Today, I wanted to talk about something that I think everyone reading this post has a vested interest in. I wanted to talk about mental health, self-care and therapy. All of us can relate to at least one of those three things. I specifically wanted to talk about this from my professional perspective because I have encountered many fantastic and brave bloggers who are users of mental health services, but I have encountered very little posts from mental health service providers themselves. My aim in putting this post out there is to tell you all a little bit about me and hopefully to provide a peek behind the curtain of one small part of our mental health services in the UK.
What kind of a therapist am I? So, some of you may be aware that I work full-time in the NHS as a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and have done so for many years now. A typical working day is filled with one-hour to two-hour long therapy sessions with patients that I see once a week and sometimes, I will see a patient for several months as we complete a course of therapy. Therapy is focused around: firstly, giving individuals a safe space to speak and be emotionally supported and secondly, teaching individuals practical tools and techniques to help them manage their difficulties. The amazing people I support are from a wide variety of backgrounds; from teenagers to retirees, from those who identify as gender neutral to those experiencing gender dysphoria, from war veterans to university graduates, from those who own their own successful businesses to those struggling with our current benefits system and from locals to immigrants and refugees that might not have the luxury of speaking English (so our sessions are conducted with an interpreter). Essentially, everyone that walks into my office has their own story and their own context in which they’re experiencing it in and it’s my job to adapt therapy around their needs.
What do I treat? Within my role, I treat people for some of the following difficulties: depression, generalised anxiety, health anxiety, OCD, PTSD, low self-esteem, social anxiety and many more. I also help individuals to manage self-harm and suicidal thoughts which are a distressing but not uncommon by-product of experiencing mental health difficulties. The aim in therapy is to help empower individuals by educating them about their difficulties and by giving them the tools to reduce their symptoms.
What are the best parts of my job? It’s hard to say there’s a ‘best’ part of a job that involves supporting people through some of the toughest times in their lives. There is nothing good about the fact that this happens, and that people go through such pain. However, I really value the fact that we have caring professions. In a society that can sometimes seem quite dog-eat-dog, it is heart-warming to me that my job is to practise empathy and take in the experiences of others. I think there’s a lot in this world that could be resolved if there was more empathy involved and I am proud to have a vocation where this skill is upheld and valued. I know this isn’t the case in all jobs – I have friends who work in high-powered sales roles where empathy and understanding is really elicited. So on that front, I feel incredibly lucky.
How do I partake in ‘self-care?’ Therapists are just as likely to experience depression or anxiety as anyone else. In fact, I would be surprised to come across anyone in my field of work who doesn’t intimately know what at least one of those feels like. In a job where you’re regularly putting the needs of others first and where things can be emotionally challenging – self-care becomes incredibly important. You guys might have seen that I like to get out into nature a lot. My partner and I head to the beach or go on little excursions to local villages as often as we can. I also run a lot. Both of these things play a big role in my helping me to unwind and relax outside of work.
I’ve learnt through my job that there really is no such thing as a “mentally ill” person which has been liberating and has allowed me to accept my emotions for what they are, rather than to fear them or resist them. ‘Good mental health’ is not a category that you can either check yourself in or out off. Instead, mental health rests on a spectrum and all of us at any one time can slide up and down that spectrum. Sometimes it can be due to environmental stressors, other times it can be due to biological factors. The fact is: we can all be affected at any time. I’ve personally found this to be a liberating realisation: it’s OK not to be OK sometimes. Getting some support and learning some practical tools to get you through those periods does not weaken you or reduce you to any less of who you were. Instead, it can build you up. I have seen this first hand in my job and I have also experienced this first hand having undergone therapy myself.
What are some of the not-so-great parts of my job? If you asked anyone in the NHS right now what wasn’t so great about their job, you would get very similar answers. A lot of NHS workers feel overworked, underpaid and undervalued. I know these feelings have permeated into the mental health divisions of the NHS too because burn-out amongst therapists is high. We are constantly pushed to see more patients and to spend less time with the ones we are currently seeing meaning some services really push you to offer less sessions. This is disheartening for most therapists who came into the profession to help people, not to meet quotas. Not all services are like this and I currently work in a space where I don’t feel this pressure.
Another not-so-great point is that waiting lists are high you guys. Very, very high. I know that you know about this. It’s all over the news, all the time. By the time an individual gets to see me, they have usually been waiting 3-6 months. This is awful. We know it is. Our managers know it is. Everyone knows it’s awful. Yet, this is the state of mental health services in England today. Despite working long days and seeing back-to-back patients, often without breaks, we still are not able to get through our waiting lists effectively. We all know our NHS is amazing and we are bloody lucky to have it but more needs to be done to improve access to mental health services.
Finally, I want to answer any questions any of you might have about mental health and therapy. I only work in a small part of the bigger machine that is our fantastic NHS service so I won’t have all the answers, but I am happy to give insights into what I can. So please feel free to leave me a comment or a question!