Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, interviews Ray Henry, chairman of IACP ( Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy)
Why should farmers consider therapy?
Farmers are the same as people from any social sector. They can endure periods of stress, loneliness, anxiety and a myriad of other challenges in their everyday lives. They can also be carrying unresolved issues from their past. This can impact negatively on their mental health, especially if the stress continues for a long period of time.
Attending counselling would assist farmers from becoming overwhelmed in relation to the stresses and demands they face every day. Counselling can help a person’s functioning ability through closure and putting unresolved issues to rest.
What exactly does a therapy session entail?
A therapy session is rather like a meaningful chat. It provides a person with the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings in a safe non-judgmental space.
It is led by the client and guided by the counsellor. It is the client who chooses what it is they wish to talk about and the counsellor may ask questions but will always have the right not to talk about a particular issue or not to answer a question.
The client has the final say on what they want to talk about. At a later time, they may be confident with the support of the counsellor to return to the issue which they initially had difficulty in discussing.
The session is held in strict confidence and prior to any session commencing there are some formalities that have to be addressed. So the first session is normally focused on what the counselling will entail and what the boundaries are. This can help towards a more relaxed atmosphere before launching into specific issues.
An accredited counsellor is supervised by their professional body. If accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling & Psychotherapists, the counsellor/psychotherapist will have spent four years studying a recognised counselling course and is in ongoing supervision.
They are trained not to give advice but to help the person to understand their situation and feelings better towards resolving their own solutions to their satisfaction.
What is the approximate duration of each session?
Sessions are approximately sixty minutes long. The time frame is structured and spaced by the counsellor, which ensures that the person has settled before the end of the session.
Just how important is it for your mental health?
Counselling in itself is not the answer to all mental health issues and is often carried out alongside other interventions such as prescribed exercises/yoga/ or medication. The counsellor does not prescribe medication but the client may be on medication when they first engaged with the counsellor or may be advised a visit to his GP during the counselling period.
GPs are strong advocates of counselling and often advise a client to continue with the counselling alongside the medication.
Counselling can act as an excellent intervention in helping a person who has experienced trauma, and/or is living in a very stressful/anxious situation. It can greatly help people to develop a positive approach to their mental health.
Therapy should not be viewed as a last resort -Why?
Therapy is very much an intervention measure in that it helps a person to cope and manage serious mental health issue arising during times of stress or trauma.
It is a space for people to work through their own very difficult emotions and in doing so gives the person greater insight towards their own responses.
What would you say to people who are anxious about attending a therapy session?
It is very understandable that many people are anxious about attending counselling for the first time.
This is partly due to a traditionally held attitude in Ireland where talking about your feelings was considered taboo, and support in the area of mental health was very much frowned upon. Mental health should be seen in tandem with physical health.
Mental health requires minding. If we overwork a muscle and it becomes strained, we’d never hesitate to go to their GP/ Physio. It is the same with our mind, insofar, if it is overworked with very little rest and under strain, we need to go to counselling for support in re-settling the mind.
What advice would you give to people in this demographic who require help?
Farmers today do not have it easy. They have to endure considerable mental stress. Alongside the physical demands, the work also entails considerable bureaucratic paperwork to meet regulatory requirements in an ever-changing and uncertain environment. This causes a further level of stress for farmers which contributes to the isolation and lonely atmosphere.
These factors, combined can leave farmers further anxious, where counselling can help to maintain clear thinking, stability and a more positive approach to their mental health.
Is online counselling possible?
Evidenced-based counselling is progressing on a continuous basis, and there are more opportunities for people in rural areas to attend counselling online. This can happen in a blended format, where the person engages with the counsellor intermittently and where the sessions can also be conducted online.
Rural development groups can help in this regard, in so far as they could develop programmes in assisting farmers in using online platforms and develop small online social communities within their own areas.
There is a need to assist farmers who are not familiar with online communication in availing of online counselling. The provision of a space in the community centre with the appropriate technology and technological assistance would help the person through this process. Older people isolated lonely and living in rural communities could be facilitated with an appropriate counselling facility geared towards their needs and ability.
The farming organisation is large in size where consideration should be given towards a project similar to the above.
Why do you think there is a stigma surrounding therapy etc? How can this stigma be broken? Is there anything we as individuals in society can do?
The stigma surrounding counselling is a legacy from the past with old attitudes and fears towards the local asylums.
It is very encouraging that this stigma has greatly diminished, nonetheless, that it still exists - especially in certain sectors of our communities.
However, the provision of counselling as a norm in schools for children who are experiencing stress, separation, or for children who suffer loss or trauma has greatly helped to familiarise the community with the use of counselling in normal living. Over time, the continuation of such openness will help eliminate this.
For someone who is not familiar with the use of counselling, it can be very daunting to seek and accept counselling.
Counsellors are now very conscious of this when commencing counselling with a new client. Some people, for example, like to attend counselling in a very private space, such as a different town, while others have no issue attending counselling in their local village. It is about recognising, accommodating and respecting individual choice.
How can farmers improve their mental health?
Sometimes. little changes in our lives have considerable influences and in terms of mental health, there are a number of little things farmers can do.
A very important consideration is to seek help if you feel overwhelmed, don’t let the feeling take over your daily activities.
Take a few minutes out for yourself every day, be it to watch the TV, go for a walk or do some exercise. It doesn’t matter once it is your time.
The demands of farming are without boundaries. It is important that farmers structure their day and their lives or they will find themselves working day and night.
It is advisable that farmers do a realistic schedule for themselves at the beginning of each week to help keep structure in place. Of course, there will be exceptional occasions when the structure will require deviation but in general stay with the structure.
Diet, of course, impacts greatly on a person’s mental health, and in today’s busy world people are very tempted to eat takeaways and eat irregularly. It is important to keep a close eye on your diet and on eating patterns, to ensure positive mental health.
Companionship is vitally important for the sustainability of our mental health. The difficulty for farmers who often live in areas where there is no public transport or taxies, this can make getting out to socialise difficult. However, as a priority, a farmer needs to prioritise opportunities to meet socially with people. Join a group, or get involved in their local community.
In today’s world, there is the opportunity to use technology in a positive way. It would be advisable to all farmers that they seek help in becoming digitally able. This can help them be more interactive within their own community and their own circle of friends.
For example, a group of farmers living in isolation could come together online to play a quiz at the weekend. This kind of interaction can be enormously helpful in preventing loneliness or depression from creeping in.
Many young people and families make great use of Zoom for social interaction during covid19. As a society, we need to help farmers and other people living in more isolated areas to be able to make use of this form of social communication and maximise the benefits of technology.
What main messages do you want readers to take from this interview?
Our minds are like our bodies, if we don’t look after them we will damage them. Counselling is about looking after our minds and preventing the stresses and strains of everyday life from permanently damaging our mental health.
How can people get in touch?
The IACP has a website that provides a list of accredited counsellors in all counties - www.iacp.ie - or phone: 01 2303536 - the phone is manned every day during office hours.