Mental health revelations in The Psychologist: enough is enough?
Over the last few months the pages of The Psychologist have been much occupied with revelations of the various mental health afflictions suffered by practising clinical psychologists, with BPS Vice-President Jamie Hacker Hughes prominent amongst them. To register a protest at this is evidently to run a risk of being labelled unfeeling or lacking in empathy or sympathy or something equally unattractive. Enough though, I can’t help feeling, is, at least for me, more than enough. I have always supposed that the incidence of disorders such as depression is at least as great amongst the clinical psychology profession as in the general population, possibly somewhat higher, as suffering from a health condition might well be expected to create a career interest in conditions of that type. Hence the discovery that some professional psychologists suffer from mental health challenges has hardly come as news to me. In a similar way, I expect that some GPs suffer from conditions such as ingrowing toenails and cancer of the great bowel, but I have little or no interest in knowing which physicians suffer from which conditions.
Perhaps the point in publishing these revelations is not that they are of interest to the general reader, but that accumulating or deploying the moral courage to speak out is beneficial to the confessor. If this is so, could not the BPS set up a website dedicated to publishing the narratives of those mental health professionals who have personal stories they wish to get of their chests, just as King Midas’ barber dug a hole in the ground in which to whisper that his employer had ass’s ears, so relieving himself of the burden of keeping his secret entirely to himself?
Some of the professionals who have ‘come out’ in the pages of The Psychologist seem to believe that experiencing mental health challenges has made them better at their job, and it may similarly be true, for all I know, that GPs across the country believe that they are more effective practitioners because they have suffered from ingrowing toenails or cancers of the great bowel. Psychology prides itself on being a science and encourages its professionals to base their practice on evidence. Before the claim that mental health afflictions enhance the efficacy of professional practitioners gains acceptance, shouldn’t it be tested via clinical trials rather than given credence on the basis of anecdotal evidence, even when the purveyors of such anecdotes hold high office in the British Psychological Society? And if we do as a profession accept this claim as the recent editorial practice of The Psychologist suggests that we might, aren’t there some uncomfortable implications? For example, that mental health clients would be wise to avoid psychologists who have not suffered from some mental health condition, and that psychology training courses should seek to selectively recruit candidates from those afflicted by mental health challenges? Maybe experiences designed to disturb mental health should even become part of clinical training programmes.
I must confess myself a sceptic. Everyone who suffers from conditions that are unpleasant or that they do not enjoy, has my heartfelt sympathy. I will, however, only believe that such experiences feed into therapeutic practice in a positive way when I see hard evidence to that effect. Until then, whilst I am sure that publishing ‘coming out’ narratives takes great moral courage, I find it difficult to believe that anyone benefits except the narrator and possibly other professionals suffering from the relevant condition. These benefits could readily be preserved by establishing a ‘personal confessions’ website and the pages of The Psychologist freed up for information based upon solid evidence and likely to be of interest and value to a greater proportion of the readership.
Dr Roger Lindsay
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