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Talking therapy psychotherapist: ‘It’s not just in intensive care that lives have been saved’

'I believe that because we all go around in a competitive society, we are all wanting to look like we are stronger than we are'

01 December, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Talk for Health members get to share problems

DEMAND for group ­therapy has doubled in the second coronavirus lockdown with experts saying “it’s not just in intensive care units where lives have been saved”.

Psychotherapist Nicky Forsythe said a project she first set up for Camden and Islington residents in 2008 was now experiencing “dramatically escalated levels of distress”.

Talk for Health is a completely free NHS and grant-funded service used regularly by more than a thousand of the two boroughs’ residents.

Ms Forsythe, who has lived in Camden for 40 years, said: “Depression and anxiety rates have doubled, and that is partly because of changes to people’s routines, job uncertainty and poverty. But it is also because we are all living with this constant, vague threat in the background – even if we are not aware of it anymore, it is affecting our lives.”

She added: “We are now seeing double the numbers we are funded for. We have seen very dramatically escalated levels of distress; a lot more incidents of people saying they intend to commit suicide and have the means to do so. We’ve had to call ambulances out to people’s homes. It’s not just in intensive care units where lives have been saved.”

The Talk for Health project works on the basis that group therapy sessions run by “lay people” can be just as effective as individual one-on-one counselling with a psycho­therapist. Members get a free four-day training programme where they learn about self-reflection, how to talk honestly and respond to others in a group setting.

They then meet – currently this is online – in regular two-hour sessions of up to 25 people with everyone getting a chance to “share” about their lives and problems for a few minutes and then give feedback to others.

Talking therapies are often only run one-to-one, but there is a massive mental boost to be gained from sharing to a group and from being part of a wider support network. Many people make bonds in ways they might not be able to with their existing friends or family.

On why it works, Ms Forsythe said: “I believe that because we all go around in a competitive society, we are all wanting to look like we are stronger than we are, that we are doing ok. We don’t want to show we are miserable on the inside, struggling or weak.”

Nicky Forsythe

She added: “Because of that people are left with the illusion that it is ‘only me’. That there is a divide between people with mental health and normal people. There is no such thing as a normal person. To be able to say you are really struggling or suicidal – it is such a huge relief. We are all human strugglers, it is a huge relief to show vulnerability.”

A fundraising campaign has been launched to help the project cope with demands brought on by Covid, with an immediate target of £18,500.

Ms Forsythe said: “On average, people get some form of recovery from depression after doing the four-day training – and a person who starts Talk for Health will end up not depressed after six weeks.”

Ms Forsythe, who lives in Hampstead, said: “I grew up in a family with mental health problems. I had what I now see was a breakdown in my 20s. I had long and boring psycho-analytic sessions. I was a researcher and I trained as a therapist myself.”

Anyone interested in getting involved can drop in on a “sanity hour” taster session.

Details on the web­site:

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