View from the Couch

couch2What are the issues as churches that we need to be addressing? How have our worries changed – and who do we go for answers and help? In many cases, therapists are the new priests – and what we talk about on the couch is what we also carry into our pews. From relationship breakdown and body dysmorphia to male stress, internet porn addiction to domestic overload, here’s what therapists (interviewed in The Guardian newspaper), describe as the big issues in their practice:

‘The fundamental issue is always, ‘who am I?  How can I be in the world? The questions people used to take to the priest and the wise woman: self, relationship, existence.  It’s the content that people hang it on that changes…

At the moment, I’m seeing sex and sexuality from young people, often in their 20s…It’s immensely sad.  There’s a lot more depression, anxiety and general unhappiness than people of that age group used to suffer. ..My generation – I’m 47 – would talk about hard work and compromise and mutual agreements, but this generation has a strong sense of entitlement.  They are much more comfortable talking about I – I need, I feel, I deserve – but struggle talking about we.’

Helen Rowland, psychotherapist

‘I do get a lot of people with body dysmorphic condition…and it’s not just about dieting and size…and it’s not just younger women. There’s a huge pressure on everyone to look a certain way and  it’s coming from everywhere…Internet culture is coming up a lot. One concern is what I call a ‘culture of watchfulness’…the distress people can feel when they become addicted to watching their ex during relationship breakdown…It used to be that the effort of leaving your house and driving past your ex’s would stop you, but now it’s too easy and people can’t help themselves’

Jenny Halston, psychotherapist.

‘What I see is an awful lot of anxiety and feeling stuck.  I hear it over and over again: couples feeling that they can’t make a decision, feeling to anxious to take risks and clinging on to things, which leads to a lot of avoidance.  There’s an economic term, ‘radical uncertainty’, that you can see emerging in people’s daily lives. They are talking a lot more about money than before.  I’m seeing ..middle-aged people, whose careers haven’t been straightforward, who have been used to choices – suddenly realising that their future is very uncertain. So there’s a lot of trying to shore up something that is unsatisfactory’

Susanna Abse, psychotherapist

‘Nearly everyone I see has a relationship problem, including not having one…I specialise in male vulnerability .. .and it’s the voices that tell you what you should do, rather than those that tell you what you shouldn’t do, that are the most pernicious…Many men don’t realise that they carry in their minds and hearts very rigid notions of what they should be’

Andrew Samuels, Jungian analyst and psychotherapist

‘I see people of all ages, three-quarters of them women.  At the moment, there’s a lot about anxiety, self-esteem/doubt and shame – people questioning themselves, feeling socially anxious and worrying about things such as identity and class and appearance.  And there are existential crises: who am I? What am I doing in life?…There’s a feeling that life is difficult and complex, that it isn’t working out.  Interestingly, these feelings are not to do with the economy, but with expectations and social pressure: what they really want in life versus what they feel is expected of them.  Our internal world is often in conflict with the world we occupy with others and society’.

Rebecca Woods, counsellor and psychotherapist

‘The number of clients using medication for depression and anxiety is much higher than it was 20 years ago.  A lot of doctors are misdiagnosing.  A young woman whose father has died is grieving because of the horrendous experience.  She’s not depressed’.

Leilani Mitchell, transactional analyst

‘I use the theory of the boiling frog to explain the stress.  If you put a frog in hot water, it will jump out.  Put it in tepid water and slowly turn up the heat, however, and it will stay there. Stress is incremental and clients have become acclimatised.  It’s the body that calls a halt to the situation.  There’s so much adrenalin that you have panic attacks, or get weepy, or can’t sleep.  It’s a red warning light that you’re in a dangerous situation…Many clients present with almost identical symptoms and fears.  Everything that used to feel comfortable doesn’t any more, such as socialising, shopping, driving, going to work.  Your brain associates that as a threat, and people feel they are going crazy.’

Nicola Blunden, psychotherapist.


4 thoughts on “View from the Couch

  1. Thanks for this Emma, really interesting. I tihnk this might help us a lot in reaching out to students on London university campuses – i’ve shared it with the CU leaders I work with!

  2. Hi, we should , as Christians be in the vanguard with all this stuff of analysis. Afterall we have One who knows and represents us at our worst and hence it can be brought constructively to our awareness ie all those things that can be holding us back. The trouble is the more i become aware of internal logjams, the bigger the heap i discover. Thankfully we are not people who ‘have to get it all right on the night’ and we can therefore stumble and faulter with ease. I no i do. In fact i think the only answer is to be a bit clownish. I think that there is a very Christian way of fooling about, the trouble is I am not sure it would go down to well in strait laced, stiff upper lipped culture of home (England). I think life is too short not to be lived slightly eccentrically or crazily and i that respect the opinions of others does not matter too hoots. I think Christ is with me on this although i expect a bit of a backlash here. It is all very hard to put into words expect to say that we are given to be theatrical in so many situations other than the theatre! It is great to know one is being oneself but with help ie not unaided, hence sometimes i feel carried along with the joy of the ‘performance’. So i would say, like i do (!), turn the weaknesses or vulnerabilities around into well, artfulness. That is what art is there for, not just stuffy stuff on walls! Strut your stuff. Or have i been watching too many comics etc, and trying to instil in myself a media enchanced image of myself? I dont think so, i am developing fun and joy and trying to enhance often deadish social situations. Life can be routine and boring enought without this imagination.

  3. .(2)…Sorry, may i just add, in my case, although i have been labelled lots of things i have, thankfully remained very strong in the stressful situations i am going through. I really object to the unnecessary feeding of the therapy industry . It used to be over-perscription (drugs), now we get over-therapized. For a really wholesome view for those like myself who get troubled but not suffering a pathology, may i suggest Dr Bruce Wauchope and some of his videos, including ‘The Gospel and Mental health’. I couldnt caution people enough, otherwise with all the complaints and problems out there, having a therapist will become mandatory! I hope Christians at least, can step back and unsheep like, not fall into all this modern madness. For example, poor communicators get labelled autistic because it is fashionable and current; those without lots of friends, get cornered with psychopath; those a bit different get labelled psyco or mentalist. This situation is in direct confrontation with our Creator, for he made us peculiarily different. I dont want to meet my clone, i want to be amazed by strangeness of the other person. We really are in danger of eventually doing away with uniqueness and even throwing Christ away with the bath water as well. God help us. Maybe i shall have to write a book for the majority of us, the worried well, called just that, ‘The worried well’. On the other hand if it is by and large life skills which we are short of, why , for heaven’s sake dont we undermedicalize and call it life-skills?

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