I had my first experience as a client in therapy as a terrified fifteen year old. I had recently been through a severely traumatic event and was referred to psychotherapy by the NHS. My father (who was part of the trauma) insisted he came with me to sessions and the therapist did nothing to argue against this. I sat in three sessions of silence until half way through the fourth session, my therapist announced that this wasn’t working and I should go home. Needless to say, I went forward with a very negative view of therapy.
Fast forward twenty-four years and I am halfway through my four years of training as a transactional analysis psychotherapist, but with such a negative experience what attracted me to this as a career? Well, I am glad to say this was not my only experience as a client in therapy.
Early life experiences
As alluded to earlier, I had early life experiences that left me with a lot of trauma and psychological pain. Over the course of my adult life, I learnt ways of coping and understanding that were damaging me in the long term. When I was approaching thirty my father died young and I unravelled. The ways I had of understanding the world no longer worked and I was left rudderless. I had a breakdown.
What is a breakdown?
There is no medical diagnosis of breakdown, it is a term often used by the person who experiences it, they just ‘know’ it has happened. For me it was an extended period of incredibly low functioning. Most days it was all I could do to make it to the next. Every day was like climbing a mountain whilst laden with the heaviest pack, only to find another mountain waiting at the summit. I had contact with my G.P and was signed off work, I was also given antidepressant medication. Eventually I was too unwell for my doctor to handle and was referred to secondary care.
What have I learnt about myself?
Through my experience with secondary care mental health services, I got to access long-term, free psychotherapy. It was at this time that I learnt to find the shattered pieces of myself and re-arrange them into the person I have become. Through working with a highly skilled therapist, I learned:
- That I could be myself, whoever that was at the time and be experienced fully by another, that I was ‘OK’.
- That the ways I had of viewing myself were damaging, this was achieved by being challenged in a caring, loving way.
- Less hateful ways of judging and understanding myself.
- New ways of coping with the world which led me to becoming autonomous, arming myself with ways of dealing with life’s problems for the future.
- To recognise that my previous ways of understanding myself and the world had got me through a lot, but that they could be changed.
- To forgive myself and be freed from the shackles of my traumatic past.
After a long period of my recovery I began working within secondary care mental health as a peer support worker and would often visit the building I came to as a service user. During this period I came to understand how little provision there is for long term therapy within the NHS and how lucky I was that I got to access this.
I am now proud to be part of the Award-Winning UK Counselling Network C.I.C. We strive to provide high-quality, low cost, long-term counselling and psychotherapy across the country. Healing from our past should be a right and not a privilege.
Jamie Jeffreys – Project and PLacement Co-ordinator