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Green Light in the City

Free Counselling at The Human Flourishing Project in Nottingham

9 May 17 interview: Lucy Manning

Nestled in the heart of the Lace Market, the Human Flourishing Project have opened their doors to anyone who wants to talk...

Tell us a bit about the Human Flourishing Project; how are you different from other counselling services?
The Human Flourishing Project is a spin off from the School of Education at the University of Nottingham. It’s a community interest company, but it’s also a cooperative. We offer free counselling in the community. It’s done by staff and postgraduate students from UoN who are studying for their master; the student’s get their placement hours, and we’re able to offer free counselling.

It’s different from the typical, medical model type of talking therapy that’s favoured by the NHS, and it’s often accessed by people who’ve been through those traditional, six to ten sessions of CBT through the NHS and that hasn’t necessarily worked. It’s longer-term therapy, but most importantly, it’s based on a growth model, rather than a bio-medical, diagnostic model. What we offer is called Person-Centred Experiential Counselling.

It’s based on this concept of human flourishing, which is basically a belief that human beings are designed to strive to reach towards their potential. What PCE counselling does, is it enables that to happen by being in a relationship with a counsellor, and being able to experience things like empathy, acceptance and genuineness in a relationship with another person.

Do you think that everyone should have counselling at some point in their life?
It’s certainly something that can be beneficial to the majority of people to develop a greater understanding of themselves; to come to terms with what they’ve been through if they’ve had a traumatic experience. My own experience – as students we have counselling as part of our training – has been an enormous growth opportunity for me.

What kind of services do you offer?
There are twenty sessions, initially, but if you come to the end and feel like you need more, we can start another twenty. It’s completely free for users and accessed by self-referral so you don’t need a GP. There are three tracks people follow; the first is for people who have been through a trauma, and the definition of trauma is very wide. And there’s a general counselling for human flourishing. We have some counsellors who are able to offer therapy in a foreign language, as well.

With it being a self-referral system, do most of the people you see have mental health problems, or do some people just want to talk?
We aim to work with the whole person and want to offer something different to the idea of seeing people as a label or a diagnosis. This means we see a very wide range of people; some have a diagnosis, and others don’t. Other people feel the need to come and talk to somebody to enhance their functioning in life and don’t consider themselves to have a disorder or illness. It’s a case of leaving those labels at the door, and coming in and just being a person.

People seem to be a bit more open when it comes to talking about their mental health. Do you think the stigma is shifting?
I think there has been a shift, and it’s certainly appearing in the media a lot more and people are more open to accessing help in the community. However, there is still a stigma around mental health, and just by naming it doesn’t mean that stigma has gone away. The traditional ways of understanding mental health tend to focus on illness and ‘cure’ – so people will go to the GP and get antidepressants. These ways are increasingly seen as antiquated and actually can further stigmatize people. That’s why we opened this service because we felt there was a need for people to access counselling that wasn’t being met in Nottingham.

Have you been busy?
Yeah. We’ve only done a soft launch with referrals from one local GP practice. But we have more counsellors joining us from June, so we will expand the service.

Social media seems to have exploded with the use of words like ‘anxiety’ and ‘depression’. While they’re often used to start conversation about mental health, which is very good and very healthy, sometimes those words are used in situations that aren’t relevant. Do you think that’s harmful?
I don’t know. One person’s experience of depression or anxiety is completely different to another person’s experience of it. I think grouping those experiences together under one term can be quite damaging. I’d prefer to work with what an individual might be experiencing. I think counselling offers the opportunity for a person to really understand what is actually happening for them. And to not generalize it under one banner and to really understand what is troubling them.

What do you think can be done to open up more conversation?
I think, personally, there’s a lot to be done in terms of education. To start at primary school so that there is an understanding about mental health and what it is; why some people think differently to others. How you can impact on other people, growing resilience, things like that. Starting human flourishing in education so that people don’t get to a point in their life where they hit rock bottom before they seek a service like ours. That takes a complete rethink of everything that we do at the moment.

It’s almost a complete shift in our psyche. Do you think – and this is a broad statement – but that it could be a case of prevention rather than cure, to some extent?
That would be my hope. To stop the judgments and open up a dialogue. And support within the community as well; so the support isn’t always coming from GPs and hospitals and specialists, but it’s readily available within the community.

There seems to be more of a stigma when it comes to men’s mental health. Certainly from my own experiences, women seem to be more comfortable in talking about their mental health than the men in my life. Would you say that’s a fair statement?
I think before I did my training, I would say that would be my opinion. However, my experience of being a counsellor is that I see equal amounts of men to women, and their problems and issues are often quite similar. I think women tend to have a reliable support network that they use before they have to access services, whereas men tend not to. I think that there needs to be specific projects that target men and mental health. It is the biggest killer of men. Suicide rates among young men are horrific. I think it’s the community’s responsibility to come together and really work on that figure and make sure that it stops. I think the therapeutic relationship is just as effective with men as it is with women. It’s just a case of the point of access and the support network up until that point.

Do you think men wait longer to access services?
I don’t have any figures to back it up, but I would say that I think there has been a lot in the media about postnatal depression and women dealing with mental health. And men dealing with mental health, although that suicide figure has been around for quite some time, there’s never been an acknowledgment as to how we’re going to tackle that.

It’s almost sensationalised in a way – we always refer to the rock bottom and the men who feel suicidal, when actually there’s a big scale and there are men that are struggling who aren’t being spoken about at all.
Yeah, and where do they go? Do they go to the GP or do they access a service that’s designed to help suicidal men? I think that’s a big part of the self-referral service here. That it doesn’t take that monumental step of going to the GP. You can ring us and access therapy directly.

What do you think makes for a good therapist?
Somebody who is open, who enjoys getting to know people, understanding people. Someone who is empathic and wants to listen. And somebody who is non-judgmental. You can’t go into this profession if you’re judgmental of people.

Would you say you have to be quite emotionally strong?
Yeah. You do a lot of work in the training on developing as a person yourself, and understanding what issues you’ve got, how they come into the therapy room and how they may stop you interacting with another person. And we go through quite a lot of personal therapy to help us with that. The process of actually becoming a therapist is much harder than I ever anticipated it would be. I refer to my life as pre-course and in-course because it feels as though I’ve changed so much in the last three years; learning to become a therapist has been transformational, challenging and emotional, but massively enjoyable. And what a privilege it is to work with people in this room and see them flourish. People are willing to allow you access into their lives, that’s such a privilege; to walk side by side with them.

What can we do as friends and in our own relationships, to support someone who is struggling with their mental health?
Someone who is struggling with their mental health can sometimes be very difficult to be in a relationship with. It’s about reaching out to them and not judging; having patience and understanding, but know that there are services out there that can help and support. And it’s also important to know that there are services out there for people who are supporting loved ones with mental health issues. Everyone needs support. And it can be incredibly draining to try and help somebody who is having battles with their mental health. I would tell them to seek help as well and they could come to us here too.

If you are struggling with your mental health, or just want someone to talk to, you can email the Human Flourishing Project at [email protected], or give them a call on 0115 947 3849.

Or, you can call the Samaritans, any time, for free, on 116 123.

The Human Flourishing Project on Facebook

The Samaritans website

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