Friday, 11 June 2010

Is Counselling our Replacement for Religion?

No one can fail to notice that whenever we have a tragedy, such as happened in Cumbria, it is reported that counselling is freely available to all.

This morning I was watching the news and the college, from which the 3 students who were tragically killed in a road accident in South Africa, is providing counselling for all other students.

Do we need, in such circumstances, busloads of professional counsellors immediately on the scene?

In my experience any tragedy has left me dumb, both in mind and spirit, for a varying number of weeks. That appears to be the usual human reaction of the grieving process. Would it have been of any help to me to have spoken to a professional counsellor/psychotherapist within hours of the event? Not in my case because I wouldn't have been able to express my feelings coherently. For me my friends were my anchors and listened at any time of the day or night to my ramblings.

When I was young there were no counsellors available because family and friends took on the role. Even though someone didn't belong to any particular church, the minister would appear to offer his condolences and words of comfort in cases of bereavement or serious illness. Although their visits were seldom appreciated at the time, with hindsight their presence did offer a certain status to the grief suffered. It seemed to be the seal of approval for crying, moaning and all the other human reactions to grief.

I'm not suggesting there is no place for counselling in our society because of course there is. Many people require such services and NHS provision is sparse. Psychotherapy and psychiatric services are stretched well beyond their limits and these services can offer a great deal to some.

But is it really necessary to set up counselling services after every tragedy? I've been trying to find out how many people attend such events but no numbers are available. Maybe these professionals do replace the minister/vicar/ priest from years gone by but, if I remember correctly the religious representatives when I was young, had the good sense to leave the grief-stricken for a few days before they made any approach.

Are these counselling services we hear of today the 'politically correct' approach to supposedly helping the bereaved or are they a replacement for family and friends who feel they can no longer cope with a friend or family member(s) who is seriously distressed? A bit of both maybe.


Witterings From Witney said...

Oh God SR, have we really lost the ability to handle the 'down-side' of our own lives?

Councillors should be one of the first section of public sector workers to get the famed P45 - or a bullet!

Mr. Mxyzptlk said...


Seems to me their is lack of ritual towards bereavement in society today.
Leaving many without a way to come to terms with their natural grieving
and so they turn to counseling.

subrosa said...

My feelings too WFF, but have you noticed how often 'counselling has been organised' for every tragedy today?

subrosa said...

Niko, I think you're right there. Grieving is a process and as I say, sticking professional counsellors into a situation within hours does nothing to help.

In fact it could well hinder.

Witterings From Witney said...

Yup SR and the one section of society that should have received counselling is the British people for having had to put up with the collection of lying, deceitful, dishonourable, thieving b'tards in both House of Parliament!

subrosa said...

Once upon a time it was the media which took on that role WFW, but nowadays I think it's the blogosphere. But of course it doesn't make money like the 'counselling' services -some which I find rather wanting.

Shug Niggurath said...

When we see 'counselling' offered on the back of storylines in soap operas it should ring enough alarm bells to tell us that an industry of charlatans is making money they don't deserve.

That scumbag Derek Draper is one FFS!

Anonymous said...

Different people require different help in tragic circumstances. Different p[eople see different things as tragic.

Most people need to unburden themselves in some way, but most people don't really have anyone they can do this with. Oh yes people have their family, mates, bosses, HR managers, even ministers or priests or rabbis or mullahs. But many people can’t really talk to them. Not and tell the truth. “I’m fine” they say and don’t mean it at all.

Shock is a serious physical and mental thing.

Some need a stranger; someone they can cry in front of; someone they need never see again. Boys and men more than women (though of course that’s not PC). But boys perhaps more than girls have an old fashioned notion that they have to be strong and hard and that it’s sissy to cry. Of course mainly that’s British boys and men. Many continentals don’t seem to have been brought up with that stupid idea that just because you cry you aren’t a man.

Some people of course are above all that and don’t need anyone. They get on with their grief somehow and do it without any help from anyone.

Like me. I’ve never talked to anyone about anything personal in my life. But so many things now haunt me, and maybe I’d have been better to get them out of my system when they happened. I never can now. I always thought I was above all that nonsense... and I wasn’t.


But I’ll never criticise anyone for needing emotional help from another human. Never.

Hythlodaeus said...

Death can affect everyone differently.

After a family death some time ago, I suffered two nervous breakdowns and went through 6 months of psychotherapy. My sister suffered no consequences at all.

Could that have been prevented by counselling? Maybe. I have no idea, but after everything I went though I think it's money well spent to ensure that others don't have to.

Certainly, as an atheist, I didn't have religion to turn to.

Joseph Takagi said...

Complicated subject but...

The main problem after such events is that people can suffer from psychological trauma. It's not so much about the event, but about the person (there are certain physical aspects to the size of the cortex of people who are more likely to suffer). In effect, their mind will keep trying to deal with it, but be unable to do so, and they will suffer from stress, depression, exhaustion and so forth.

What counselling can do is to help them to rationalise the event or to deal with their emotions about the event and allow them to move on with their lives.

The numbers are quite low after such an event. I think it's somewhere around 5%. And the thing is that in the past, we actually didn't help to deal with such people. We had soldiers coming back from war with this (known as shell shock) and they would suffer for years.

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

SR - you point out that information about this is sparse. If it were a successful strategy - don't you think it would be trumpeted far more from the rooftops by the overstuffed PR departments of our state organs?

WFW An inner city GP of my acquaintance is really rather pissed off about being expected to treat people whose lives aren't working out as they planned / expected and they're suffering from "unhappiness" = Prozac - sheesh - what to do?

Is counselling effective treatment? - Really, I think we should be told. Mental trauma is real and has serious consequences as another here has volunteered - but is counselling a real treatment for it - or just the trendy non-job that it sometimes gets accused of being? Evidence please - I'm not convinced.

Shit happens, Life goes on - You remember - I don't recall hearing that "they'd" come up with a cure for any of those three facts - in film land they do though - just think if the flashy pen memory erasers in Men in Black were real eh? (No doubt on the Labour Party technogadget wish list)

JuliaM said...

"When I was young there were no counsellors available because family and friends took on the role."

The scriptwriters of 'Crocodile Dundee' pinned this one, back in 1986, when the NYC people are gabbing about the relative merits of their psychiatrists: "Haven't you got any mates to talk to?"

Anonymous said...

It is only public bodies which offer counselling - automatically.
There is a very good reason for that.
If they don't , there is no mitigation if they are subsequently sued over the original event.
For 'counselling' read 'mitigating our liability for the distress caused'.
Sorry to be so cynical, but they couldn't give a monkey's whether the counselling is effective or not, so long as they have provided it.

subrosa said...

I was going to mention him in the post Shug but thought I'd give him a break. :)

subrosa said...

Tris, how did people cope before we had an army of counsellors? Has having an army of them helped many?

The point of my post is that counselling services are being offered immediately a tragedy happens. I don't think that's on any benefit to anyone. The majority of people are in no state to discuss how they feel at that point and I'd go as far as saying nobody is in a position to know who they feel because, as you saw, shock sets in first.

Let me tell you Tris, it's never too late to discuss anything with a good therapist.

I'm not criticising anyone for needing emotional help, I'm criticising the timing of the help.

subrosa said...

If you find the right counsellor Hythlodaeus then it is money well spent. I just don't feel counselling is effective immediately after a bereavement. The shock/ consequences etc need to subside a little to allow the mind to start functioning again and that's when good counselling is beneficial.

Psychotherapy can result in excellent results as I've seen with my own eyes, but grief is a slow process and not something which can be dealt with in half an hour.

subrosa said...

Thanks Joseph. It's little wonder that the uptake numbers are so low when the counselling service is removed possibly just when it's needed.

Soldiers today still suffer from mental health disorders and many have difficulty in accessing help. Combat stress does help but it's a referral agency and only deals with the most serious cases.

We have walk-in financial advice centres, why not walk-in mental health centres?

subrosa said...

Morning Tortoise, aye you're right. I didn't want to be so pessimistic stating that.

I think counselling can be most helpful for some but this knee-jerk reaction of setting up immediate counselling in any circumstances is probably a waste of money and of little use to those affected by the incident.

I'm not convinced either.

subrosa said...

That's how the military cope at the front line Julia, they have to rely on each other. There's no expensive counselling service out there. Usually it's once they're removed from the scene (come home), then that's when cracks begin to show.

subrosa said...

Anna, thank you. That's what I wanted - an explanation for this automatic counselling which is so a la mode these days.

And of course, it's of no value whatsoever their counselling, because the service is usually removed just when it's beginning to be needed by some.

DougtheDug said...

The main problem today is not that counselling has replaced religion but that it has become an industry.

It has a place and use for people who have been traumatised and who are suffering mental problems because of the trauma but now every incident appears to need an army of counsellors to support many who often are simply peripheral to those who suffered the real trauma.

There's some good advice from the Australian Centre for Post Traumatic Mental Health which they actually put up in a box on their, "First Response", page.

Health practitioners should encourage people affected by traumatic events to seek the support of family, friends and community groups.

Structured psychological debriefing should not be offered on a routine basis.

Talk to your doctor at any time if you feel very distressed or your reactions are interfering with your work and relationships.

There's more sensible info in a pdf on the, Trauma: first response and recovery link at the bottom of the page.

Anonymous said...


Clearly I'm worng.

subrosa said...

No Tris, you're not wrong at all because some people do need the help of professionals. My thoughts were that offering that straight after the event isn't productive.

Anna Raccoon has the answer in her comment (above).

subrosa said...

Excellent link Doug, thanks. My reason for this post was I heard a discussion of Radio 4 about this in the past few days. I was astonished by the rubbish the 'counsellor' was talking but, at the same time, impressed by the psychologist and psychiatrist.

English Viking said...

'Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungoldy,,,'

Psalm 1. A most excellent source of wisdom.

subrosa said...

An excellent quote for believers. Thanks English Viking.

sdcougar said...

This 'counseling' epidemic is not just in Scotland. We have the same thing in the U.S. The first thing you hear along with news of a tragedy is that the counselors have been sent in.

I used this quote in a book: of Britain’s leading child psychiatrists once again calls
into question the role of the counseling industry,” reports the
Daily Mail, “Counseling children to help them cope with
bereavement . . . far from helping can actually cause harm.”
Following the journal of the Royal Society of Medicine,
the reporter quotes Professor Richard Harrington: “. . . these
bereavement systems seem to be fostering depressive symptoms.”
The report states that “forcing youngsters into ‘the
painful process of crying and expressing sadness’ is more
likely to make them troubled in the long run, counseling
techniques were based on the notion that bereaved children
must go through a ‘grief process,’ but there was no evidence
to support it.”21
What Dr. Harrington believes is that “professionals . . .
may be counter-productive.” For the best help, he points in
the direction of comfort by family and friends.22

Daily Mail, 10 May 1999

subrosa said...

sd, I tend to agree with what the RSM says. Counselling is undertaken far too quickly, before the brain can adjust to any type of normality.

Thanks for your comment. I think this counselling business was brought here from the US don't you think?

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