When marketing management student Phillip James, 22, started to experience feelings of dissociation just a few weeks into his placement year, he contacted the Retail Trust for support.

“Leaving Brighton, where I had been studying, for High Wycombe to start my 12-month placement at The Perfume Shop was a bit of a shock. Brighton is a busy city with lots going on. I was living with friends and was very social. I didn’t do any prior research into High Wycombe, but it’s a small town and much quieter than Brighton. I live in a shared house with six other people who are all slightly older than me. They keep to themselves, which isn’t what I’m used to, especially having lived with noisy students for the last two years!

“The placement started in July and everyone I knew was still enjoying their summer holidays. It was hard to be at work watching everyone travelling and having fun. In Brighton I had been working behind the bar at a comedy club, so adjusting to work life and the office environment was tougher than I thought it was going to be. Throughout my placement I have been very lucky to be given the opportunity to move departments, which has helped to make friends, and The Perfume Shop have been sure to support me with all the changes.

“I’ve always been able to adapt to new situations, moving schools, starting college, going to university, people who know me understand it’s something I’m fortunate not to struggle with. However, this was so different. If I had been dealing with just one thing, it would have been ok, but putting it all together – getting used to a new job, meeting new people, working out how to exist in an office, my living situation – it was overwhelming.

“I started to dissociate. I’d go home after work and there would be nothing. I would just sit and dwell. After meeting up with friends in Brighton or London I’d leave and feel like I didn’t know what had just happened. I was there, but not there. Everything felt very surreal, like a fever dream.

“Slowly it crept into work. It was like I was on autopilot. I was getting on with things, but I think there’s a difference between feeling neutral in a positive way, as opposed to having no feelings. I’d be in situations and think, I should be happy, I should be enjoying this right now, and I’m not, and that’s tough.

“The first two months of the placement were always going to be the hardest. Whilst it is a great opportunity, it has been hard to watch everyone carry on with the life I’d once been part of. Initially, I thought I didn’t feel right because everything was happening at once and there was lots to learn but, two months in I still didn’t feel right. I thought, OK, it’s affecting my personal life and it’s starting to affect my work life, I need to take action.

“Around that time, I saw a poster in the bathrooms at work that said something along the lines of, it’s important to feel good and happy at work but if you’re feeling bad, here’s an email, reach out and so I did. We had a bit of back and forth and then I met up with a member of the HR team at The Perfume Shop. I asked about my options and she suggested I contact the Retail Trust, and guided me in the right direction.

“I’d heard about the Retail Trust in a wellbeing module during my induction. There was a brief overview of what the Trust offered, including counselling. I’d had counselling in the past and found that it had helped, so I’d flagged the Retail Trust in the back of my mind as something that could become helpful for me.

“I signed up on the Retail Trust website, called the helpline number and had an initial chat. The next contact was a 45-minute call. The guy was friendly and helpful, he shared some insights and got me thinking about what was going on. After the call they set me up with some counselling sessions. A week later I started counselling, via video call. The plan was to do up to six sessions on a weekly basis after work every Tuesday.

“At the start of each session the counsellor asked how I was feeling and I was given a wheel of emotions to choose from so I could pick more distinct and descriptive words. That was really helpful, because I wasn’t able to just say, yeah, I’m good, or I’m fine, I had to think about how I was really feeling. We’d have a conversation about why I was feeling the way I was and then it was up to me, what did I want out of the session, was there something specific I wanted to discuss, or would a more general conversation be more useful.

“We worked through things that triggered the feelings to see if there was a pattern and talked through different resources. The most helpful thing for me was having an hour each week to stop and think about how I was feeling and speak to someone completely unbiased. That’s the biggest benefit of counselling, having support from someone who doesn’t know you and has no preconceptions about you.

“I still experience moments of dissociation, but now I’m more patient with myself. Rather than panicking, I’m much more relaxed and I’m way more comfortable in the situation I’m in. That’s not just down to the counselling, growing into the role has helped too. But the counselling has helped to prevent things overflowing to the point where it becomes unmanageable. The counselling also helped turn the “sitting and dwelling” into a more positive opportunity for reflection, which has really helped me with my situation.

“My experience of the Retail Trust has been really positive. I think it’s important that people know what’s available to them via the Retail Trust and that you don’t have to talk to someone internally first, you can go direct to the Retail Trust yourself.”