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Psychotherapy, Counselling and Other Therapies

Sixty years ago in Britain some women who had children out of wedlock were incarcerated in mental institutions - the reasoning being that they must have been mad to get pregnant in such circumstances. Many women spent three and more decades behind bars for actions which today would be considered normal. Likewise, masturbation was once a certifiable offence. We have no way of knowing what judgements will be made in the future of the parameters we now apply to 'sanity' and 'madness' but it is quite likely that for some reason it will considered in some respects to have been 'wrong'. Society tends to make rules and define 'normal' behaviour, or else how could we operate?

But in this, many people get left out of the mainstream because they cannot conform to the rules laid down. Unusual behaviour might be considered mildly eccentric, or out-and-out mad, but who makes the rules? And are they sane? Conformity is a strait-jacket we are all forced to wear, but let us not tie the ribbons so tight that we squeeze all life out of ourselves. There's nothing wrong with seeking help with this life. It is not an indication of failure, rather an indication that you are conscious and want to improve your emotional well-being - which is a responsible, adult, sensible thing to do. The question is, where to go for help?

Psychiatrists are doctors who have been further trained in mental illness and the emotional aspects of life and they can either take a more genetic/ biochemical approach or a psychoanalytical one - seeing the source of problems as more to do with environmental factors, like family relationships etc. Psychiatrists can prescribe drugs. Psychoanalysis started with Freud, and they're the ones who sit in silence as the client lies on the couch recounting their dreams and remembering their past.

Key words in psychoanalysis are the Oedipus complex, the id, ego and superego, and a course of treatment can go on for years. There are many different kinds of psychologists, like child psychologists, industrial psychologists, clinical psychologists and so on. Carl Jung was a psychologist as much as a psychoanalyst, and took the view that inner mental forces are as much to do with intellectual and spiritual factors, as to do with sexual ones (which is where he drifted from Freud).

Although some psychologists are medical doctors and others have been through long training , there is nothing in British Law to stop opening an office and calling themselves a psychologist. Psychotherapists may only see a person a few times and give counselling - advice and psychological support - or they may see a patient for years and give classic psychoanalysis. It all depends on the particular psychotherapist and the requirements of the client. Psychotherapy can be on a one-to-one basis, or involve couples or the whole family. I'd recommend family therapy for any family in which one or more members seems to be having trouble with life. It's surprising what comes out, but it does take a lot of commitment from all sides. Couples also benefit enormously from therapy, and it's well worth trying if the relationship isn't going well.

One-to-one therapy, however, can sometimes be problematic in that the client can say whatever they want and there's nobody else there to put another perspective. This is especially likely in post-trauma stress. I recently spoke to one woman, for example, who was in therapy and who, because her records had been subpoenaed for a court case ( in which she was the innocent party - but let's not talk about insurance companies and the legal system!), was allowed to see what had been written about her.

She was surprised to discover that she had been making things up. I asked her why she did it - 'to please the psychoanalyst', she said, and also it was a self-protective mechanism - if she made up these stories, she wouldn't have to spend time on the things which were true but too painful to discuss. The point is, how is the analyst supposed to know the difference between the truth and lies? In the records, it was obvious he had taken all she said  at face value - and then assessed her personality on the basis of that!

Another problem with therapy is that it is rather difficult to get referred by your doctor until you are in serious trouble - you might get an appointment with a specialist in aggression, for example, but only after you've killed someone! Places are in short supply. At least, they are if you don't want to pay. If you have not yet gone 'over the hill', so to speak, and just want some general help in sorting yourself out, the doctor is unlikely to be able to help - you must find your own solution, and there is plenty of choice.

Aside from one-to-one therapy, and group therapy, there is dance therapy, art therapy, music therapy, singing therapy, anger therapy, behavioural therapy, grief counselling, rape-victim groups, sexual abuse-victim groups, and 'the wounded male' groups amongst others. Look around and try to identify which type of therapy might be right for you. Many people have started their own groups with people who have had similar experiences, for example, there are groups for people who have had a child die of cancer, or who have a particular physical illness.

It will take some homework to find the right group and the way to approach this, I think, is to say to yourself, 'I'm going to make a phone call a day', and carry on until you get through the labyrinth of information to a place that seems right for you. There are several reference books which list organizations and they can be found in large libraries.

It might be simpler to start your own group - put an advert in the paper and see who comes forward. Aromatherapy is being increasingly used in the therapy and counselling situation and specific advice on this is given later.

Reference: The Fragrant Mind: Valerie Ann Worwood

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