The Being Yourself Series, from Make Me A Plan's Wellbeing Expert, Jane Studd

This week, I had an amazingly positive conversation with one of my close friends.  Now that I’ve finished university for the summer, we’ve been meeting up for long walk and talks on Southampton Common and, on our last meet-up, they asked me how they would go about accessing therapy.  While it might seem strange to frame this in a positive light (because if someone feels they need therapy, we automatically assume they’re unhappy, suffering with poor mental health or similar), however, I would argue that seeking out therapy is one of the most positive and caring things we can do for ourselves.  For my friend, it means they finally like themselves enough to know they’re worth helping.  For someone else it could mean they have enough self-awareness to realise that a behaviour they’re engaging in is unhealthy.  Sometimes it can just mean acknowledging that we all have thoughts and feelings that we would benefit talking through with a professional.  Therapy is for everyone and, in my opinion, everyone should try therapy.


So, how DO you access therapy?  Well, there are lots of different routes you can go down, depending on lots of different factors; unfortunately, one of these is budget, but I’m going to cover free and lower cost options too.  Other factors to consider are your current state of mental health, your location, what you hope to gain from the sessions and how much time you can spare.


In the UK, we are incredibly fortunate to be able to access free healthcare, including counselling services, through our amazing NHS.  If there is a specific issue you would like to work through, for example anxiety, depression or a phobia, your GP is always an excellent first port of call.  They will be able to advise you on the services available in your local area and either refer you themselves or give you information on how to self-refer to these services.  It is worth noting that the waiting times for NHS therapy can be long, and this is obviously not ideal if you’re struggling with mental illness, however if you feel able to manage in the meantime, or if you’re unable to access a suitable alternative, you will be seen eventually.  If your mental health deteriorates in the meantime, please don’t suffer in silence; go back to your GP and seek further help.


If you are in education, you may also be able to access therapy through your institution.  My university has an amazing student wellbeing team, who are available 24/7 for anything from a chat if a student is struggling through to onward referrals to the university counselling team.  Again, there is usually a bit of a wait for a course of therapy, but this is usually shorter than the NHS waiting times and there is always the option to return to the wellbeing team for further support in the meantime.  Most universities will have a similar system in place, as well as many schools and colleges.


For those of you who are no longer in education, your workplace may have their own support available through an occupational health team.  Even if you don’t think there is anything formal in place, it can still be worth speaking to your employer to ask if they’re able to offer any assistance.  It’s in your employer’s interest to have happy, healthy employees who are able to work productively, so give it a try even if you don’t feel like the things you want to discuss are work-related. 


The final option for free counselling is to contact one of the many charities who offer these services.  Rather than providing a list here, I’ll just say that the website for the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has a brilliant and extensive list of mental health charities on their website, and I’ll leave the link at the bottom of this article.  If you do choose to go down this route, be aware that different charities provide different support, focussed on different groups of people.  It might be worth contacting a few different charities to see who is the best fit for you. 


If your budget extends to it, the quickest and easiest way of accessing therapy is going to be to pay for it.  How much you’ll pay will vary greatly, depending on your location and which therapist you choose, but prices usually start at around £40 per hour and some therapists will offer a means-tested reduction for people on a lower income.  Although it can be pricey, private counselling means you can have as many appointments as you and your therapist think you need, and these can be as frequent as you like or can afford.  If you do choose to go for private counselling, make sure you choose a practitioner who is registered with the BACP.  Unfortunately, anyone can start a business offering counselling services, so by ensuring your therapist is registered with a professional body, you’re making sure you receive the best possible care.  Again, the BACP website is your go-to; they have a therapist directory where you can search by location and specialism, to find the right person to help you.


If I’ve inspired you to start your own therapy journey then congratulations!  I’m so excited that you’re on your way to becoming a happier, healthier version of yourself.  If you feel like therapy’s not for you right now, that’s OK too.  I hope that, if one day you decide it is the right time, one of the resources I’ve mentioned can help you.  If someone you know is wondering whether therapy is right for them, hopefully I’ve provided some information that can help you point them in the right direction.  


British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy: https://www.bacp.co.uk/


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