Kirsty highlights sharing as a way to release pressure
‘SOMETHING about sharing helps you rebalance yourself,’ said Kirsty Kirkwood, who is CEO of Living Life Counselling.
She was talking about the simple practice of chatting to friends or family members.
Kirsty described the body from throat to the base of your tummy as like a jelly jar, with all of one’s worries filling it up little by little.
‘Every time you hold something and don’t share it – it could be hurt, anger, anxiety, upset – it goes into that little jar. Over time it just builds up and overflows like a volcano or pressure cooker.
‘ That’s often when people walk through our doors,’ said Kirsty. ‘It’s an accumulation of life events that has put pressure on someone. We unpack that material in a safe way, and help the person navigate it themselves.’
She said that rather than building a dependent relationship, they work on a person’s independence and resilience. Even the act of coming to counselling can make someone feel empowered. ‘ They feel like they have climbed a mountain and that’s important. Sometimes when they come in the mountain seems very high. But we don’t look at at the top. We’re going to get there, one day at a time.’
Living Life has centres in Bray and Arklow and last year celebrated its 20th anniversary in the community.
The charity provides mental health support to those who can’t access private counselling.
In the past that was limited to social welfare or state benefit recipients, however Living Life is available to anyone who needs it. Clients are asked to make a donation of whatever it is they may be able to afford, perhaps €20 if they can pay that.
Kirsty said that as well as financially supporting Living Life, this donation is important for the client. It places a value on their care, and is fundamental in terms of self-esteem, even if they only pay a couple of euro.
People come from all over County Wicklow and south County Dublin to seek individual counselling, couples and relationship counselling, play therapy, adolescent therapy and help for issues such as addiction.
At Living Life, they look after clients from the age of five.
‘We would deal with issues like depressions, anxiety, anger, loss, bullying, separation, abuse, stress, and suicidal behaviour – the whole range of emotional distress.’
They offer a 50-minute session and up to six months of counselling.
Sometimes if there is a more complex, deeper issue, Living Life may guide the person into a more appropriate service, for example psychiatric services, or the national counselling service for sexual abuse.
‘We just want to make sure they’re getting complete care,’ said Kirsty. At a first session, it will be determined where the client is, and what their needs are.
Living Life is a charity which is completely donation led. Volunteer counsellors work free of charge, and the charity employs a small staff.
The 90 volunteer counsellors work with 240 clients a week. Their doors are open from 8.30 in the morning to 9.30 p.m., and they are on the go the whole day.
She said that in terms of looking after one’s mental health, different things work for different people.
‘What’s always noted in any sort of reading is your contacts – family, relatives and network of friends. The more isolated a person is, the more problematic.
‘One of the first things we talk about with a client is their support structure, do they have a family member, good friend, someone available to you? That’s really important.’
‘Don’t catastrophise,’ said Kirsty. ‘If you don’t share a worry or problem with others, it gets bigger.’
Fresh air, and being in the moment, present in the here and now, is something to consider, along with taking part in some sort of activity.
‘Whatever is interesting to you. If you’ve lost interest, finding an interest.’ Kirsty said that volunteering and helping are very positive. ‘You step outside of yourself, you have to get up, get washed and dressed, and do something. It’s really important to have a sense of purpose. Join a group and you have to be there. Even if it’s Weight Watchers!’
‘Being around people, being connected in life, helps people recognise the value of themselves.
‘We’re all so busy, there’s so much information thrown at us. Often people can feel very lonely in a big group, life they’re all on their own.’
Adolescents, she said, can struggle with this. Social media puts increasing pressure on them to look ‘perfect’ for the camera.
Getting what they think is an insufficient number of likes on a selfie can really damage the self-esteem of a young person.
Not even 20 years ago, young