator and you feel safe enough to come out of your shell and expose some hidden parts, the compensation will be enormous. This method of self-exploration is the fastest route to becoming whole, as it brings to light parts of you that you are hiding from others.
This is because you are taking the risk of allowing others to comment on a part of you that you assume is shameful. The exciting part is that others don’t see it the way you do and they will give you a positive response. If they come back with shameful criticism, it is because they have struggles within themselves and it is then the facilitator’s job to address that.
Having opened up to this new type of dialogue, you will findit easier to risk something which you feel is even worse and, again, receive help and support on how to deal with that part of yourself in a positive sense. You will experience a sense of liberation as it dawns on you that there is no need to hide these parts of yourself from others. You will feel freer as you get the nod from the group that actually, you’re OK!