Health: It Can Be Good to Talk to Strangers; the Traditional Image of Britons Bottling Up Their Feelings and Relying on a 'Stiff Upper Lip' to Cope with Life Is out of Date. Gabrielle Fagan Reports

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Byline: Gabrielle Fagan

So much for keeping things bottled up. Nowadays, we Brits think nothing of spending thousands of pounds - and hours - on confessing all to a stranger.

One in five of us has had counselling or psychotherapy, according to a survey by the Future Foundation for a report The Age of Therapy. And despite the fact therapy has often been attacked as self-indulgent navel-gazing by its critics, eight in 10 people now believe therapy is acceptable in certain circumstances. Phillip Hodson, a fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, says: 'It shows that the vast majority of people would like to talk to someone about their problems rather than be shunted into taking drugs like anti-depressants or tranquillisers.

'I think therapy has proved so successful because going to a counsellor could almost be described as going to 'an emotional health farm'. It allows people to talk confidentially in a safe space, and not just listen to someone else but also to listen to their own thoughts and feelings. It allows them to step back from their lives and examine them.'

Celebrities such as Stephen Fry, Robbie Williams and Halle Berry, who've spoken openly about their spells in therapy, have encouraged its popularity and acceptance.

There are an estimated 250,000 counsellors throughout the UK, and the most common reasons for going to therapy are relationship breakdowns, bereavement, losing a job or a traumatic lifestyle change.

If you feel the need for therapy it's important to choose the right therapy and the right counsellor - but the choice and jargon can be bewildering. The industry argues that the words counselling and psychotherapy are virtually indistinguishable. They are services designed to help people make changes in their lives by offering 'talking treatment.' Specific advice is not given.

Hodson says: 'A general rule of thumb is that 'if part of your life is a problem see a counsellor, if it's your whole life see a psychotherapist'.'

Different therapies have different styles. For instance, in cognitive behavioural and sex therapy there will be 'homework' to do.

In bereavement therapy there would be a lot of emphasis on supporting you through some difficult emotions.

A psychodynamic counsellor would look at your past, while another type of therapist might focus solely on your life in the present day. Some therapies concentrate on the future.

So what do the common therapies treat?

BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY Works well for compulsive and obsessive behaviour, fears, phobias and addictions. …