This is an important message for anyone starting any professionally supported healing journey.
Anyone who knows me, knows I am an advocate for people of all ages, getting help and support when we need it. There are times we all need someone who is professional, appropriately trained, qualified and experienced to walk with us for a bit. I have been there. It can really help.
However, I recently heard the experience of a dear lady who had been referred for counselling by her GP.
She is a sweet, caring, funny, and well mannered lady. She comes from the generation who grew up before technology. No TV, phones, texts, tweets or Facebook. And as do many survivors of childhood trauma, she has strong values around not hurting people, or doing or saying anything that might make someone upset.
She had been struggling with physical and mental challenges for over 3 years, and finally found the strength to ask her GP for help.
Desperate to start to feel better, she plucked up all her courage and arrived for a counselling session – the first of the 6 she was allocated.
She didn’t like it much. When I asked her why not, she explained ‘the lady’ sat behind her table and spent a lot of the time staring out of the window. “It was strange. She didn’t look at me, I’m not sure if she was listening, she just kept looking out of the window – I thought she must be on the look out for a nice young man!”
This is not ok.
It is SO. NOT. OK.
When she told me this I kept myself professionally together, but noticed an internal volcano erupt. It was a combination of sadness for this precious lady who was treated this way, and absolute indignant rage that she was treated this way by a ‘professional’ who is supposed to help her get better, not make things worse.
This is not how it is supposed to be. And the truth is it is not how it is for many, many people. But it had been her experience and sadly it can happen. So should it be of interest to you or anyone you know, here is my advice. This is my plea.
DO THIS TO HELP FIND THE RIGHT PROFESSIONAL FOR YOU
1. If you ever find yourself meeting someone for the first time, who has the credentials to see you through a journey of healing (mind, body or spirit) then please, please, please, TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. If you do not feel safe in every way, with them, your journey with them will be a superficial one at best, a waste of time at middle, and further damaging to you at worst.
2. Please vote with your feet, and if you are not comfortable, and don’t feel you can challenge the practitioner (I know this would have been impossible for me when I was post-trauma suffering with depression or anxiety symptoms) just don’t go back again. You don’t need to. It’s about getting YOU the right help match for you. Either you could ask for a different professional from the same organisation to work with or go somewhere completely different.
3. See your first meeting as an interview or audition... and it’s not you on trial; it’s the professional. If they don’t meet the simple and appropriate criteria of making you feel SAFE, HEARD, RESPECTED and UNDERSTOOD, or if anything feels ‘off’ to you, then just be grateful you didn’t go any further down the line with them and move on.
I fully understand that it takes some real emotional energy to do this – much easier to go along with what the ‘professionals’ say. However I think many people don’t realise that they can and SHOULD have a voice and need to OPT IN to working with someone you feel will be a good match for you.
As my conversation continued, I was hoping to hear how this lady’s horrible experience got resolved. It didn’t get better – she just stuck it out. She kept going – attended all 6 of her allocated sessions, “but I didn’t really say very much. It didn’t help me at all really.” After her final session she was sent a feedback form through the post. She dutifully filled it in and sent it back. What did she put? “Oh I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so I just ticked good or excellent for everything.” I understand why she did this.
Whilst the improvement of mental health is a massive deal at the moment, so is keeping the standards of the professionals privileged with this work appropriately high.
I never agree to work with anyone, adult or child, until we have had chance to meet and they have a chance to check me out and see how they feel with the journey to get to me and being in the room. We know who we feel safe with. We know when we don’t.
If you don’t feel safe, don’t go back there.
4. Do not assume all counselling experiences are the same. If you have already been through a similarly ineffective experience, and know you are still not OK, then consider trying out some different types of therapy.
Creative Arts therapists are a great choice for people who know there are things in them but not sure how to get the words out.
There is a whole new approach where a therapist works with you to release tension from your body, without you having to talk about what has gone on at all if you don’t want to (TRE).
Thankfully, on the suggestion of a close family member, this precious lady, came to try TRE and is already well on the way to living life better now than she has in years / decades.