When I first started working with the BPS about twelve years ago I was initially appointed as a "service user representative", a title which was eventually updated to “Expert by Experience” some years later.
Why? Because I have personal experience using mental health services, having once been sectioned, told that I had Bipolar Disorder, and given a variety of support - some of which was helpful and some of which was not.
While I found aspects of my care to be good, I found that much of it was not, and was potentially harmful, as I frequently felt that I was not seen and not heard.
My identity changed - I was being defined and treated as a “psychiatric patient” - and felt like less of a person.
This isn't unusual. Psychiatric patients are often considered to "lack insight" into their own condition(s). But working with a psychologist ultimately helped me to learn to trust my own thoughts again, and to realise that my insight into my own sense of self was more important than what others thought they could see in me.
Her empathy, her willingness to bear witness to my story and what had happened to me, was one of the most importants element in my journey towards healing.
One thing I have come to understand is that there are many experiences which all of us share as human beings and others that only some of us have. And respecting each other’s unique experiences and learning from each other is at the heart of my work.
We have all experienced stressful times and many of us have stress in our life that will not go away, stress that we just have to live with in whatever way we can.
And although psychologists possess a wealth of knowledge and expertise aimed at helping people find solutions to stressful situations or to help them live with difficulties that can’t be avoided, often they are considered just to be therapists, with little regard for the deep well of knowledge that they can draw on.
Of course psychologists are people too, and have their own hopes and dreams, disappointments and frustrations, like all of us. But all psychologists (not just clinical psychologists) need to be aware of the power differences between different groups of people in society, and the different experiences of those they work with.
Many of these people - from children and young people (and their families), to older adults, people with intellectual diifficulties, and those who have experienced mental or physical health problems - can be quite vulnerable. Others may well take decisions on their behalf from which they are excluded.
But one of the best things that any psychologist can do is to support people people in making decisions for themselves.
After all, society is ill-served when its citizens feel powerless, which is one reason why there is a current surge in interest in community action and democratic approaches, responding to the sometimes-toxic systems and workplaces which can exist by listening to and learning from each other’s experiences in order to make useful changes - moving from protest to projects!
I’m really looking forward to discussing and debating these ideas and perspectives with those who are coming along tomorrow - its not too late - maybe we could squeeze you in too?
For more info on tomorrow's event, please click the link below: