Thursday, 2 May 2019

The CBT Diaries Week One

I have always had a love / hate relationship with counselling. I've seen counselling work wonders with family and friends. I've also seen counselling be an off putting, negative, one size fits all experience. I love a self help book. I love inspirational people that can help you change your life. Prior to my GP self referral for counselling, I had an over the phone CBT session which I was very lucky to be able to access which gave me a few useful CBT techniques to use but then also said I should meditate and use apps such as Headspace which I just can't get along with. Recently, I decided to give counselling another crack to try and get to grips with my panic attacks, anxiety & depression. 

I spoke to my GP, and I was given a leaflet on how to self refer to the local counselling services and was told to expect a long wait. Initially I called and the office was shut, so e-mailed and didn't hear anything back, which sent my anxiety levels sky high as when I am in a not so positive place, making telephone calls take a lot of pep talking to even dial the number, then once I hear the call tone, my heart pounds through my chest. I called up the line again, and got through to a lovely woman. She asked me to confirm personal details, then went through a questionnaire about my mental health. The questions were not judgemental, some were scores from 1 to 10 and others asked for a quick summary of how I was feeling, symptoms, situations I've been in etc. At the end of the call, she asked me whether I'd like a face to face, or telephone appointment. I opted for a telephone call, and I was booked in for two weeks time for my next assessment  The call came, and I had a similar phone call to the one above, but with a few more detailed questions. I was offered cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) or counselling, both 1:1 sessions and after discussing the benefits of each, I opted for CBT. During this call you have to give your availability for the sessions between Monday - Friday, normal office hours. I was told to expect a wait time of around six weeks, however the very next day I had a phone call offering me a slot that week on Thursday. I was shocked as obviously I was not expecting such a quick turnaround but the timing couldn't be more perfect.

  The week seemed to whizz by with the upcoming appointment. During the morning, I visited my Nan, which distracted me from my uncertainty nerves, which were demonstrating themselves through the odd shaky hand, tight chest and dizziness. I made my way to the town where the appointment was booked, giving myself plenty of time to find the building (near my old cringe-worthy, sticky floored, 3 WKDs for a fiver club - perfect!) I ended up being too early, and waiting in the seating area, which was small, had no reception and a lot of leaflets, magazines to cast yours eyes over whilst you waited. 

My therapist Danielle* came down the stairs, introduced herself and we went up to the room - a creamy beige colour, with a few floral artworks, and a bright turquoise chair in the corner. 

First port of call was an introduction to the services Danielle could offer - she gave me the option of CBT or counselling, an outline of how many sessions roughly I would be offered (5 as standard but up to 8 with the option of extending if necessary) and asked if I had counselling before and I explained I'd had one CBT over the phone sessions, and counselling 1:1 about fifteen years ago. She also asked if it was okay in the future to film sessions so she could use them for her development purposes with her trainer - she made it clear that there was no obligation to say yes or no and it was entirely my choice. I opted for yes, as it didn't matter to me whether the session was recorded, and I was told if at any point I changed my mind, it wouldn't be a problem. 

Next, the questionnaire, a regular feature of sessions to come. On a scale of 0 to 3 you have to state whether you've had certain feelings or thoughts agreeing with the statements as not at all, some days, several days, every day. These include 'feeling low or worthless' and 'not sleeping properly'. One side of the questionnaire is for depression and one for anxiety.
I scored 12 for anxiety and 12 for depression - which didn't help much in distinguishing which we would tackle! It did however show that from my initial phone call, my symptoms and scores had shown an improvement which was a good sign. I explained I felt that knowing how lucky I was to secure this appointment so quickly, alongside the little bit of structure it gave my week I think had helped with the symptoms compared to Monday's phone call score.  Note: As part of this diary series, I want to share as much as I feel comfortable with, and sharing the scores I feel is a positive way for me to compare each post and session and to also show the ups and downs of the week leading up to each session ... please don't worry if it is high, low or if you are going through a similar experience, think that my scores mean anything to your situation. Everyone is different and that's okay. 

Anyway back to the appointment - Danielle asked me a series of questions, ranging from what my current problems are, how I'm feeling to did I have a good childhood, who is around me for support and are there any incidents in my life that I can think of to discuss with her. The questions ended up spiralling off down a road of forgotten friends, chapters in my life I'd shut off (not particularly bad or good - just neutral) She asked about what I liked to do for fun, what hobbies I enjoy and have enjoyed throughout my life. One factor that made me instantly feel comfortable in her presence was when I explained a situation, instead of taking a stood back approach, Danielle actually gave her take on my situations. I completely valued someone saying it as it is which I did not expect in the slightest. Prior to the appointment, I'd worried endlessly about what I was going to say but I felt the words tumble out of my mouth so easily. 

The hour soon came to an end; I was sent off with a sheet of homework to complete - a mood diary for the week. And that was that - week one check

I'll be keeping a weekly diary of each session - I can't promise how much I will and won't share, but I hope it helps and if you are wondering about reaching out, whether it be to a friend, counsellor or even a helpline - do it. I feel strangely positive about the experience so far - even with my highly sceptic, high standard expectations! 

Any questions, comments or suggestions feel free to e-mail/tweet or contact me! 

Further resources: 
Making Sense of CBT by Mind (I wish I'd read this pre-writing this post!) 

*Changed name for privacy reasons. 

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