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My journey to therapy and why being outdoors has added benefits - a guest blog

This blog was written by a person who undertook therapy with a different counsellor. A friend of mine, named Holly.

Summer storms are kind of unique. Those times when you get caught with no umbrella, or can watch lightning and the lashing rain from the dark of a duvet cover.

One of those moments happened the other day, as I emerged from a health centre. I chose to run back to the car, rather than wait it out - and what happened? I laughed all the way there. The sense of fun and freedom was palpable.

I’ve got two more moments to share - but first, I’d like to tell you about my journey to therapy.

Sometimes it’s really hard to know the right path to take in life. We’re complex beings, each with totally unique experiences - and when your mental health seems to be giving you challenges, how can you start to solve it?

In my 38 years, I’ve had several tough moments. When I was a teen, frustrating feelings and difficult situations occasionally caused me to self harm. I didn’t really know why, or what it was. What I did know was there were feelings of depression that I didn’t have the skills to deal with.

I was 29 when I first reached out for help. Again, a situation in life - this time work related - meant I didn’t really know what to do. What I’d realised, though, was that I was avoiding the socialising I would normally do, because of my anxiety.

Fast forward to now, and as an expectant mother, I have a new set of concerns and potential challenges. But instead of it feeling overwhelming, I’ve got some counselling and CBT to draw on. Points of reflection, observations from my counsellor, hover in my mind like guiding lights - bright, steady, reliable mental notes, like stars in the sky.

When you think about everything you handle on a daily basis, from practical problems that need solving, the churn of work and doing things at home, to the complexities of your relationships - well, it’s a lot. Your mind is working constantly. But much of the time, you’re on auto-pilot.

And in my experience of mental health challenges, the solutions I came up with weren’t right. I didn’t know why that was, of course - until I spoke to a professional, and learned more about what my mind was doing.

One way that counselling helped me was in its neutral setting. All of those challenges of daily life - they were on hold for an hour. I could reflect on them, with the distance that was needed.

Could I have solved my mental health myself?

Everyone loves the beach, don’t they? With the calming sound of the sea, games to play, and a chance to relax. One time recently though, in a bikini with a big pregnant belly, I had a self-conscious moment on the waterline. My feelings came to the surface, and I felt sad.

The next day though, the connection I made with the place gave me a new sense of peace. Being in a calm, natural setting let me reflect on things at my own pace. My thoughts slowed down - and I was feeling, as well as thinking.

If you’re considering taking the first step, you may be reassured to hear my experience of integrative counselling. I found my therapist guided me to see things going on in my life. I felt empowered to know myself better, without feeling judged. The solution was in our discussion, not in their assessment (or my own work, or ideas). And that was possible in a few sessions.

Each of us considering counselling is unique, meaning that one size certainly doesn’t fit all. Acknowledging and respecting your lived experience is crucial. But this is exactly what counsellors are trained to do.

I’ve mentioned the anxiety I’ve experienced, but I’ve also got to know there are other things going on in my mind which give rise to challenges. And these aspects are harder to reach; for me, they don’t seem solvable through CBT, or self-help methods.

However, simply observing moments in my life, and my feelings, is what I take to a session with my counsellor. The times on the beach were just one of these.

Getting an outside perspective

It took me a while, after years of not meeting my own physical expectations, to realise that walking is exercise. I probably understood this after a tough climb up and down a mountain in Derbyshire. We had an adventure on Kinder Scout - with mixed weather, and failed by our phone batteries - but by the end, I’d moved my body, and felt strong and refreshed for it.

The benefits of any form of exercise for mental health are now well known. It can boost your mood and energy. It sort of simplifies life, for that short while.

And being outside strips away another layer of muddle for you.

There’s even a theory that goes: when you’re walking, you’re expressing your independence, as you did when you first learnt to do it. I certainly feel like my oppressive (and indistinct) worry is lifted when I’m on the move. So I think talking to a therapist while walking would help me get to the issues quicker.

I found it was possible to get a fresh perspective, and a sense of progress, from the first moment of sharing. It can feel heavy at the time, as well as painful - surprisingly so. But if you’re considering it, I think connecting with your mental health in nature is one of the best ways to start.

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