I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the discussion which began with my letter in the October 2016 issue. I had not expected such a big response [see also tinyurl.com/clinhealth], and the willingness of people to reply with honesty and enthusiasm has been very encouraging. Your letters have articulated the points I wanted to make about stigma around mental health issues, far better than I could.
I am grateful in particular to those who have spoken in support of challenging the ‘I’m OK, you’re not OK’ perception of the relationship between client and mental health professional. Being only a few months into my first assistant psychologist role, I’m far too inexperienced to have formed an opinion about whether self-disclosure with clients is appropriate. I’d also be wary of making too many comparisons between my own and others’ experiences. However, I will venture to suggest from my own perspective as a service-user, that I am more mindful of the challenges that people may come up against in therapy than I otherwise might have been. Psychological distress can happen to anybody and should not be a barrier to exploring a career in mental health service provision. Would we expect congenital heart disease to prevent someone training to be a cardiologist?
Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I can understand that people looking for high-calibre academic writing and hardcore statistics might be frustrated by anecdotal pieces. I would argue though that The Psychologist presents itself as a platform for both professionals and those with an interest in psychology to share personal stories and opinions. It seems to me that discussing mental health experiences is a valuable part of this forum, especially with the ongoing drive to demonstrate psychology’s relevance to the general public. Describing people’s acknowledgement of psychological difficulties as ‘confessions’, sadly highlights the all too commonly experienced feeling that one has done something wrong if one is struggling with mental health problems. If you want the evidence, you only have to look at the vast number of blogs about mental health that exist in the public domain, of which stigma is a recurring theme. I hope that one day people will be able to speak openly on this topic, without fear of judgement that they are simply doing it for reasons of self-interest.
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