Farming: We Reveal the Dark Side

Travelling around Somerset and our neighbouring counties it’s easy to become accustomed to the lush pastures, rolling hills, woods, hedgerows and huge areas of arable land that make up our wonderful environment. To us it may just be the backdrop to our busy lives but to the operators of one of the biggest and important industries in the UK, it’s their workplace. We are talking of course about farming and the men and women who help feed the nation and add billions to the economy of the nation; the farmers.

According to 2014 Government figures the value of UK agricultural production (at market prices) was £25.8 billion, this included 970 million dozen eggs laid by 37.1 million birds and 14.6 billion litres of milk from 1.8 million cows. During this period 400,000 people were employed in farming and 71% of land in the UK was used for farming – impressive by anyone’s standards.

To the layman or casual observer, farming may seem an idyllic and pleasant way to earn a living. We see farmers out on their tractors or passing by in Land Rovers with their trusty black and white Collie in the back and we may think `That’s the life`. We might be impressed by the massive machinery they use or the nice looking farmhouse and buildings. We could notice the farmer’s children playing in the yard with the freedom that we wish our own children had. It’s possible that we really believe we see real farming life at the county shows where the gleaming white coats of exhibitors and their beautifully presented animals convince us that all is perfect and flawless down on the farm. We might then venture into the food tents and sample the delights within. It’s no accident that the red and white gingham tablecloths, cheese, pickles and crusty bread feed into our desire to view farming as a wholesome, healthy occupation enjoyed by wholesome, healthy ruddy faced people who love the countryside and the job they do. But there’s another side to this seemingly idyllic profession, a dark side that’s not spoken about very often, a side that even in our open society cries out to be heard and understood; mental health issues for farmers.

Countryfile Magazine drew attention to the prevalence of mental illness among farmers recently with the shocking statistic that on average one farmer will take his own life each week in the UK. In France the situation is worse where a farmer dies on average every two days. So why are farmers at such high risk of suffering mental health issues?

Farming can be a very isolated occupation and it’s common for farmers to do entire days without seeing anyone, a far cry from bygone days when many farm workers were employed on the average farm. As opposed to many other professions farming is a 24/7 occupation with very long hours, far less days off and holidays and with the added element of `living above the shop` where the farmer cannot leave the worries and stress of his work behind at the factory gate.

We have seen many factors over the years that have tipped many over the edge – these include Foot and Mouth, Bird flu, TB, difficult market pressures, flooding, and loans and mortgage repayment issues, any one of which have the potential to decimate livelihoods. As well as this there is the sometimes negative perception of some farming methods by the general public

The social isolation of farming can lead to a lack of support or a lack of other people noticing mental illness symptoms. Most farmers are male, and it’s widely accepted that men are less likely to discuss personal problems than women. This could be linked to strongly held beliefs that men should be able to sort themselves out or that seeking help is somehow a sign of vulnerability or weakness. It’s also known that men are far more likely than women to take their own lives.

The most common mental health problem is depression, one in five of us will suffer from this at some point during our lives, and farmers are no different. There are major differences between feeling low and being clinically depressed. When the latter develops, the person can be affected most of the time, frequently for a number of weeks or months. Symptoms can include tiredness, restlessness, low mood, falling energy levels, poor concentration, a lack of interest in things that would normally give pleasure, an increase in alcohol or tobacco use, loss of sex drive and suicidal thoughts. Physical symptoms such as aches or pains may also occur.

So where can farmers turn for help? As a professional counsellor working in a village on the outskirts of Taunton, I have had clients from all walks of life. These include mechanics, architects, accountants, cleaners, musicians, garage owners, web site designers, welders, members of the armed forces, dentists and farmers. Although hugely diverse in their occupations, they all had something in common; there was something in their lives that prevented them from leading a happy and contented life, a black cloud that followed them around and weighed heavily on their shoulders.

Talking to a professional counsellor or Psychotherapist can help immensely. One reason for this is that counsellors and psychotherapists are not personally connected to their client’s story. A good therapist will be genuinely interested in their client, empathic and non-judgmental and do their best to help their client, while at the same time not advising or telling them what to do. It’s all a question of support for the client – support to help the client explore their thoughts and feelings and support to maybe see things differently and to hopefully move forward towards resolving their situation. All this happens at the client’s own pace in a confidential and private setting.

As well as counselling there are other avenues open to farmers seeking help with stress, depression and other mental health issues, these include -

Whichever path the farmer decides to go down for help, it’s important that one is taken. With deep seated habits of just managing or trying to cope on one’s own it sometimes feels right or normal just to carry on in the same old way but there is an alternative and that is to seek help before things get worse.

About the Author

David grew up on a small farm in Somerset, where as a young boy he helped with milking, the pigs, chickens , sheep and beef bullocks and in the summer, the hay making. He often attended livestock markets with his father at Glastonbury, Highbridge, Yeovil, Langport, Bridgwater and Taunton and helped with the family wholesale butchery business. Although almost a lifetime ago and set in a bygone age he feels it gives him an insight into the stresses of farming life and an empathic view of the valuable and essential work of the farming community.

What To do Next

If you feel counselling is maybe what you are looking for, or if you require further information the next step is very simple. Visit the Contact page and drop David a message via email, or call. 

To book a counselling session with David, or to request further information, please call in confidence 01823 443022.

© David Trott 2019





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Somerset Counselling: What’s it all about, Sigmund?

While Psychotherapy has had a relatively short history of a hundred years or so, the role of the psychotherapist reaches back through the murky mists of time to the earliest days of human existence, where we picture early man engaged in that age old endeavour of attempting to make whole the soul or inner being. Villagers who felt confused or worried about something would make the short journey through the mud and smoke to visit the wise-woman of the village to seek counsel and be helped to make a sensible decision based on the personal knowledge and life experience of the elder.

This situation remained largely unchained through the centuries until Sigmund Freud (1856 -1939) arrived on the scene. Freud was born into a Jewish family, firstly becoming a medical doctor but then quickly moving into Psychology. For most of his life he lived and worked in Vienna, Austria where he founded a system of Psychology which he called Psychoanalysis in 1896.

Psychology, Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis words all share the same link to the Greek word Psyche which means breath, soul or life. However Psychoanalysis was not yet for the masses and Freud’s patients were mostly from Viennese bourgeois society, which was very middle class, conservative and materialistic in it’s attitudes. Freud’s work largely centered on a person’s unconscious and he decided that there are three states of Consciousness. These being the `Conscious`– our awareness of all that is happening around us at any one time. The `Pre-conscious` – things like telephone numbers, addresses and car numbers, which are not present in our thoughts all the time but can be easily recalled when required. And lastly the `Unconscious`– information that is repressed and cannot easily be accessed.

Included here could be memories so terrible that they are pushed down and buried. Freud believed that the unconscious reveals itself in other ways and so he used therapy methods such as Dream Interpretation, Hypnosis, Free Association and the study of Parapraxes (Freudian slips) & jokes to unlock his patient’s innermost thoughts. His work remains the basis of various approaches used today by modern therapists and much of it has permeated into everyday language such as Freudian slip, Ego, Anal retentive & Oedipus complex amongst many others. Much of Freud’s early work was treating the ladies of Viennese society for `Hysteria` by way of hypnosis.

In modern times we think of hysteria as huge emotional trauma. Back in Freud’s time it meant a medical condition where a specific part of the body was targeted by very strong emotions. This could result in sleepwalking, paralysis, fits, memory loss, hallucinations, fainting and numbness in different parts of the body. His view was that neurotic symptoms were caused by repressed sexual experiences. Freud found Hysteria most interesting because the symptoms were so varied but oddly these symptoms would sometimes disappear altogether for no reason only then to return later. It was thought in those days that only women suffered from Hysteria, in fact in 1886 when Freud gave a lecture on Male Hysteria to the Vienna Society of Physicians he caused uproar. His lecture contained examples of Male Hysteria and this caused one surgeon to remark that because the word Hysteria referred to the uterus, it was not possible for a man to suffer in this way.

Unlike today’s modern counselling rooms which tend towards being rather neutral and bland, Freud’s room was said to be more like belonging to an archaeologist. There were ancient artifacts everywhere and the walls were covered with stone plaques showing scenes from ancient history. It makes perfect sense when we hear that Freud likened his love of archaeology with his work as a psychoanalyst. It’s easy to understand how he saw the uncovering of a person’s psyche, layer upon layer with the uncovering of ancient treasure. Today, most counsellors will use the onion analogy (stripping away layers of the psyche like layers of an onion) or a Russian Doll to demonstrate a person’s personality. As well as ancient artifacts in his room, Freud had fitted heavy curtains and thick warm carpets complemented by a number of large potted plants, maybe aspidistras in ornate jardinières. French windows led out to a small private courtyard.

It’s been said that Freud’s room was like a sanctuary for some people, where one could retreat from the hustle and bustle of modern life – a place where one could shelter from day to day problems, if only for a short time. This view of the counselling room can still apply today with the therapist who has taken the trouble to think out the interior of their therapy room. Today we see counsellors facing their clients; Freud on the other hand preferred to sit behind his patients, out of sight, to be less of a distraction. No doubt the patients sat or lay on a couch or chaise longue and it’s easy to picture the stereotypical view of a Victorian psychiatrist and patient.

Freud’s work included his study of a child’s development through biologically determined stages and their links to sexual pleasure. He described the Oral stage which focuses on the mother’s breast and the Anal stage which centers on the anus and defecation. The Phallic stage is all about the genitals and the Oedipus Complex develops when the child falls in love with the opposite sex parent. At the Latency stage, the sexual drive becomes dormant until puberty. The sex drive finally becomes focused on sexual intercourse with an opposite sex partner at the Genital stage.

Freud believed that these theories regarding how a child’s sexuality developed is indicative of the way a person’s whole personality develops but it’s worth remembering that Freud’s definition of `sexual` was much wider than just sex itself.

In January 1933, the Nazis took control of Germany and Freud’s books were high on the list of those being burnt and destroyed. Undaunted, Freud quipped “What progress we are making. In the middle ages they would have burned me. Now, they are content with burning my books.” All through this time Freud continued to underestimate the Nazi threat and stayed determined to remain in Vienna, even after Austria was annexed.

However as events unfolded it became clear that he and his family had to leave and so on 4 June 1938 Freud caught the Orient Express from his beloved Vienna, fleeing the Nazis and the horrors of the Holocaust for the comparative safety of London. Sigmund Freud died on 23 September 1939 after a long battle with cancer. Although Freud’s work has evolved and has been adapted by present day Psychodynamic and Integrative therapists, it still remains the basis of Counselling and Psychotherapy in the modern day and its value cannot be overstated. Freud remains the Father of Psychotherapy and the reason you are reading this piece today.

David Trott Copyright 2012

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Somerset Counselling: Counselling in Somerset (what’s on offer?)

When I started to research the question of what’s on offer in the field of counselling in and around Somerset, I was surprised and heartened by my findings. For it seems that anyone looking for a counsellor in Somerset and surrounding areas will find a rich selection of counsellors and psychotherapists offering a wide range of approaches and therapies. We are fortunate indeed to have on our doorstep many historically important, economically expanding and very pleasant towns.

These include Axbridge, Bridgwater, Burnham on Sea, Chard, Cheddar, Crewkerne, Frome, Glastonbury, Ilminster, Langport, Midsomer Norton, Minehead, Shepton Mallet, Somerton, Taunton, Watchet, Wellington, Wincanton, Winsford, Wiveliscombe and Yeovil and not forgetting the beautiful cities of Bath and Wells. Each one of these areas will have various therapists.

More good fortune lies in the fact that this green and pleasant part of the country is well served by some remarkable Colleges, who in turn provide some remarkable counselling courses for anyone looking for counselling training. The counselling courses can range from an introduction to counselling skills or concepts, through Intermediate and Advanced stages to Diploma levels which equips the recipient with the necessary qualification to practice. The titles and levels of these counselling courses may vary according to the college and awarding body. As part of counselling training on the Diploma level, the student will have to find themselves a `placement ` to hone their skills.

This may be situated with a counselling practice, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, college or school, in fact anywhere that counselling takes place and where it’s suitable for a student counsellor to work. A three way contract is then drawn up between the college, the student and the placement organisation. The student then works part time at the placement to complete the required number of hours for the course. Therefore as we examine what counselling is available in Somerset, it’s worth remembering that quite a few of the counsellors we see operating will be students working voluntarily to gain experience and to complete their `hours`.

A clue to this is sometimes in the low cost of the counselling. There has always been some debate as to the impact of the voluntary sector on professional counselling practices who strive to maintain a viable business. It’s fairly safe to say that Somerset with it’s mix of impressive busy bustling towns, villages and lovely countryside will be able to offer the counselling client a good choice of counselling methods.

It’s likely that therapists working in many of the major approaches will be able to be found locally without much difficultly. These will probably include Psychodynamic, Person Centred, Integrative, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) Psychosynthesis and Existential, among many others. It’s said that the fasted growing approach over the last few years has been Integrative.

The benefits of the Integrative approach include the fact that it draws from the major orientations previously mentioned. It does this not in an eclectic way like pulling a tool from a toolbox but instead Integrative stands as a approach in it’s own right. While clients may be looking for support in stress & anger, low self esteem, low confidence & feelings of failure, anxiety, depression, feeling isolated lonely, suicidal, bereavement, addictions and obsessions, couples might be looking for help in their relationship.

This would require a specialist counsellor, trained in relationship and couples counselling. A good place to start when looking for a counsellor or psychotherapist is to visit the BACP website and click on `seeking a therapist`. By simply entering one’s postcode, a list of counsellors who are BACP members and who work within the BACP ethical framework will appear.

Somerset Counselling: Counselling in Somerset (what’s on offer?) 

https://www.somersetcounselling.org/index.php/taunton-somerset-integrative-counselling-counselor-blog/5-somerset-counselling-counselling-in-somerset-what-s-on-offer

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Somerset Counselling: So why choose to talk to a Counsellor above a Friend or Family Member?

When we confide in a friend or family member there’s a chance that person will feel some responsibility for the talker’s situation. This in turn will colour the listener’s response and possibly cause the talker to hold back and not to let it all out, for fear of upsetting the listener. For example – a daughter attempts to talk to her Mother about her unhappiness and homesickness while away at University. The daughter feels it was a huge mistake to have gone and wishes she had taken a job near home instead.

The Mother is aware of the financial sacrifices her husband and herself have made to provide this opportunity for their daughter and feels hurt by her apparent ungratefulness. The daughter’s attempt to talk to her Mother about her unhappiness ends in a heated argument and she decides not to broach the subject again. Alternately, if the daughter had seen a professional counsellor things would almost certainly have been different.

One reason for this is that counsellors and psychotherapists are not personally connected to their client’s story. A good therapist will be genuinely interested in their client, empathic and non-judgmental and do their best to help their client, while not advising them or telling them what to do. It’s all a question of support – support while the client explores their thoughts and feelings. Support to maybe see things differently and support in working towards resolving their situation. All in a confidential and private setting.

Imagine yourself in a town far away from home. You have something on your mind which is worrying you. You walk in the park to think things over and stop for a while on a bench, where you get into conversation with a total stranger. The stranger seems understanding and interested in you and you trust them. You pour your heart out to them and talk of things you could never tell your family or friends. This is a little of how it is with counselling – there’s no past, there’s no guilt – the counsellor is maybe the perfect stranger.

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