Therapeutic Focus

Once upon a time, I was speaking to a counselor. He uncovered that I would not take medication for cyclothymia, anxiety or anything else because I classed them as mind altering. As I pointed out to him, this is my issue, and it is a phobia. He seemed to have some significant issues accepting that I had this phobia since it was unusual. I suspect, although I am quite willing to be wrong, that he believed I was just being difficult. After all, the perfect solution for him was probably for me to take medication rather than work through the issues of discomfort that I was experiencing.

I asked him if he had any phobias and he said that his experiences were irrelevant to this conversation and that we should just focus on me. Strangely enough, I really didn’t like him. The reason that I asked him was to point out to him, through his example, that phobia doesn’t make sense. It just is and is something you either work through or around, but you don’t just say “my goodness, this phobia makes no sense so now it is gone”. He really didn’t understand that.

Two issues were raised for me in this. The first is that the therapist didn’t want to work on my discomforts in a way that was compatible to my beliefs. The other was to do with his cold inhuman clinical detachment.

This first issue is fairly common in the therapeutic industry, but it is not universal. Professionals need to remember that people are not universally the same, but are unique and different to each other. If we humans were all the same, then we would not need professionals, we would only need technicians, ticking a box as we progress, working on all of us in the same way as we all respond exactly the same. Clearly we don’t, so it is up to the professional to demonstrate the artistry behind their profession and adjust to the situation in front of them. Those who use professionals who will not budge should find those who are willing to compromise their rigidity and work with you instead of on you.

As for the second, it is important to be human when interacting with another person. Why on Earth would I trust a person who is clinically detached and perfect? How can they possibly understand or empathise with my life if they have only ever lived a book perfect life? Of course, very few have lived such a life, and even fewer choose to go into a professional health career. Or simply put, most people who go into health careers have lived interesting lives. By refusing to professionally and responsibly share your own experiences, you deny your humanness and the necessarily real element in a dialogue.

To accomplish this well, one must consider where the focus of the conversation is. It must be more towards the client than the professional, but it must not be divorced from the professional. Real interactions require genuine content. Another important consideration is why are you, the professional, telling the client this part of your life? If it is to frame an idea, to give context to a method of health, or to give an example that promotes empathy, then you are using your own stories well. If you find that you are processing your story for your own gain, or your story is becoming a one up man ship kind of contest, then this is definitely straying into inappropriate use of your experiences. Of course it is important to not out friends, family, phone numbers and addresses in your stories. I will usually tell my stories and refer to people indirectly, since the who is not as important as the what of the story.

Shopping for Therapists

There are many good therapists out there in the wide world, the tricky thing is how to identify them.

First, let’s get you into the right mind frame. If you take your car to a mechanic and you don’t like the way they treat you or your car, you don’t go back to that mechanic, you find a new one. If you don’t like the way the shop feels, the language of the mechanic, the attitude, you don’t even leave your car there, you leave. Finding a therapist is a similar process. If you don’t like what they do to your mind and body, find a new one. If you don’t like the feel of their shop, find a new one.

There are circumstances where you have little choice, such as locked ward, community treatment order and other government sanctioned loss of freedom. Even still, you can go through the following questions to help you determine if the person you are working with is receptive to your benefit.

These questions have mostly been developed by Thomas Proud, a Peer worker.

1) What are your qualifications for helping me?

2) What experience have you got for helping me?

3) How many of your patients/clients have recovered their lives back?

4) Do you believe I can thrive?

5) What methods are you likely to employ in supporting my recovery?

6) Are you happy? If not, what are you doing about it? If nothing, what makes you qualified to help me?

If you like the sound of the answers you get, then this therapist may be able to help you. If you don’t, it is time to move on. If you can’t, perhaps you may have triggered the therapist to think about what they can and will do more so than usual.

If everyone begins to ask their therapists these questions, perhaps therapy will return to the old ways – that of a midwife of health.