In part two of our exclusive interview, Deidre Sanders talks about the responsibility of responding to the millions of people who have contacted her and whether people’s problems have changed in the almost 40 years that she has been the nation’s agony aunt.
“It is an enormously satisfying job,” says Deidre Sanders as she discusses the responsibility that comes with responding to the hundreds of requests for help and advice that she receives each week.
“Even if you are helping people take one little positive step, that’s absolutely brilliant.
“For some people we are making a dramatic difference, both at The Sun and at This Morning. We are helping people out of abusive homes, helping people to have a happy sex life and all sorts of really great things. What’s not to like?
“It is a big responsibility.
“When I say on air that I will ring you back, I do for an hour or so. We talk some more and often I think I wish you had said that when we were on air because that was the key.”
Deidre, who was a BACP member for 30 years, has been writing her Dear Deidre column in The Sun, the country’s best-selling newspaper, for almost four decades.
She also has a regular advice slot on This Morning, ITV’s popular daytime TV programme, alongside regular hosts Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield.
And she uses both platforms to promote counselling and to signpost people to BACP counsellors and psychotherapists.
Indeed, she welcomed counsellors and psychotherapists from London-based Tavistock Relationships, an organisational member of BACP which also delivers BACP-accredited training, to the This Morning studios earlier this year to give advice during a relationship special.
“They loved it,” said Deidre. “I didn’t realise what a struggle it is to normalise the concept of going for counselling. I suppose that’s because to me it is so normal.
“I have always promoted counselling. I have always thought it was really good.
“It is not always the answer to everything. But I certainly think some initial sessions where you really understand what your baggage is and how it might be affecting you is so helpful for everybody.
“You can tell whether someone who has had it and not had it because you do know where your rocks are. It really helps to know that.”
Deidre says the internet has had a huge impact on people and relationships.
“That is the thing that changed everything,” she said. “It’s not so much it changes the fundamentals of human behaviour but that it gives them a hugely different range of activities and information and images that they have access to.
“Whereas pornography really wasn’t an issue when I started this job 40 years ago – yes, it was around and we might get a partner who was a bit upset about their husband who had got some magazines hidden under the mattress, but it was miniscule – now it is awash.
“Relationships and people and couples are awash with online pornography. And they have got very differing attitudes. Men and women tend to have different attitudes about what is okay and what isn’t.
“It’s a form of retreat.
“Just below pornography is chatting online, flirting online, phoning other people. Before, the extreme for a couple might have been watching separate televisions, or something, now one or both can have retreated into their online world and there is very little incentive to sort out the problems between them.
“It’s just so easy to go off and find your satisfaction elsewhere. It’s a massive problem.
“There is a whole new area of keeping kids safe online, helping adults understand how to be safe online. It’s the vulnerable people who are most likely to get into some sort of trouble.
“And trying to help people to understand that the fact you have done an awful lot of chatting online, real relationships are lived in the real world.
“Okay, if you are happy to sit in your room and chat to this person then that is fine but when you meet them you are going to have to start all over again because real relationships are about being tactile and about really being with somebody.”
So what basic self-help advice would Deidre give people?
“Have confidence in yourself that if you are feeling scared or nervous, then other people are as well,” she said.
“Have that faith that you can talk about it with someone, that it is okay to open up. There is no shame in asking for help.
“Be kind to yourself. Don’t demand too much of yourself.
“Learn how to breathe. There are lots of situations where people get anxious and worried they have screwed up, where if they learn to breathe out longer than you breathe in, in stress, that is a really helpful basic.
“And get some exercise.”
If you need a counsellor or a psychotherapist, you can find one near you in our directory.
Photo credit: This Morning/Rex Features