DPSN is back online and we’re kicking off February with a few of our favourite blogs from 2017. This blog is Sam’s favourite – ‘The Agony Aunt Psychologist that Barbara wrote for ‘Image’ month.
Sometimes I wonder if therapists, in general, have a bit of an image problem. People have a range of different reactions when I tell them I work as a psychologist…from those that think I’m namby-pamby touchy feely and just want to give the world a hug (although it’s true that sometimes I do!). To those who think I’m a laser-sharp analyst who’s going to bore into your brain and read your thoughts, frankly, I’d charge a heck of a lot more if I could!
So this month I decided to play the role of Agony Aunt. I surveyed some of my friends, family and work colleagues about the things they always wanted to ask a therapist but were either too afraid to, or they’ve never had the chance. I hope you enjoy…and maybe learn something too.
Do you ever analyse your family and friends when they’re talking to you?
Doing my job takes quite a lot of mental and emotional effort and I’m not particularly inclined to do it on my days off!
How has working as a psychologist changed you as a person?
I’ve found that it’s helped me to better understand the behaviour of other people in tricky or difficult situations. And it’s helped me to be kinder towards myself too.
What’s the worst thing about the work that you do?
The emotional load. Hearing constantly about the really awful, tragic things that have happened in people’s lives does take it out of you some days. Self-care is really important.
Do you like giving people advice?
I try really hard not to give advice. I try to help people better understand their experiences and manage them differently if that’s what they want to do. Also, I’m not the expert on what will best for any particular person. They are.
Have you ever gone to therapy?
Of course! I’d be a pretty crappy therapist if I didn’t think therapy was helpful. I’ve seen counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists at various points in my life and for various reasons.
Do you ever gossip about your clients with your friends?
No way. Confidentiality is hugely important and I only talk about my work in the most general terms. I have clinical (and confidential) supervision if I need to talk about my clients.
Do you take your own advice?
The short answer is that I’m just as stubborn as anyone else! But I do try to use the same kinds of skills and strategies that I might suggest to other people.
Why do you do it?
Lots of reasons really but it mostly boils down to being because I enjoy talking to, and supporting, other people.
Do you ever give advice to your friends and family?
See above. Also, I try not to jump in from a psychology perspective in a personal conversation unless someone asks for it. Even then I usually just give information or point them in the right direction to get help. Boundaries are important, and friends and family are not looking for a psychologist to talk to…they’re looking for a friend or family member!
Are you allowed to have friends or family as clients?
No. The ethical guidelines for psychologists state that we have to avoid dual relationships. That is, we can’t see anyone as a client who we have a prior relationship with (either personal or professional)…and vice versa, once you’ve seen someone as a client, you can’t have another kind of relationship with them.
Is it hard to switch off? What techniques or strategies do you use?
Yeah, it really can be. I try not to think about clients after work, but I’m only human and it does happen. I use a few things to try and differentiate my work day from my personal time. I try to make sure I’ve written up all my clinical notes for the day before I leave (because if I can get it all down on paper, it’s easier to leave behind and come back to tomorrow). Taking a walk or doing something else active can help switch gears after work as well. And if I’m having a really hard time with it, I remind myself that I’m no good to any of my clients if I’m stressed or tired from worrying about them – I’m the most helpful to someone else when I take the best care of myself.