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From Inpatient to Therapist. An Unexpected Journey

Spending time as an inpatient.

Sometimes life draws you into situations that you never thought you’d be in. Spending time as an inpatient in a psychiatric ward for a few months has got to be in the top three most bizarre and unexpected periods of my life. For a long time, the beats of my life’s journey were predictable, uniform and everything had its place. My destiny was largely paved for me, and my responsibility was simply to walk the path.

I felt a little like Bilbo Baggins, from J.R.R Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’, when the Wizard Gandalf appears at Bilbo’s home at Bag end with 13 dwarves at his back, inviting the hairy-toed halfling to join in their dangerous quest, journeying to The Lonely Mountain. To say Bilbo was reluctant to go is an understatement as large as Smaug, the terrible dragon himself. Before he knew it, Bilbo went with the company and encountered dangerous situations, one after the next, from hungry Trolls to giant slippery spiders, encountering elves and orcs, eagles, dragons and a tiny, oh-so-precious Ring.

My visitor wasn’t a real wizard.

Well, I too had a Wizard who knocked on my door in hospital, who visited in the guise of a therapist and offered me counselling during my stay there. Honestly, I went because I had little else to do in the hospital other than play pool and people watch, and as charming as my room was where I stayed, I was ok with seeing another four walls from time to time. I discovered that my visitor wasn’t a real wizard, but he may as well have been to me. In fact, I recall commenting to him that his life must be as near perfect as one could get. He responded by giving me a glance into his world and talked about a fractious familial relationship he had.

Very quickly I learnt that the Wizard was just a man and that he utilised principles, models, tools, mindfulness practices and other things to navigate his journey. He offered me paths that looked treacherous and terrifying. And I met my own companions on the way who bore me up, taught me, protected me, and elevated my mind to new heights until the real magic happened in my life. I was beginning to heal.

Post Discharge and the inner demons.

After an exhausting year post-discharge, a period spent battling my inner demons and trying to apply what I’d learnt in my sessions, taking medication and when I had the strength, I began reaching out to others. In time, I began to feel that I had a future. Self-reflection enabled me to see some of my strengths, develop my interests and concluded that I might be a good counsellor for someone else. Maybe I could learn how to use magic and lift other people out of their seemingly bottomless holes (and not the cute hobbit kind).

My Counselling Diploma and the leap of faith.

One of the biggest leaps of faith I took in those early days of doing my Counselling diplomas, was realising that I was still dealing with my own mental health problems. Could I handle helping others with theirs, if I struggled with my own? As a student, we were provided with endless opportunities to share how we felt and what was going on for us. We were invited down paths, reminiscent of those to which the Wizard in the hospital invited me on and together, went on a journey of self-exploration and discovery. We were invited to confront the parts of ourselves that we felt shame over, our fears and pain, prejudices and ideology.

Early on my tutor invited me to “trust the process”, and I chose from then to let go and immerse myself in the experience. The process of therapy has been the catalyst which has utterly transformed my life because I am committed to it.

I trusted the Wizard who turned out to be just another human, figuring life out like me. I am forever changed through the process of going on my own ‘Unexpected journey’ of therapy, and emerging years later as a therapist. The Grey Wizard’s promise became true to The Hobbit and to me.

“Can you promise that I will come back?” asked Bilbo.
“No. And if you do, you will not be the same”

This blog was written by David Sheppard, one of our highly respected qualified therapists in the UK Counselling Network family. His entry was the 2nd place winning submission of the Blog competition held in May.

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