It’s easier for me to think about the sort of therapist I don’t want to be, rather than the sort that I do. Growing up with a rather bleak view of mental health professionals due to many forced family counselling sessions to address my delinquent/concerning teenage behaviour, I reached adulthood with the opinion that ‘seeing someone’ was either a punishment or a last resort – basically something you did when everyone else had given up or stopped listening. I found the counsellors and psychologists that I was dragged along to in my youth patronising, and their ‘strategies’ simplistic and irrelevant – as if they were following a mandatory flow chart (self-harm = mindfulness strategies). There never really seemed to be any discussion around values or resilience or ME as a person, and I’d always end up feeling like there was something wrong with me that needed to be fixed, and it required my family ganging up on me with a team of experts to do so.
True story: I have almost become a high school teacher. TWICE. The first time was straight after I completed my BA (Hons) because, well, what else is a girl to do with a History degree? After agonising over what I wanted to ‘be’ when finished University that time round I eventually decided on a History teacher, until I later turned down the offer to go to Cambridge University to complete the necessary postgraduate studies. I questioned my capacity to have had enough life experience to be a good teacher at the ripe old age of 21.
The subject of ‘values’ often comes up in my sessions, in fact I spend much more time talking about values than I do about ‘goals’. As Russ Harris, author of a number of books on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and The Happiness Trap, says “if you’re living a goal-focused life, then no matter what you have, it’s never enough.” I’ve written before about how I feel about the subject of goals – they’re necessary sometimes but not my preferred way of creating lifelong behaviour change. Knowing and more importantly, living in alignment with your values, well, I often find that is a real game-changer for many people.
There’s an old song lyric by The Korgis that goes, “and everybody’s gotta learn sometime” and that is absolutely the case for all Counsellors, Psychotherapists, Social Workers and Psychologists. Much like Doctors and Surgeons though it’s an interesting space in which to learn ‘on-the-job’! In medical spaces like that there is an old and established model called “see-one, do-one, teach-one” for teaching procedures to new doctors. Thankfully it doesn’t work like that for therapists.