|"On my mind for a number of years has been the so-called medical model. Increasingly I have focused on examining what this umbrella term might mean" |
|"It might seem to some readers rather unusual for a counselling and psychotherapy journal to include a column written by a psychiatrist. I should like, then, to introduce myself and explain why I have accepted the invitation to write this column"|
In practice – The art of not doing
Last week I attempted to write a blog for my personal website. I couldn’t access my editing system, so I checked my live site for the first time in a while. However pleased I am with its new design, looking at it always makes me feel slightly vain and uncomfortable. But this time discomfort gave way to shock and then horror. My online professional presence had vanished, to be replaced by an arresting and deeply alarming image of a young girl, as in six-year-old, pointing a large automatic pistol at the camera – at me in fact. I’d been hacked, and a ‘Mr 7.nsh’ was very proud of his genius in manipulating a security flaw.
A bit of googling revealed Mr 7.nsh to be a ‘legendary’ hacker – my website is one of thousands his destructive software has violated all over the world. There’s even a webpage dedicated to his prowess. This offered some solace – it was a random attack, nothing to do with a blog or an incompetent session or the teacher from my secondary school days who would have had every right to seek revenge. But it was my web designer, Thomas, who was really able to set my mind at ease. ‘Don’t worry Julia, you are in good hands. I’ll sort this out, leave it with me.’
Within a couple of hours the vile image and accompanying hip-hop music had gone and a holding page had been put up in their place, while Thomas immediately set to work restoring all that we had both devised. Through most of the following day he painstakingly reconstructed everything from a back-up he had fortunately made only a few days ago – and he kept me posted throughout. ‘We’re getting there, we’ll be live soon... Just a couple of hours before I’m done.’ I had been attacked, but now I was being looked after. I felt safe in the knowledge that all would be well, even though there was nothing I could do to assist the process (a tough one for a control freak). This trust in Thomas to make all OK mitigated much of the nastiness of what had happened. He has, for now, become my hero.
The whole experience reminded me of how I can’t offer such blanket assurances to my clients, nor ever become a hero in quite the same way. I cannot fix what has broken, sort out a logistical issue or even take over decision-making. I may help with thinking, or decision-making or problem-solving, but I do so with my client’s mind and co-operation. There are exceptions of course, but I am probably unable to do anything practically useful without it corrupting a therapeutic relationship. Lending my very chaotic client money when he was robbed was tempting but inappropriate.
For the past few weeks I have sat with a young man, stuck in an ever-deepening rut of a deeply destructive relationship with a colleague at work. He knows the toll this is taking on him emotionally, financially and physically too – his sleep has gone haywire with worry. Yet he can’t extricate himself without unbearable guilt, although everyone around him would be more than supportive. He asks me time and again: ‘What shall I do? What would you do?’
And then I think of the many women I work with who struggle to conceive, or are repeatedly unable to hold on to their longed-for pregnancies. Or the single people desperate to be in relationships and nurture families, or my very ill client who is waiting an unfairly long time for the test results from hospital. For all of them, however strong my urge may be to respond to a desire to ‘sort’ things or reassure them, I am unable to say: ‘I’ll sort this out. Leave it with me. All will be well.’
I can be left with pain or anger or guilt or joy, or even a curious pain in my body or a strange image in my mind. I may even be left with a hope or faith that isn’t my clients’ but one that I generate and hold for them. And this unquantifiable-ness of what can be left with me can also feel quite meaningless for our clients. I have felt this in my own therapy when desperate to know what to feel or to know or to think – how can it be that my therapist’s faith is useful to me? But I also think that it is exactly these challenging aspects of what I do that partly explains why I do it.
Oh, and if you have a website, please check you are fully backed-up.
Details have been changed to protect identities.