I haven’t been able to put my finger on it, ever. Until I read the chapter by Robin Youngson in “Roar behind the silence”. And I’ve had an epiphany. His honesty about the kind of anaesthetist that he was before he embraced compassion, and the kind of anaesthetist that he is now, his ability to face his shame and his demons, has helped me to do the same. Thank-you Robin. Thank-you so much.
When I am honest about the kind of psychologist I was before I left the NHS, and face my shame and my demons, I understand a little better, what went wrong. I have never liked being a psychologist. I have always grappled with why I don’t like being a psychologist.
I don’t want to be a midwife because I don’t want to work in an institution that can medicalise, depersonalise, and reduce women to bodies that need to have a finger put inside their vagina regularly to check whether they are “failing” or not. I do not have the resilience, and I do not have the people skills, to go in and help in the tide of change – that tide of incredible midwives, doctors, lawyers, doulas and so on, fighting the system and building, piece by piece, a better maternity system. Thank-you to those amazing people.
I am clear about why I don’t want to be a midwife. I don’t want to take on the system. I don’t want to have to witness it any more that I have to as a doula.
But I have never been clear about why I don’t want to be a practicing psychologist. I have never understood this struggle within me, this reluctance to sit in front of some-one in distress and try to help them. I remember, 23 years ago, in my first year of Clinical Psychology training, sitting in front of my mentor, the lovely Professor Gilbert, telling him that “I’ve made a mistake. I don’t want to do this job after all”. We didn’t understand my reticence. I stuck at it. But I spent the next 13 years not enjoying my work. Then, I left the NHS and began to apply my psychology to a different arena – that of “normal” people, people who are not in distress looking for me to solve the problems for them. I began, finally, to enjoy my work. Why?
I have just read a chapter by the inspiring Robin Youngson in the amazing book “Roar behind the Silence” and all is clear. I’ve literally had an epiphany, and I’m sitting here, very excited, and very moved. Waves of relief and emotion are washing over me. I’m trying to formalise it and understand it as I write.
And I’ve realised that there is so much wrong with the way that I was trained in clinical psychology. I couldn’t understand what was wrong, I couldn’t see what was wrong, and so I couldn’t address it. I just felt uncomfortable the whole time. And it seems so obvious to me now. I was taught to be clinically detached. I was part of a system that differentiated between “them” and “us”. This suited me, because I am not particularly good at being warm and open when I first meet some-one. And yet, it didn’t suit me, because I never enjoyed my job. I always felt the responsibility of being the “expert” in an arena where I knew deep down that the person was the expert, and the problem was society. How could I sit in front of some-one who was distressed, and pretend that they were struggling because of some fault in their thinking style? Or try to help them in a little bubble of a therapy room, when I knew that it was their family, or their society that was crazy?
I remember the discomfort when I had to reject a lovely present that a client with Down’s Syndrome had given me. (I had been told never to accept presents, so I didn’t). I remember not even questioning, during preparation for my interviews for a place as a trainee, why I was advised never to say that I “want to help people”. I remember hiding all traces of my personal life, and not divulging anything during therapy because I was taught that that would spoil the transference (or something like that).
So, I left the NHS, which felt a little like severing an umbilical cord. People envied me, and told me I was brave. The change in me was very quick. I began to free myself up to be warm, friendly, open and honest as a person. I no longer needed to be “clinically detached”. I began to enjoy my job. Yippee. I could accept gifts. I could have a laugh with people, chat to them about me, tell them it was okay to phone me before the next session, and so on. Of course, I could have done all those things before I left the NHS, and all the good therapists that I know did it right from the start. Just like all the good midwives don’t necessarily stick to the rule book, and they might get reprimanded for the times when their compassion got in the way of their diligent note taking. The NHS is working on increasing compassion as one of the 6 C’s. We know that compassion makes for resilience and job satisfaction. It’s certainly helping me enjoy my job. I ditched the detachment and opened up to compassion. Thanks Robin, for spreading the word.
To find out more about Compassionate Midwifery workshops for all birth professionals, go to www.yourbirthright.co.uk/birth-professionals/.
Clinical Psychologist, Birth Doula and Hypnobirthing practitioner