Experiencing what clients experience

British Psychological Society Vice President Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes' letter from the November 2016 edition.

I’m responding to the letter entitled ‘Clinicians with mental health difficulties’ (October 2016). I am one of them – and what drew me into a career in psychology, and specifically clinical psychology, was my earlier experience of panic disorder and, to a lesser extent, post traumatic stress. I did not, however, seek to enter the profession either as a form of therapy or to find a cure; rather I was intrigued by what had been happening in my mind and brain, and I fervently wanted to try to understand a little of that.

But little did I know that five years after successfully graduating and then qualifying as a clinical psychologist I was to go on to experience debilitating bouts of depression and, eventually, to be diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder, a diagnosis that I have now had for nearly 16 years.

I have talked openly about my psychological health status and felt it particularly important to do so to demonstrate that it has in no way prevented me not only from reaching the very pinnacle of our profession (although some might not see it that way!) as President of the British Psychological Society but also from being someone who has achieved a measure of success in my clinical, academic and professional work outside the BPS.

I could not agree more with the writer of October’s letter. Leading by example is vitally important and something that I have always encouraged, especially in the area of speaking publicly about psychological distress as an effective way of breaking down stigma (although, of course, not everyone is comfortable in doing so). But I also agree with the writer that the empathy with clients or patients that comes from having had one’s own experience of psychological health problems is very special and is something that I have treasured throughout my career so far as a clinical psychologist.

Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes
BPS Vice President



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Dear Sir,
I find your letter most interesting in the sense that i myself only three years ago entered into a degree pathway in Psychology prompted by intervention from a clinical Psychologist for my own mental distress issues. These issues had lay dormant for many years and since embarking on my study career as well as regular PiP events i have come to understand many of the underlying issues that have contributed to my long term condition.

Fundamentally, my passion now lies with erasing the stigma that so predominantely attaches itself to mental distress and have made presentations, all be to a small audience, on this issue.
Like yourself i welcome open dialogue from anyone suffering Psychological distress and find that to 'feel those feelings' and share with others, public or professional, is as you say a most effective way of breaking down stigma.
One could only suggest that maybe if all clients take up a degree in Psychology like myself, maybe they would have a better understanding of the collective issues concerning cause and effect ?

Kindest regards
Timothy Newton