It’s no secret that people tend to flock towards the career which they have a personal connection too. Whether that connection is a spiritual one or one of simple enjoyment the sentiment is the same, “I want to pay the bills without hating how I pay the bills”. This is why car lovers become mechanics, animal lovers become vets and foodies become chefs. Of course this isn’t always the case, we stumble or get stuck, we get desperate and forget to feed the soul but in an ideal world we’d all do what we love.
It’s no surprise then when we hear nearly every vet we meet has pets and nearly every hair dresser we see is has beautiful hair. It’s their passion and because it’s their passion it makes them better at their job. A teacher who hates children is not going to be as good at their job as one who does just as a prison officer who doesn’t believe in reform will not be as effective at their job as one who does. But what about health? The rule still applies, a lot of nurses get into the field after experiencing the care of an ill loved one; researchers after the death of a friend; surgeons after the trauma of an emergency. Why then do we expect our mental health professionals to have it all together?
Mental health professionals have a suicide rate higher than the general population. A whopping 42% of psychiatrists and mental health professionals report burnout and move away from their role. But why is this? Well looking at the formula above it’s clear, it’s common for mental health professionals to enter the field after their own struggles with mental illness. It makes them better at their job. We’ve all experienced that moment when we’re talking to a friend about an issue that’s really upset you and you hear them say “I know how you feel”… that sentence can either be a huge comfort or a huge point of contention. And as humans we have this weird 6th sense for when this isn’t authentic, we just feel it in our soul, this person doesn’t actually know how I feel at all. So wouldn’t therapies be more successful if they were delivered by an authentic source? I believe so, and I also believe that is what makes mental health professions good at their jobs, they do understand.
Why is it then that we expect perfection from our mental health professionals? Yes, they have been taught all the tools to aid well-being but I could buy all the tools required to rewire my house and I still couldn’t actually rewire my house. Psychology is forever changing with new theories and developments in treatment always under review. This means professionals who are likely to have a history with mental illness and are more vulnerable to mental illnesses due to burn out, are consistently learning new ways to view themselves, their emotions and their behaviours in relation to psychology. That is a lot of pressure even before applying the stigma that mental health professionals are living perfectly emotionally balanced lives. Many physicians with mental health problems, including psychiatrists, do not self-disclose because they are afraid of being sanctioned by licensing bodies. A study of 2106 female physicians found that only 6% with formal diagnosis or treatment of mental illness had disclosed their condition.
This is a strange phenomenon that doesn’t happen to many other career paths. We don’t expect doctors to never get sick and we don’t expect educators to never make mistakes. We hear stories of health care workers being against vaccines, historians believing in aliens and academics believing in flat earth theory and we don’t tend to think deeper than “well that’s weird considering…”. But when we hear of a counsellor who suffers from personality disorder it’s a normalised response to say “well they can’t be that good at their job”. It’s a stigma we have to change and the only way to change it is to educate everyone around us.
My personal journey to becoming a psychotherapeutic counsellor was fraught with complications. I have been in and out of community mental health services from the age of roughly 14. I have racked up an impressive four separate diagnoses during this time and took part in everything from talking therapies to CBT and DBT. I have lived a chaotic lifestyle with ups and downs. However, I have also spent 7 years studying, qualifying and registering as a psychotherapeutic counsellor and hypnotherapist. I have my own home, car and business. I have both the personal and professional experience required to make actual positive change in clients lives. I know my boundaries and how to maintain my well-being. But most importantly I know what to do should my mental health decrease again. I know my illness does not stop me from being good at my job in fact I feel it makes me better. I know what helped me and what didn’t, what elements of counsellors I liked and disliked and I am able to use this information to best help my clients. I have continued to receive counselling throughout my business not only to help my general well-being but to also continue my work in processing trauma. The same goes for medication, I take a combination of medication to help manage my mental health which also gives me a greater understanding of peoples choices and their attitudes towards medication.
The times are changing and younger generations are more empowered than ever with technology allowing them to access support in ways never available before. We all have a duty of care to ensure that the information they have access too is showing authentic realism. There are no perfect humans to aspire too and even those who support others to achieve emotional balance are not holders of all the answers.
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