One on one... with Dr Martina Gerada
Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, starting with My Brilliant Best Friend, are enthralling. I loved them not only because in rainy, cloudy London they took me back to my Mediterranean roots, but because they provided a lens into something that was starkly familiar yet (till then) elusive to me. The book describes a masculine world of silent coercion and submission that most people living in the Mediterranean after the war would probably recognise, explained through the voices of two intelligent little girls. What shines through for me in this story is the refreshing honesty about the conspiring and inspiring competition that can exist in strong bonds between women.
Can I have one in English, the other Italian? ‘Reprieve’ by Ani diFranco and ‘Processo a me stessa’ by Anna Oxa. They speak for themselves, and if you like them, they will speak to you.
One cultural recommendation
A musical play of Bob Dylan songs called Girl from the North Country. It’s coming back to London theatres this December. Go see it!
One unusual thing about my job
The job of a counselling/clinical psychological practitioner is an unusual one. We listen to, absorb and process emotions on a daily basis. We work to make sense of, and rise above, the pushes and pulls of intense and sometimes destructive human experiences. This. Is. Hard.
Some days I catch myself thinking, ‘but I am only human…!’ And most times I realise that this is exactly what enables me to do my job well. I cannot know it all, be prepared for it all or always deal with it brilliantly but my ability to connect with another, together with my training and my professional support, will guide me through. It is also a great exercise, to state empathically with colleague-friends, ‘man we have a weird job!’ – this light-hearted acknowledgement is enough to normalise some of our fears or professional stuck-points and, like a mindfulness exercise, it enables us not to get too caught up in them.
One rewarding thing about my job
I love being in learning environments. A balance of teaching and clinical work with patients/clients creates two systems for me that inform and replenish one another.
One thing psychologists could do better
Band together for political causes that relate to health. I will not say ‘mental health’ because although the distinction is probably important for funds allocation and political slogans, I don’t believe the mind-body separation is an otherwise helpful one. We need to find better ways to organise politically, especially during this time when our NHS is in crisis and the effects of an unhealthy system are being suffered by nurses, doctors and psychologists as well as our patients.
One thing about the Society
The Society is the one place that can host such a movement to band together. It has the potential to be the voice of and professional home for psychologists. I don’t know enough about why this might not always have worked out – more psychologists seem to have chosen to leave the Society over the past few years.
One piece from The Psychologist
In ‘Windows on our inner and outer worlds’ (July 2018), colleagues in the field wrote about the ways in which they relax. I thought it was really refreshing to see an article that spoke of our humanity. It presented an honest account of the toll this profession can take on us, and showed that knowing how to care for ourselves and each other is of utter importance.
One piece of advice
Cultivate and cherish relationships with work colleagues. They are the bedrock of my professional life, stimulating my thinking, inspiring me to revise and update my practice and nourishing my identity as a counselling psychologist, even when they come from different professional fields.
One other piece of advice…
As psychologists we don’t usually give direct advice so I initially thought I didn’t have any to give but this seems to be the ‘Pringles’ of questions… ‘once you pop, you can’t stop’! Just one more: Procrastination is the companion of meaningful (usually written) work. Accept this, embrace your clean house and then carve out what you want to create a little at a time, inching closer to your goal.
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