What’s therapy got to do with it?

It can be hard to reach out for help when you are feeling down. I avoided therapy until I was 47, even though I knew I could probably benefit. Looking back, I wonder why I waited so long. The chance to talk about your self for an hour in a situation where someone has to listen sympathetically is amazingly… well, therapeudic. I’m a huge fan of therapy now and tell everyone to go, but I have noticed that some people get really uncomfortable when I suggest it, particularly men. Therefore I would like to thank Alex for sending in this post.

Alex Hubert graduated from the University of Kent with an MPhys in 2014. He then decided with what he described as ‘overwhelming naivety’ to take on the challenge of a PhD Warwick University. He is hoping to submit this year. He loves giving presentations, both scientific and non-scientific and is a frequent speaker at the Warwick physics postgraduate seminar series. Currently, I he is writing a series of talks on wellbeing using stories from is own life. You can find out more about Alex on his website.

Often, I have heard the phrase, “Physicists aren’t human”. Said in jest about an awkward social encounter, or unpopular interest. I know why it is said. It is supposed to raise up the physicist, to say in a comedic fashion ‘we don’t need to be human, we don’t need deep relationships. We have our deep connection with physics and that is enough’. It is something I believed for a long time. To the mental health of a physicist it is an incredibly dangerous idea.

I entered counselling when I was 18. I had absolutely no idea what it was for and how it would help me. All I knew is that counselling was the place people went to when they felt like the world was too much to continue functioning as a human being. When emotions became too much. It was the place where humans entered feeling rubbish, and left feeling great. It turns out instead of knowing very little about counselling, I knew absolutely nothing about it.

I am still in counselling (I’m 27 now). It has done more for my PhD than any lecture course, more than any supportive friendship, even more than my supervisor (but don’t tell him that!). At 23, a year into my PhD, I had something akin to Serotonin Syndrome. It left me couch bound unable to set foot outside without an onslaught of an A4 page list of anxiety and panic symptoms. At one point even the act of eating would set off the anxiety. I did use counselling to get better, but that is a story for another day. I now stand near the end of my PhD, a published physicist, my thesis written and submitted. I learnt that counselling wasn’t a treatment at all. It was an education. An emotional one.

And even though I am a physicist, and I practice physics, I am a human being doing it. With my human brain and my human emotions driving it. All aspects in my PhD have a psychology to it, from using anxiety to help check all the possible things that could go wrong with an experiment, to the excitement and happiness associated with a new understanding. All these emotions run behind the scenes at each of our desks, driving our work and more importantly our relationships. And the vast majority of us have absolutely no formal education in them, other than what our parents picked up from their parents and so on.

I am still in counselling not because I feel low or frustrated, or any of the other possible traditional reasons. I am very content with my life and ‘happy’. I am still in counselling to continue my education. The more I understand how others see the world and how I relate to them, the greater number of connections I can make, the more contented I feel.

In our specialist, career orientated culture we isolate ourselves from subjects and people we do not know. We give ourselves a name and stick with it for the rest of our lives, we feel safe, powerful even. But not content. We feel alone.

I am not just a physicist; I am much more than that.

Thanks for sharing Alex: Does anyone else want to bravely share their stories of therapy? My feeling is, the more we talk about it, the more we normalise it and that can only be a good thing.

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5 thoughts on “What’s therapy got to do with it?

  1. Sarah says:

    As part of my training as a careers (guidance) practitioner, I had to undergo a program of individual counselling. Beforehand I wondered what I would talk about – I was happy and enjoying life both personally and professionally – I didn’t have a ‘problem’ I could identify to discuss during the meetings. Let’s just say there was plenty to explore, the experience changed the way I saw myself and others, and ultimately made me a better person. I agree with Alex, it was an ‘education’, and changed the way I (and others with whom I have shared my experience with) see the ‘opportunity’ of Therapy ….

  2. Shari Walsh says:

    Thanks for this post and the intro. Sharing stories of attending therapy helps others who are scared or concerned about commencing.
    I’m a therapist and also attend therapy for myself and have for many years. I think it is important to view therapy as a way to increase our self-understanding, particularly with respect to how we navigate difficulties in our life, and to build skills which enhance our life rather than solely as a way to fix problems. Therapy is an invaluable adjunct to my world and, hopefully, to my clients as well.

  3. Victoria Lister says:

    I’ve accessed counsellors on and off throughout my life since I was 26 and continue to do so. I agree with Shari – it’s a process of self-understanding as much as a reaching out when things go pear-shaped. The examined life is definitely one worth living and, coupled with a long-time dedication to understanding life from a philosophical perspective, has lead to deep personal evolution. And this, ultimately, is about increasing one’s capacity to serve and enrich others and humanity. What else is life about?

  4. ozzietassie says:

    It took me 5 years post PhD, plus bully induced anxiety to start counselling again…in retrospect I should have started during my PhD…..but I thought I was invincible. Even though I have now dealt with most stuff, I still go bsck every 2 or 3 weeks for what term a “brain dump and retune.”. My GP encourages this as it helps my physical health.

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