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Counselling in difficult financial times.

Counselling — admin @ 3:30 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we were listening to news bulletins of the latest problems with banks. People often ask us in a humorous kind of way whether the bad news in the economy is good for our business. It is not of course but the question points to an understanding that families and individuals are really struggling financially at the moment, and that this places additional stress on them. There are many losses involved in this and we discussed them between ourselves focussing in the end on the stress and challenge to the person who is going through financial difficulties. Banks had been regarded as august and respectable institutions. We grew up believing that we could put our trust in the bank. The local bank manager was a well regarded person in any local town and had a position of trust and authority. These things have changed and bad banking practice and the crash from an over-heated economy have conspired to leave many ordinary people struggling to pay bills.

One of the aspects of this that we highlighted in our discussion was how being up to date with our bills is something that can become part of how we define ourselves. When we look in the mirror and ask questions like ‘what am I?’ or ‘who am I?’ we can begin to think of ourselves in terms of the various roles that make up our day to day life. We may be a mother or father. We might be a parent. We may live with a friend, a partner or a flatmate. Or we might still live with our parents. In whatever capacity we live we have financial demands on us. How we respond to these demands can become a big part of how we define ourselves. Being able to meet the basic bills with which we are faced becomes an important part of the place we hold in our own household and in our wider social circle. In these challenging economic times lots of people have found that their discretionary spend is a lot less than previous and money is tighter than ever. Many who are in work are finding perhaps for the first time ever that the basic housing and utility expenses are almost beyond reach. And many who had never faced financial difficulties find themselves out of work and really struggling financially.

When money starts to get tight in a home all sorts of trimming of expense has to take place. Earners have to make sacrifices and let go of things which they had previously enjoyed. If this situation persists over time, as weeks become months and months become years with no sign of improvement it can cause real problems. We are faced with existential kinds of questions about what our work and our effort is for, and who it is for. There is a real danger of a disconnect opening up between ordinary individuals and the state itself. Our impression is that the difficulties faced by many ordinary people are not recognised, acknowledged or understood by policy makers and government.  This is not good for the mental health of the nation. It also threatens to create a new generation of young people for whom civic involvement and a sense of belonging are lost in a society which doesn’t care. Young people who queued overnight to buy houses and are now faced with negative equity.

These are wider societal concerns which are perhaps the backdrop to the financial struggles that families face. More and more are having to face the difficult reality that there isn’t enough money to go around. There is advice available to help people deal with banks, mortgage lenders, utilities companies and others to whom money is owed. A general rule of thumb is to work out reduced payments on a pro rata basis and to agree these with the lender. It is important to engage with them and to discuss your financial situation openly. The goal here is to try to manage the debt as well as possible until things improve and in the process to manage your own levels of stress. It can be humiliating to have to face these things and there is no doubt that suicide has been considered by many who did not feel that they could get on top of their financial situation.  Feelings of dread about what the postman brings or what phone calls might come in from debt collectors can be alleviated by facing these things and making revised agreements with lenders. To do this may involve having to change our own view of our self.

We spoke earlier about how paying our way can be an important part of how we define ourselves. We may have to learn to loosen up on this personal characteristic and adjust it to a point where we have to satisfy ourselves with the knowledge that things are bad financially but that we are doing everything we can about it. That seems to be the key to surviving financial difficulties. Cold hard financial facts; Euros and cents and lenders trying to enforce credit agreements can appear like a relentless and unforgiving force. We may have to come to terms with the fact that we can only do so much and lenders may have to come to accept that our best is going have to be good enough for the moment. We have to cope too with feelings of injustice when we read of the appalling behaviour which contributed to this economic crisis. In the first instance the solution is to survive on a personal level and get though as best we can. In the longer term there will be a good deal of rebuilding required for individuals, for families and for the wider community and civic society. We hope that we can all begin to feel part of that process and that ordinary hard work and personal responsibilities are nurtured and become prized once more.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

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