Social psychology is growing in me; I know that now and that after some few years of experiencing a growing dissatisfaction, and whilst becoming aware of not allowing myself to be true to myself, I began to realise that if I was not careful, some of what I was beginning to feel might begin creeping into my work – as a counsellor and hypnotherapist this might not have been very helpful!!
Don’t get me wrong, I have always been careful to be ‘the best me’ I can be when working with people in distress; whether using solution focus approaches or Ericksonian styles Hypnotherapy (more of which in another blog post, soon).
I was just beginning to feel that some of what I was doing was – not exactly wasted (helping others is never a waste), yet I wasn’t ‘flying’ as I knew I could be, should be, doing.
Then I had a kind of epiphany. I have done lots and lots and lots of group work; with school staff, with beginning counsellors, with groups at conferences and other groups on courses of all kinds. Oops, I almost forgot, and when working in a classroom as a regular teacher; when supporting groups of anxious year 11, 12 and 13 students at exam time. All sorts of groups …, all sorts of ages.
Slowly, I cottoned on to something (I’m getting older, guys, give me a break). People in groups consist of all sorts of people: except some are successful and some are less successful, in all sorts of ways. When it comes to mental health however, this raises an interesting point that is frequently missed, since we seem to focus our attention and efforts on ‘the individual’ and not the group.
How come some people experience mental health issues and others, with ostensibly similar backgrounds – same age, gender, social milieu, educational attainment levels, salaries, homes and families, NEVER, or seldom, experience mental distress? Or if they do, there’s some qualitative difference between their mental distress and someone else’s?
So, what are we missing when we work ONLY with individuals? My shot at answering this is that we miss the differences because of the way we structure our work. So, there must be something else happening than what Jack or Abigail or Khalil or Alexandru are feeling at the moment when they feel they are in ‘distress’.
And our focus will naturally be on the individual sat in our therapy room, so, as we work hard to help them lose their sense of ‘distress’, it becomes apparent to some therapists that, whilst, we are doing good work, it is only in a piecemeal way. Others, like the people in my list above (all aliases, by the way) are either out in their community toughing it out, and naturally, I guess feeling pretty rubbish; whilst some others, in the same community, are happily getting on with stuff and doing this with only the same resources.
So, how to meet the needs of the people in my list above? I think the answer is to work with all of them, as many members of the same community as are happy to be worked with, or at least a greater number than the individual presenting with distress in the therapy room. This way, I believe, we pick up the person who is in distress and the people who may well, but aren’t as yet, become distressed. So what happens is both ameliorative, and preventive.
(c) Paul Avard