When did we decide that talking wasn't the thing to do? Why do we keep things to ourselves? It's as though our vulnerabilities are to be hidden at all costs, as all too often they are labelled as weaknesses and discouraged.
There seems to be the general consensus that we should keep 'stuff' to ourselves and that talking about our inner worlds just isn't the thing to do! That said, here I am taking this giant leap of faith as I write down some of my thoughts and ideas. I guess I have learnt that life really is too short and I take the risk of writing in the hope that it will encourage those I work with to risk being themselves too.
I am a qualified therapist, I have slogged over essays, studied child psychiatry and development, and I've panicked over viva assessments and public speaking, and yet somehow telling people what I do leaves a lot to be desired. It's as though I've said something socially awkward when I tell someone what I do and I can be out with friends or sneaking into the staff room at one of many schools for a quick coffee when a polite conversation begins and I get the question... So, what do you do here? That old chestnut! and it's with time restraints and a yet to be stimulated by the coffee me that I reply simply 'I am a psychotherapist'. I work in a world that encourages people to think beyond etiquette and social norms, and the responses to my job title often lead to one or all of three things;
First the puzzled look appears and a sort of slightly nervous smile, together with concern. Second, is the the worry that I'll see something they don't want me to see and the 'are you analyzing me?' question pops out. Thirdly they tell me that they absolutely couldn't do the job and insist that it must be very hard and that they don't really know how I do it! I've given those three responses some thought and I am going to wonder a little more (therapists love to wonder) about them as I hope to give some insight into what the daily life of a child and adolescent therapist looks and feels like.
Firstly, granted, it is a confusing area of work! Not many people have been to therapy, or is it that not many people are ready to say that they have? Either which way the British stiff upper lip, although covered in gloss and shine (I wear them daily) remains stiff and talking somehow remains alien and not for the fainthearted. When did people decide talking wasn't the thing to do? Let alone talk with someone that's trained to listen. I think one of the main problem areas is that people don't quite know the difference between psychiatrists (they are medical doctors interested in mental health and utilise science to inform diagnosis and medical treatment), psychologists (they are people that have studied the vast area of psychology and could be researching anything from colour influence on recall (I did that once) to examining the top down or bottom up brain processing) and psychotherapists (they are people that work within mental health and are interested in relationship, wellbeing and growth). Psychotherapy, unlike psychiatry and psychology is in many ways an art form and many therapists are interested in relationship and how people feel and think.
I guess our minds are precious places where we keep our everything, and although our bodies are fundamental in how we feel (chemically), our brains are the words we think in and we often rely on them in a way that is entirely personal and private. So why would anyone want to share any of that? The stuff that we say to ourselves, the thoughts that sometimes stick more than we would like, the feelings that feel impossible! In my experience a problem shared is a problem halved and sharing it with a therapist who has dedicated themselves to personal and professional development and to the mental health of others... need I say more?
Secondly; analyzing people
You know, one thing I can say for sure is that a good therapist can sit with uncertainty, in fact it's crucial to most therapeutic work. Being able to not know where the journey is going is actually a very important part of allowing someone to make sense of what's happening for themselves and to cultivate the person they want to be or really are. It's the child that loves to sing but just can't quite do it wholeheartedly, its the young adult that wants to learn how to keep people they love close rather than just push them away or the kid that wants a place to talk where they will be heard and where the adult with them will hang off every word as though they were writing an important and very original play! Therapists do a lot in the time you are with them and although they are paying careful attention, they honor a code of ethics, which is deeply committed to the best interest of the client. We get to know the people we work with over time and we don't generally, honestly, have enough hours in the day to make sense of everyone all of the time, as much as we think we might!
Which leads my to the third and final... I couldn't do that!
Firstly, you could if you wanted to! (that's my ten cents of life coaching right there) Being a therapist is having empathy, it's listening, it's being playful and creative, it's remaining curious even when it feels excruciating, it's remaining open to all thoughts and feelings as much as possible and it's about supporting the parts of people that aren't quite strong enough yet. It's not playing out old habits that reaffirm unhelpful and detrimental inner messages and it's very much based on research that proves change is possible.
Some days I go for walks with the children and adolescents I work with, sometimes I meet up with their parents and talk through difficulties whilst having tea and biscuits, and trying to make sense of a bigger picture. I guess in many ways working with children as a therapist is about seeing all of the picture and helping them to make sense of some very complex and difficult things.
Some days I'm hiding under blankets keeping a watchful eye out for monsters! Making sure that the monsters don't get in no matter what! Sometimes I am made the horrible person that can't get a thing right. In the therapy room I am the good, the bad and all too often the ugly and the children are the directors, that with time, hand me their scripts and I get to know what it's like to walk within their stories. I am their friend and advocate, and I work hard to help them to be brave enough to reach out to people when sometimes they have decided to lock their hearts away. I remind them that adults can be trusted to take care of them and sometimes I have to get it wrong a lot before I get it right. I'm a mind reader that turns up just when needed, whilst at other times I am the opposing side and the bad side that needs to fight the good and be overthrown. Sometimes I get covered in paint and glue and stars and sand, and I get to go on both magical journeys and the scariest of horror stories. I walk into every appointment with no expectation and with the hope that what ever needs to be worked through will find its way into the room.
Maybe you couldn't do it, but maybe also, you could?
Therapy with young people is rewarding and often profound, and I am regularly left astonished by the honesty and courage of young people trying to make sense of this crazy place we call home. The world is busy, its full of messages on how we should or shouldn't be, it misses the important stuff sometimes as it scrabbles to jump on the latest band wagon! Its an adult world full of rules and expectations, and its complicated and complex. Sometimes us adults need to remember that just as we find life difficult at times, so too do children, just its usually in a more expressive, emotionally honest and creative way.