Self and Health

 

 

 

 

To be on Facebook or not to be? That really is the question that a lot of my clients have been asking themselves.

Personally, I find emails and texts enough to be keeping on top of, but I do have a Facebook page, albeit a rather dusty one. I visit my ‘face’ once every couple of months for a good nosey around, but once logged in, that’s me hooked for a few hours!

Why is it then, that I feel so darn empty afterwards?

Apparently I am not alone. Facebook is a common topic in the therapy room, and many a tear has been shed as a result of ambiguous comments and seemingly ‘perfect’ peers.

Please don’t think me an old stick in the mud, I am after all writing a blog, so can’t really bemoan the advances of social media. It’s just from a professional perspective, it’s hard to praise a platform that can also feed into our primal insecurities and magnify certain unhelpful beliefs about ourselves and others.

“All my friends are having babies, and they look so happy”; “Why can’t I see the world as positively as others, I mean, look at the inspirational quotes they post!”; “Everyone else’s lives are so full, what am I doing with mine?”

My reply – how do you know it’s true? Let’s be honest, not many of us would happily pass around a photo of ourselves looking worse for wear, or publicise our deepest darkest fears for all to see.

As social beings, we are driven to attach to others, but with this comes the danger of comparing ourselves and in some cases, creating false idols to emulate.

So if you do find yourself looking at that selfie and wondering just who that person is, remember it’s a pixelated reflection, not your true self (same goes for everyone else). We are so much more than what we project to the world! Failing that, why not try a Facebook sabbatical? It’s worked wonders for those I know who’ve taken the leap.

 

Can first-hand experience of a mental health problem help therapists to better help their clients?

Now that’s an interesting one. I would have to say, on balance, yes and no.

I myself have experienced episodes of depression and anxiety and I have also bared witness to family members struggling with addiction, psychosis and schizoid affective disorder. So you would think, on balance, that I would have a good head start as a psychotherapist working with clients who report very similar symptoms.

It is true that my personal experiences have had a significant bearing on my choice of current profession; however, with experience, I can see some of the pitfalls of ‘over identification’. Is it always possible to remain subjective when the client seems to be telling ‘your story’? Can one always retain professional distance if this is the case?

In my experience to date, I have paid particular attention to these obstacles and have discussed such transference issues at length with my supervisor. I guess this is not a challenge specific to therapists as it appears to be human nature to identify and empathize with others. It does however require self-reflection as it is not the norm for therapists to self-disclose whilst working with a client who will be quite unaware of the subtle identification process that might be going on.

I would also like to note how my own struggles with mental health have, I believe, benefitted my professional development as a psychotherapist. I have discovered that theory and formulation does not necessarily equate with desired outcomes, i.e. improved mental health and wellbeing. When I have attempted to stick rather rigidly to particular ‘models’ of therapeutic intervention, I have often hit a brick wall. I have essentially lost touch with the client and my own subjectivity in my attempt to remain the objective scientist. To counteract this effect, I now approach every client with a blank sheet, essentially encouraging myself to be mindful of everything that is happening within the room so as to respond authentically and holding theory, skills and my own subjective reality on an equal level.

Finally, I would like to thank all my clients to date for giving me greater insight into my own inner world. It is often assumed that given my training I must be super adept at managing my own life’s worries and problems. I do my utmost to ‘practice what I preach’ but at the end of the day, I am human and I’m glad to be able to identify with others’ difficulties. Without this personal insight I really don’t know how I would be able to do my job!