Help yourself to help others

Depression is, sadly, booming in the West - and so are the courses that train how to treat it.

The following quote is part of a suicide note left by J Timothy Hogan from Massachusetts on 10 May last year, published in The Independent on Sunday in January: "No one who has not experienced a severe episode of depression can really understand what it is. It's like a woman trying to explain childbirth to a man... You can explain, but the other person can't truly understand. So it is with depression. It is real and totally disabling."

According to the self-help charity, Depression Alliance, around four million people in Britain suffer from depression at any one time. Since only half of depressed people consult their doctors about their condition, the true figures could be frighteningly higher. The World Health Organisation has recently announced that depression is now the leading cause of "disability" - that is, causing people to be unable to go out and work - in the world.

The profile of depression and general mental health problems would seem to be booming now. Everyone seems to have experience themselves, or at least knows of someone who has been more than "a little down". And with this boom has come a proliferation of counselling training.

There are roughly 545 organisations offering training for several thousands of people in counselling in the UK alone, although there are no legal minimum qualifications necessary to practice in the UK. Dr Ernesto Spinelli, academic dean of the School of Psychotherapy and Counselling at London's Regent's College, says that when he started at his school 10 years ago, there were roughly 20 to 30 students on one academic programme. There are now several programmes with up to 500 students at any one time.

Many graduates of the school move on to work in the private sector; most on short-term contracts. This is a result, Dr Spinelli says, of increasing pressures from medical insurance companies. "These companies will offer payment for maybe 10 counselling sessions, but then will not pay out any more. With full psychotherapy, treatment usually lasts a lot longer, but the financial priorities are driving more short-term treatment."

Counselling training is seen as more "informal" than full psychotherapy. Courses last a year or two less than psychotherapy courses, but it is actually very difficult to distinguish between the two spheres.

Due to its less formal perception, people often seek counselling rather than psychotherapy. "For many people, being asked to undergo psychotherapy is very scary. However, suggesting someone goes for counselling is less so. Due to the high profile of counselling in disaster situations, the profession is far more involved in the public sphere, making it less intimidating for people," says Dr Spinelli.

Psychotherapy is a much more intensive and much longer sphere in which to train. Graduates take five years to train; six years if one counts the introductory year. The fees vary from college to college, but an average level is around pounds 1,000 to pounds 1,500 a year - although some courses are significantly more expensive.

A large chunk of these courses involves students undergoing therapy themselves by professionals, which can involve up to five sessions a week. If you are not prepared to face up to your own personal demons, then it is unlikely you will be able to deal with anyone else's.

As well as this, there are sessions involving infant observation. Trainees are required to visit the homes of volunteer mothers and simply sit and observe the interaction between mother and baby, attempting to understand how the needs of the mother and external stimuli affect the child, as this is generally accepted to have a major bearing on future emotional development throughout people's lives.

Applicants come from all walks of life, but are linked by a common thread. Jennie McDonnell, of the British Confederation of Psychotherapists, says: "It is unusual to find an applicant who has not experienced some form of mental health problems. But it is a genuine interest in the internal world and the meaning of the human experience that marks out those who seek to become psychoanalysts.

"Many have been successful in other careers, and come to this profession later in life. We have an opera singer here training at the moment, and (former England cricket captain) Mike Brearley is a successful analyst. What they have in common is a gift for thinking about the internal process."

The call for psychotherapy would appear to be waning over the last decade as the "Quick Fix Culture" forces the NHS to look for faster, less expensive treatments. Philip Stokoe, of the London Centre for Psychoanalysis, says: "Twenty years ago there was a long waiting list here. They used to close the list when it reached 30 because it wasn't right to keep people waiting longer than a year. These days, it hardly has a waiting list."

This is not because psychoanalysis does not work, but because it generally takes several years to reach the root causes of a problem. And who can wait that long, in these stressful times ?

The image of psychotherapy and counselling has also taken rather a hammering in recent times as the profile of mental health has grown. In a recent interview with Michael Parkinson, Woody Allen, the doyenne of self-analysis, said he had given up on it, admitting it had only helped "a little bit". This view is fair enough, coming from one who has first-hand experience. However, there is, in some quarters, a general mistrust of the process, with many preferring to dismiss it as hocus-pocus.

However, this is a result of a lack of understanding and a fear of psychological truths and their implications. As Jennie McDonnell says: "For some people, the idea of looking at your own life is very frightening, and attitudes such as those will always exist." Understanding people is the key. A little more of it and maybe there will be fewer J Timothy Hogans to mourn.

Contact the British Association for Counselling on 01788 578328, or the British Confederation of Psychotherapists on 0181-830 5173. The Depression Alliance is on 0171-633 9929

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
Clarke Carlisle
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K - £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been we...

Opilio Recruitment: Product Owner

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'