Clinical, Mental health

'We hurt. We suffer. We can sometimes cause harm.'

Dr Anna Chiara Sicilia writes.

27 August 2020

I have been impressed with the recent conversations happening within the psychology professions. It is positive to see that we are (dare I say, finally) talking about ‘uncomfortable topics’ that are too often silenced. I am pleased that the Division of Clinical Psychology have taken a stance to value lived experience of mental health difficulties in their recently published lived experience position statement. I hope this statement will lead to important changes.

I think we still have a long way to go, though this feels like a good step in the right direction.  

I was particularly touched by the recent article by Jacy Young and Peter Hegarty in the June issue of the Psychologist. It is, in my view, an incredibly brave narrative and something that highlighted an important point – abuse happens within the profession too. Unfortunately, part of the issue is that abuse is too often silenced and, at times, being part of a particular professional group, creates an extra layer of difficulty in speaking up.

There are many assumptions that surround clinical psychologists. I am sure this is also true of other professional groups (I am speaking from my own perspective and observations from within my own profession, rather than a belief that these issues are unique to clinical psychology). Some of the most damaging assumptions I have come across are as follows.

  1. People often struggle to believe that harm can be caused by the very people who should embrace principles that go against all kind of discrimination, harassment, abuse.
  2. People also often struggle to believe that clinical psychologists can experience deep emotional pain.

Both points require more discussion than would be appropriate in a brief piece like this. However, in both cases what we seem to be forgetting is that clinical psychologists (and other mental health professionals) are human too. We hurt. We suffer. We can sometimes cause harm.  

Speaking up is often a very powerful weapon against assumptions and stigma. However, it is not always safe to share for many different reasons. I recently decided to speak up about my own experience of emotional abuse from a fellow clinical psychologist/supervisor in a blog article that I published in my role as director of in2gr8mentalhealth. It has taken me a while to take this step and in2gr8 has been a safe space to consider this. Many will know that trauma / abuse often triggers deep shame, which silences and, in some cases, can kill. I don’t use the word abuse lightly. Many people will have had their own experiences of pain. Some similar to mine, some very different. 

My hope in highlighting this issue is that we might be able to start a conversation about one of those uncomfortable truths: abuse happens between people and our profession is not immune to it, as we are not immune to the pain that follows. All I can say is, if you witness abuse and you are in a position to say something, do not stay silent. 

Dr Anna Chiara Sicilia

Chartered Clinical Psychologist

Director in2gr8mentalhealth Ltd