Can Therapy Help Improve Our Relationships?

This Mental Health Awareness Week the theme is relationships and the positive impact good relationships have on our well being. Here, Greenwich Time To Talk, who offer free psychological treatment as recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines for anxiety and depression. discuss whether therapy can help improve our relationships:

Therapy can’t change the people in your life, but it can help how you think and feel about yourself, which in turn can change how you are in relationships with others.

Behavioral activation – a treatment for depression, can help someone tackle avoidance of social interactions. This is one of many ways we might help someone who has stopped doing the things they enjoy.

Here at Greenwich Time to Talk, we work with people with common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. When we feel low or depressed, one of the things we stop doing is talking to or meeting up with others. It’s very tempting to hide away, to isolate ourselves. There is a really strong urge to pull the covers over our heads and stop talking to those who usually make us feel happy. When I first started the role as a trainee psychological well being practitioner, I was surprised at how many people put ‘going out more’ or ‘to socialise more with family and friends’ as their main goal of treatment.

One of the treatment options we provide focuses on treating depression using an “outside in approach” where instead of allowing your mood dictate what you do, you make a plan and do it anyway.

Typically when we feel low, we put off doing things because of the amount of effort it will take or because we’re just not feeling up to it. It’s difficult to go out with friends if you predict you’ll just be a burden to everyone else or if you don’t think you’ll have a good time.  This is not due to laziness or apathy – it does take mental and physical effort to go out and enjoy yourself especially when you’re suffering from depression.

However, by avoiding activities, you’re depriving yourself of the sense of achievement and pleasure you may get from doing the task AND you’re likely to feel bad about yourself for not doing what you had planned – a real double whammy. Think about when you planned to meet up with a friend and cancelled last minute for whatever reason. Did you feel bad afterwards? Could you have had a good time if you had gone along? If you cancel an arrangement is it then easier or harder to meet up next time?

We understand that getting back in touch with others can be hard if it is something you have stopped doing for a while. This doesn’t have to be a situation where you throw yourself into the deep end such as going to a huge party with people you hardly know (although there’s nothing stopping you if that’s something you feel ready for). It can start off with something simple such as texting, calling a friend or messaging them on social media.

Understandably, it can be hard to call or text someone out of the blue when you’re thinking “what if they don’t want to talk to me?” “What if they’ve stayed out of touch because they don’t actually like me?” “what’s the point?” “why bother?”. These are common negative thoughts that happen when we feel depressed which are part of the reason it is so difficult to start doing the things we used to enjoy. It’s also common to feel quite anxious about meeting people because of these thoughts.

However a lot of the time you may realize that if you do what you planned anyway, you find out that it’s not as bad or fearful as you thought it would be. Just because you think something does not mean to say that it is true – we encourage people to test things out.

Making time for hobbies and building relationships is another aspect I think is vital in improving mental health. A lot of people often get so consumed by work or taking care of others that they forget to take time out for themselves. The saying “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is a key message to bear in mind given today’s fast paced lifestyle. As important as it is to go to work, pay your bills and look after your children, pleasurable activities such as spending time with friends or on your hobbies are just as important in helping you stay balanced.

In summary, key messages to take away from this are: follow a plan and not a mood, don’t let your thoughts stop you from doing what you enjoy, and make time for pleasurable activities and building on healthy relationships. Whatever you plan, give it a go for at least 5 minutes and it might not be as bad as you think.

If you find yourself suffering from symptoms of depression or anxiety, Greenwich Time to Talk offers talking treatment options based on evidence based treatments to help you through this. Have a look at Time To Talk’s website and use the self-referral form to refer yourself for an assessment or call us on 020 8298 9677 (Mon – Thurs 8am – 8pm, Fridays 8am – 5pm) to make a self-referral.

Evelyn Tong
Trainee Psychological Well-being Practitioner
Greenwich Time To Talk