Patient and professional
I used to have borderline personality disorder, now I work as a psychological wellbeing practitioner. At 18 my mental health deteriorated significantly. Intense emotions appeared seemingly out of nowhere and kept me in a state of intense fear and hopelessness. I felt like my body was about to explode and my terror and shame would kill me. To cope I would self-harm or take overdoses, more an act of desperation in not knowing how to cope with my suffering and the empty void in my chest that was somehow unbearably painful. The depths of the hopeless desperation are difficult to convey in words.
For five years I was passed from one mental health professional to another, I wasn’t offered any treatment but diagnosed with five disorders. A psychiatrist said, ‘You have some sort of psychosis, come back for medication in a few months.’ Once I was forced to lift my top up to prove I wasn’t lying about self-harming on my stomach. I was branded a hopeless case. People suffering with BPD are often described as manipulative, violent, attention-seeking and impossible to treat. One morning my mum came round to my flat, I was lying on the floor, surrounded by blood-stained tissues, the house was filthy and I was oscillating between screaming and staring blindly into space. She was wonderful in advocating and demanding help for me. I was eventually offered DBT.
I’ll always suffer from the after-effects of being traumatised, but I found a great sense of peace and mastery in sitting with how I felt, allowing it to pass and not having to resort to self-destructing to cope. I faced my demons and learnt how to soothe myself. I was able to manage my life without going from crisis to crisis. My suffering was significantly reduced.I am lucky to be in an IAPT service that offers excellent supervision and support. However, I am selective in who I tell at work. A few people have said it is a career death sentence.
Furthermore, I feel the assumption can be made that I could cause harm. Who would trust a ‘manipulative, violent, attention-seeking’ person to provide decent, beneficial care? But I feel that my lived experience of suffering, therapy and having been through the mental health system makes me a more compassionate clinician. No patient has ever complained and I discharge people every week who have benefited. No one can ever fully understand someone else’s unique experience of suffering, but I can relate and that informs how I interact with my patients every day. A diagnosis of BPD doesn’t mean you are inherently disordered. It is possible to recover and if you wish go on to work in a rewarding role helping others.
We need to keep breaking down the ‘us and them’ barriers. We all suffer at times – there is no divide between ‘ill’ patients and the ‘normal’ professionals.
Name and address supplied
In support of men
I am writing to congratulate Dr Jessica McCarrick on her fantastic article ‘The “minority” man’ (May 2015). It seems unfortunate that one of the outcomes of decades of feminist campaigning and gender stereotyping is the view that domestic violence victims are necessarily female, when men are clearly victims too. The article also highlighted how other unhelpful stereotypes impact negatively on men in the criminal justice system. The gender stereotyping research, especially the study that showed husbands’ behaviours being judged as more psychologically abusive and severe than the wife’s use of the same actions is particularly worrying. However, what was even more concerning was that these ratings were made by psychologists. This demonstrates that even psychologists who spend years training and are supposed to be objective can be influenced and biased by gender stereotypes and to the detriment of men.
In June last year The Psychologist had a great special feature on male psychology showing the need for more research on masculinity and the inequalities faced by men, especially in the area of men’s health. The writers called for members to vote for a Male Psychology Section of the BPS to be established to promote this field of research. Sadly, they have so far received a very poor response (see tinyurl.com/kfkwhvr).
I was disappointed by many of my female friends’ responses who saw my desire to support men as a vote against feminism. The two things are clearly not equivalent. I feel that with today’s feminist agenda that women have plenty people fighting their corner, so what’s wrong with showing concern or support for men? Doesn’t it ever occur to women that many of us may marry men or give birth to boys? Also, what about our male patients? I am not sure if the depressingly poor response to the vote for the Male Psychology Section is due to some members having the same sort of attitude as my female friends.
It may also be possible that many of our members (male and female) are themselves influenced by gender stereotypes, viewing men as tough and emotionally stoic and therefore not evoking the same sympathy or concern as women. I do hope this is not the case. If such biases do exist I believe this would present a very concerning issue for the society and more importantly our male patients.
Dr Marie Ferguson
Consultant Clinical Psychologist
An open letter to Jeb Bush
Dear Mr Bush, I was recently made aware of your comments regarding psychology as a profession [see p.961], in which you stated that universities had a responsibility to make their psychology undergraduates ‘realize [they are] going to be working at Chick-fil-A’ (a popular US fast-food chain).
As a lecturer in psychology, I am always receptive to suggestions about how we can enhance the student experience, but I take issue with your comments. It would seem I’m not the only one, given the popularity of the resultant Twitter hashtag #thispsychmajor, through which psychology graduates worldwide have demonstrated the incredible things that they are doing with their psychology degrees (very few of which are chicken-based).
Personally, I’m doing okay off the back of mine, but that’s not really the point I wanted to make. The thing with which I take issue is your portrayal of the humanities as frivolous pursuits, ones that should take a back seat to more vocational subjects. I'm going to gloss over your misclassification of psychology as a humanities subject: psychology is a science, and your insistence otherwise betrays your lack of understanding of the field.
What I find difficult to understand about your position is that your degree was in Latin American studies. It doesn’t appear a degree in the humanities did you any harm. However, it’s perhaps pertinent that, upon graduation, most of my students don’t have family friends that sit on the boards of major international banks, ready to offer them cushy jobs in international finance.
What they do have, though, is a first-rate education that equips them with the critical thinking skills, motivation and attitudes to be able to excel in pretty much whatever they put their mind to. Quite apart from the psychologists I have trained, I have taught students who have gone on to save lives as counsellors and mental health nurses, to inspire the next generation of citizens (and voters) as teachers, and to manage the kind of multinationals of which you are so fond.
Now, you might have made the point that psychology is a competitive field, and there would have been an element of truth in that: In today’s economic climate, there are few professions that aren’t. What you said, though, was that you ‘just don’t think people are getting jobs as psych majors’, which is simply not true. A degree in psychology is more than just preparation for a career as a psychologist: it is preparation for a rewarding life of endless possibility.
I’ll sign off now, but I wish you the best of luck in the coming Republican Party presidential primaries. From what I hear of the latest opinion polls, it sounds like you’re going to need it. If it doesn’t work out, though, don’t worry:
I hear Chick-fil-A is recruiting.
Dr Danny Hinton
University of Wolverhampton
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