Wednesday, July 6, 2011

We Are People, Not Paychecks

As someone who has battled severe clinical depression for a number of years, I have visited many mental health professionals.  Lately it dawned on me that only one of those professionals treated me with genuine respect and compassion.  I believe that most qualified therapists are truly caring individuals who want the best for their clients.  However, there are just as many that are unethical and insensitive in their approach.  In some cases, it is clear that they are only in it for the financial gain, not because there is a true desire to help others.

Image Credit: Albert Lozano Nieto (Fotolia)

I understand that therapists are human, too.  I understand that it is a livelihood and there is money to be made.   I realize that it can be a very difficult job at times.  But from a client's perspective, it is every bit as tough to reach out to others when one is hurting.  There is nothing more painful than opening up and sharing one's innermost feelings, only to be ridiculed or condescended to.  Some of us endure our pain in silence because of the reactions we receive from our loved ones when we do open up.   A client should never have to deal with a judgmental therapist who reinforces this feeling of shame by telling us to "get over it" or accuses us of playing the victim.

Let me state that there is nothing wrong with an honest therapist who provides helpful feedback and an objective view of the situation.   But there is a clear difference between offering a client tools to heal, and invalidating their emotions or experiences.  Like mental health professionals, clients come from all walks of life.  We are not all the same.  What may benefit one client will not necessarily work for another.   When you refuse to listen and treat us like we are merely complainers wasting your precious time, it only adds to our pain.  When you attempt to push anti-depressants on us as the standard quick fix because you want to avoid talking about relevant issues, it hurts.  It could just as easily be you on the other side.  Imagine what life is like for those of us with depression.  We didn't ask for this.  Please do not presume to know more about our lives than we do.  For some of us, you are the only person we can talk to.  I am not suggesting that you cross boundaries with your clients.  What I am saying is that a bit of patience, sensitivity, and real concern goes a long way in therapy sessions.

As a mixed-race woman who has seen mostly White therapists, I do not expect them to fully understand my reality.  I have been told by at least one mental health professional that my experiences with racism, sexism, and abuse weren't real-they were simply, in her terms, false perceptions on my part.  Again, one of the worst things that a therapist can do to a client is to invalidate his or her feelings.  Your clients don't expect you to work miracles.  We simply expect you to connect to us on a human level and act like you care.  No, I do not want pills to turn me into a zombie.  I realize that psychiatric medication improves the quality of life for some people.  Personally, I prefer a different approach, one that actually requires you to engage with your clients instead of dismissively writing down a prescription.  Your clients are more than just paychecks.  We are people with voices that deserve to be heard. 

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