Why people who have experienced mental health issues themselves can make great therapists.
Posted on 6th November 2018 at 11:31
I trained as a registered mental health nurse in the 1980s.
This was around the time of Beverley Allitt (the nurse who killed a number of children in her care and remains a long term patient at Rampton Hospital).
There was already huge stigma surrounding mental illness and the press at the time made a great deal of Allitt’s mental health history. As a knee jerk reaction it became very difficult for anyone with a history of mental health problems to train as a nurse.
Having experienced anxiety and for a period of time, clinical depression, I suddenly felt very vulnerable.
My GP at the time was very supportive and when I needed time off sited “post viral syndrome” on my sick note rather than “depression” but I felt like a criminal and I daren’t disclose to anyone at work the real reason for my absence.
The thing was though, that apart from the one occasion when I did need time off, it didn’t effect my work. Looking back, I know that I was a really good nurse not least because I could empathise with my patients.
I remember once disclosing to a depressed patient who was feeling really guilty about her illness that I had experienced depression too and this helped me gain her trust and reassured her that she was not alone.
To say that you “know” how a person feels is too presumptive as we are all different and will experience anxiety and depression differently. As a therapist going in to too much detail about your own issues is not appropriate as it takes away the focus from the patient to yourself, but to disclose to a person that you have experienced anxiety or depression yourself in most cases helps build rapport and reassures them that they are not “mad” “bad” or “weird”.
Fast forward 30 years and thankfully it’s a very different world. At the local NHS Trust where I work on the nursing bank, we have a scheme called “positive assets”. This initiative supports people who have had, and in some cases, still experience mental health problems in to voluntary work and paid employment. including work as health professionals.
As the title suggests, it is now seen as an advantage for people to have experienced what it feels like to have mental health problems and even the young royals are opening up and talking about their issues.
In my private practice my clients are often looking for a change of career and I have had a conversation with more than one of then suggesting that working in mental health might be something to consider.
Obviously its not for everyone and you need to have sufficiently dealt with your own issues and be in a “good place” before you can help others, but If this sounds like you then please do feel free to message me or arrange to meet for a chat as I would be more than happy to share my knowledge of the possible routes to employment and the support that is available out there.
Share this post: