For some time I have been writing a regular column on emotional wellbeing as an experienced psychotherapist. Topics have ranged from how to deal with stress and perfectionism to conflict in a relationship. Two articles on the menopause generated such interest that I decided to develop a series of workshops, delivered in a GP surgery in Morpeth. Here I answer some questions arising from the sessions.
Isn’t the menopause a medical concern?
The menopause is not an illness in itself. It’s a time of change for all women, but it can come with a variety of physical and psychological symptoms, and for this reason it has been medicalised. Information is scarce and often incomplete, and it felt the right time to try to address this important time in a woman’s life, looking at the repercussions these changes can have on a woman’s body, emotional life and intimate relationships.
I approached a surgery in Morpeth as I felt it was in a good position to reach a good number of pre and post-menopausal women.
How did you run the seminar and were women comfortable talking about such personal topics?
Menopause is a delicate time. It can affect a woman’s self-confidence and intimate relationships. For this reason, I wanted the workshop to give a general overview of all the implications. It was structured into three parts: an overview of the most common physical symptoms (and some less common ones); the impact on a woman’s intimate relationship; and some thoughts on the effect of menopause on a woman’s emotional wellbeing.
There are many stressors in a woman’s life around the time of menopause and there are some strategies to reduce their impact. I concluded with some relaxation exercises.
All these topics are very personal and I found that smaller groups allowed participants to relax more and open up about their experiences. For many of them it was probably the first time they were able to talk about how they felt about this change and how, at times, it had changed their perspective of who they are and how they are perceived. This is a very common theme and I often see women who have lost track of who they are and what they want in life.
Does this mean that all menopausal women need counselling?
Not necessarily counselling, but most would benefit from gaining more self-awareness and counselling is ideally placed to facilitate this.
The menopause is not an illness, but rather a transitional time in life, like puberty. Personality traits which may have been less noticeable in the past are accentuated through hormonal changes. This phase is often viewed in a negative light, but in reality it offers an opportunity for personal development.
Are you a menopause specialist?
No. My job is to improve clients’ quality of life. Most people think of psychotherapy as a way to “cure” problems, but rather it is an effective tool to increase emotional wellbeing through personal growth. Very few of us grow up equipped with effective ways to deal with whatever life throws at us. In most cases, we learn from our parents and the people around us.
Think for a second of how much care we take of our body: we exercise, we spend time and money to keep it looking good. What do we do for our emotional wellbeing? Most of us seem to assume that we are who we are from the day we are born.
Can you give an example of what you mean by personal growth?
Let’s take a couple who hit a rough spot. Neither of them is used to expressing their needs openly and when their needs are not met they feel hurt and let down. If this goes on over a long period of time, it creates friction and this may be when the couple decide they need external help to “fix” things.
What happens in this case is that the counsellor may expose their dynamics and how this has been wearing out their relationship. It helps them to express their needs to each other and to re-shape the way they communicate them. This is a good example of personal growth: you have two individuals who learn a new way to be together; they grow as individuals and, as a result, their relationship also grows.
I often hear people who are unhappy with their circumstances: work, relationships or their state of mind. I am constantly surprised by how often the expectation is that change will happen spontaneously, I would even say miraculously — it hardly ever does.
Personal growth leads us to feel responsible for generating the changes we need to make to achieve a better quality of life. This may mean learning problem solving skills or facing uncomfortable situations. A good therapist can offer many tools and techniques to deal with various situations and these tools can then be adapted and used again and again.
Emotional intelligence can be learnt.
Anna Dallavalle is a counsellor working with individuals and couples and has a private practice in Morpeth. For information visit www.steppingstonesne.co.uk