reflective practice

Who Needs Therapy?

I was interested to read the Saturday Interview in the Guardian this morning by Decca Aitkenhead who interviewed Alexis Jay, the chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA).

As a therapist, the headline caught my attention: 

Alexis Jay: ‘I’ve never needed therapy – I did get angry in Rotherham though’

I read on with keen interest. 

Towards the end of a very worthy read, Decca wondered....

...what it must do to Jay to expose herself to the horrors of child sexual abuse for so many years. “I know my own limitations,” she admits. “I know I would not wish to watch videos of children being abused or listen to the sound of them being abused. I know I couldn’t control that and it could inhabit your psyche and you’d be waking up in the middle of the night. As it happens, I have [had to do that], in my past life, in other roles, and I can still see photographs in my head and you would worry about that kind of thing haunting you. But I can absolutely manage well listening to the individual talking, or reading about it. I hope I’m never immune to the impact of the experience [abused] people have and I would never want to be. I’m deeply affected by what I hear.”

As I do, Decca writes that she assumed that anyone doing her job would need the support of a therapist, but no, instead...

...she hoots with laughter.

“Oh no no, no no no. No, no, I have never personally felt the need for any kind of therapy. 

This article begs the question: who needs therapy? And, why does Jay hoot with laughter at the suggestion?  

To me, a person who is deeply affected by such distressing issues would most likely benefit from some kind of talking therapeutic endeavour to deal with consequences that come with the territory such as vicarious trauma, empathy fatigue and burnout. Just a safe, confidential space to process one's thoughts and feelings - to talk through what we are deeply affected by in our work, which takes up such a large proportion of our lives. And, these kinds of jobs are difficult to confine to the usual working hours. Having volunteered on a child sexual abuse helpline and worked as a therapist in prisons, there are certain conversations, images and people who appear to be permanently etched on my mind. I need a space to process that type of work and talk about how it impacts me: to me, therapy and clinic supervision are a necessity.

Alexis Jay was a social worker for 31 years, and still considers it her profession. I wonder if she was averse to therapy then she might, instead, some type of consultative supervision to help her engage in reflective practice. Given that she is working with such distressing material, or even just making hugely important decisions about human beings, I would have thought that some outlet to reflect on the work would be helpful at least. Personally, I think reflective practice in any type of social work is crucial and in many other professions where we deal with human suffering too. The more reflexive that can be the better, in order to engage in critical thinking about one's decisions and processes. It is vital when working with people to consider our own attitudes, values and beliefs, to examine the theories that we use to understand issues, and to open our practise to scrutiny. 

I offer such consultative supervision, read more about this here.

There is also a slightly hysterical tone to Jay's protestation at the suggestion of therapy that is typical of our culture's aversion to 'needing' therapy - or come to that, any kind of need to talk about our feelings. Stiff upper lip and all that for the British...

If you are reading this and wondering if you need therapy, maybe the word 'need' gets in the way of making a good decision. Perhaps, if you replace need with 'could benefit from', it might help you to think how talking about what's going on for you right now might be a good thing. A neutral space apart from family and friends, where you can work through your thoughts and feelings with an empathic, non-judgmental and authentically down-to-earth counsellor might be just the thing that would benefit you at this time in your life.  If you recognise this to be true for you do get in touch.