As I sit here to begin to try and explain how difficult it is coming to grips with the fast pace of social media, I am pulled between do I write about it or do I post a video? Which will get more hits? How can I make an impact? How do I get my message across? I have a deep desire to reach people to let them know that there is somewhere that they can go, without having to leave their comfort space. I believe ‘Who am I, to say how you access support?’, so, out of that, the motto for Counselling Online was borne; ‘Wherever you are, we are’.
Starting off as a Psychotherapist many years ago, these dilemmas were further from my mind. In my studies it had never been really explained to us that actually there were people who struggled so deeply that they were not being seen in our offices doing face-to-face work. It was actually very much frowned upon to even contemplate working with someone other than doing so face-to-face.
The internet was beginning to gain popularity at the end of the 1990’s and into the millennium and with that came an opening for people whose struggle kept them out of therapists rooms, or doctors surgeries. It was not until they would present at A&E departments in dire straits that they would come onto the radar of the mental health system, and even then they would find it excruciatingly difficult to keep any appointments. We were able to meet before it became extreme.
I became part of an organisation working voluntarily online with people who were suffering from severe anxiety, social phobias and were at times highly at risk of suicide. It became apparent very quickly that there was nothing in place for them. So, in 2011 I began to work at finding ways of reaching people where they were at, as opposed to where society felt they should be. From there, with my colleague Donijka Monk The Irish Online Counselling & Psychotherapy Service was borne. We were the first of its kind in the country, and pioneers in this vast field.
My huge challenge in doing this has been TECHNOLOGY. In order to be able to reach out and let people know who we are and what we do, we have had to put ourselves out into the internet world. I had not a clue how to do this. My job was to sit with people and be there as they worked through what was causing unease in their lives.
In order to connect with people, we needed to learn the new language of connecting.
My own nerves were shattered trying to set up a Facebook account, Twitter and lately Instagram. Trying to think what to write, when to write it and how to find time to check on posts and reply to comments etc. My feeling is that along side any degree or Masters programme, nowadays there needs to be a module on internet engagement. Whether we like it or not, this is where we are heading. So, in desperation to look after me and my own sanity, I myself needed to reach out and be met where I was at…. and that was in total disarray regarding how social media works. I had mastered Facebook with help of Louise McDonnell, but Twitter was tweaking away at my tolerance levels and showing me sides of my shadow that perhaps needed looking at. So, rather than pushing it away again for another few years like I had in 2011, I used my Mindfulness Masters to walk the walk and lean into the uncomfortable and seek support for me. To my relief, I have finally found someone who with their generous passion to share what she does best and her patience in teaching me, I finally have started to relax and ease into Twitter. Samantha Kelly aka Tweeting Goddess is just that. Nothing is a problem and it flows from her with great ease.
One of the key qualities that I love about my job is the language of alliance. We are in this together and for me, its about embracing with anxiety and at times dread this new way of connecting. The benefits far out way the fears. I am so lucky to be part of EmpowerHer.ie, Network Mayo, which is a sub group of Network Ireland and most recently the Women’s Inspire Network. These places have been my lifeline this year, when times for me were tough.
We know at CounsellingOnline that connecting via the internet is making ground-breaking differences in people’s lives, but we also know that the internet is not our area of expertise so together our social media experts can help us do what we do best. Sam does that by helping to show me how best to engage with the audience of Twitter.
I am at that awkward teenage stage of tweeting – maybe where I should not be tweeting, getting all embarrassed and retreating back for a while. I like to make real comments and yesterday I made one to LunchTime Live and they messaged me back to see if I would chat. I was thrown back to the wall with fear, again pushed right out of my comfort zone but I took a breath, soothed myself down and replied that I would. Luckily for me they ran out of time and I did not get to chat….but I was willing to take a risk. I decided not to check the pulse on my Fitbit though!!
For the last number of years we actually kept very quiet about the work we were doing as it was going against the grain of training and of society. We knew in our hearts that we had an ethical obligation to meet people where they were and are now seeing how socially acceptable it all is now, thankfully. This year we are now taking ourselves onto social media and letting people know that we have a service that has a foundation of nearly 9 years of experience and model it on our own training. We have been the risk takers, the innovators and we have pushed out the boundaries to bring about changes and, we feel, for the greater good. We have a great team of psychotherapists working with us and are delighted that we did not remain rigid in the teachings of psychotherapy and opened up to be flexible and fluid with the changes in our fast-paced, changing world. We cannot do it all on our own, as we need support too.
Take a look at our website www.counsellingonline.ie or follow us on twitter counselling_ie or Instagram counselling_online of FB The Irish Online Counselling & Psychotherapy Service