It is easy to get sucked into treatment plans and strategies, to be seduced by some new model promising a cure in only a few sessions. But life just isn’t like thatby Anna Blundy / July 16, 2018 / Leave a comment
“I think they’re trying to send me a message,” the patient said, certainly trying to send me one. He was panicky, hadn’t slept for a long time, felt watched and told me it was like living in wartime and hiding something, but he wasn’t sure what. The enemy was approaching, the punishment death. Apart from his palpable panic, he looked shattered and his pleading eyes begged me to make it stop. “Talk to the non-psychotic bit,” I remembered a supervisor saying, so I said it sounded exhausting living like that and he agreed. By the end of the session he was falling asleep, which I took as a sign that his anxiety had lessened a bit.
Two colleagues and I have just launched a service providing long-distance therapy for aid workers, journalists and others who need, but traditionally don’t seek, therapy. People in the field are witness to all kinds of horrors, their lives often in actual danger, and their own problems can pale into relative insignificance when compared to the plight of the people they’re out there to help. Bravado, booze, black humour and being generally hard-bitten often mask serious (and very possibly pre-existing) problems and stop anyone from asking; “Are you okay?” Our therapists are all former journalists or aid workers themselves.
Someone from a big US health insurance company asked me what our strategy is for dealing with traumatised patients (she called them clients) who may be in unsafe situations. She asked me about my goals. Strategies! Goals! Help! (I’m English.)
Pondering this I recalled the words of my old seminar leader, who would tell his first-time therapists, “All we can do is listen and try to understand.” It is easy to get sucked into treatment plans and strategies, to be seduced by some new model promising a cure in only a few sessions. But life just isn’t like that. I thought of my patient, who, although he lives a middle-class life in a Nordic country famous for its safety, feels desperately afraid. I suppose my goal for that one session was to help him feel calmer and my strategy…