There are varying levels of depression. Some people can be too depressed for counselling to be effective, (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Psychotherapy) and these clients are usually referred on to a Psychiatrist for help. Some people need anti-depressants to pull them out of their severe depression before they are able to respond well to counselling for depression. Having said that, these clients tend to be in the minority and counselling helps fight against depression in the majority of cases.
Improve Activity Levels
One of the first things counsellors look at, is the client’s current activity levels. Severely depressed clients may find it hard to get out of bed or attend to their self care. They may not shower or bath regularly or brush their teeth. Depression can be extremely debilitating and even taking a shower can be too much effort. Other clients have low grade depression- they are able to still function relatively well but don’t feel happy and find little joy in things they used to find pleasurable. Depression affects people very differently and it’s a counsellor’s job to figure out the severity.
One of the best ways to fight against depression is to do more. If you only wake up at 2pm every day, we can try to shift that to, say midday…small steps are used to re-introduce activities. Often, when we are depressed, we tend to isolate ourselves and withdraw. We don’t want to be a burden to those around us and we end up hibernating until (hopefully) feel better. This is the worst thing you can do when you are depressed. Being alone with your depressive thoughts is not conducive to feeling happier soon.
If you are depressed, increasing your activity levels by going for a walk or attending so self care is a good start.
Shift negative thinking
Depressed people tend to see the world through a negative filter. They find it hard to see the positives (or even see life neutrally) and feel as if there is no hope. Counselling helps you to see how your thoughts are negative and helps you to consider alternative ways of looking at the world. If for example, a depressed client told me that they felt useless and worthless, there are many ways to tackle this:
We could look at where these beliefs came from and slowly challenge that thinking by looking for evidence of how true that is. Often, old beliefs stay strong even when they are no longer relevant. Negative beliefs about ourselves often come from our parents or another authoritative figure in our lives when we were younger. Because we didn’t know any better, we accepted their assessment of us as true. We can’t change the past but we can update our beliefs about the past.
Counselling helps you to see that early messages are often untrue. Very little in life is that black and white. Imagine that your parent called you “stupid” regularly. You might grow up believing your are stupid…counselling shines a light on that and looks for examples where you haven’t acted in a stupid way. There will always be exceptions that prove the label “stupid” is not fact, merely an opinion. Trace that back even further and there will usually be a reason as to why a parent is mean or negative in this way – possibly due to faults in their own upbringing. Once you begin examining the source, you will begin to realise that you have many characteristics that make you a whole person, and you will be free from the narrowly defined labels your caregivers carelessly gave you..
Counselling helps you to focus on your strengths too, not just your perceived weaknesses and it can do wonders for your self esteem and confidence.
Counsellors use various interventions to challenge negative thinking – pie charts, continuums, psycho-education on errors in thinking , behavioural experiments and so on. Every person is unique and an effective therapist will tailor the counselling strategy to your specific needs.
Counselling offers hope
Having someone to talk to who has your best interests at heart and who isn’t judgmental can be ahuge relief for someone suffering from depression. Depressed people are often very self critical and counselling helps show how unhelpful it is to be self critical. Self compassion is a good way to counteract the negative effects of depression and having an outlet where you can talk to someone can be a huge relief for many who feel they can’t talk to their friends or family.
Counselling provides many key skills that you can learn and keep with you for your lifetime to help you resist depression in the future. Our job as a counsellors it to make our clients become their own therapists. We want our clients to know what to do to keep themselves strong and not fall back into the pit of despair that depression brings.
Counselling doesn’t work for everyone but for the majority, learning new ways to look at problems, developing confidence in your own abilities to problem solve and understanding your triggers that predispose you to depression helps many to reduce depression. When we are dperessed we get stuck in unhelpful patterns and it often takes a neutral observer to help us see the patterns in a new light and make changes for the better.
I found counselling immensely helpful when I was depressed. I enjoyed having someone to talk to as it helped me feel less alone. I began to challenge my thinking and see myself in a more compassionate way. I can still be very self critical and my parent’s criticisms often come back to haunt me but I am better able to dismiss them now. I tend to dwell less on negative thoughts and use various strategies to ‘ground myself.
Grounding techniques and methods of relaxation (such as progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness) have helped me too. I used to believe what my parents had said to me repeatedly and had never thought to challenge their attitudes or analyse what they said. I just accepted it.
I have had to work hard on my self confidence but I have definitely make good progress. My mother, on the other hand, turned to alcohol to self soothe – never a good idea!
So, if you are depressed and considering counselling, I urge you to give it a go. You have nothing to lose and you might find that you gain an incredible amount.