The Boil on the end of your nose - A client’s tale.
A strange title for a blog I agree, but putting that aside I want to write about ‘the stating the bleeding obvious’ approach of our mental health system. This wouldn’t really sound too out of place in a Monty Python sketch, but if only this were funny. This is the tale of an all too familiar story. I certainly don’t make any wild claims of anything new or uncommon. This doesn’t involve any silly walks or lumberjacks singing but it’s certainly absurd at times.
A few years ago, I met with a client who had come to me for counselling. After years of suppressing childhood abuse, they shared with me their experiences of trying to find support, in what they had come to see as a fragile and at times confusing mental health system. The initial thing that stuck out for me was the client’s history prior to seeing their GP, where they had to wait till well into retirement, waiting for family members to pass away before disclosure.
They started by going to see their GP who on hearing their account of all the worst things that could be done to a child, made them a referral to adult mental health services. After several weeks, months, years of waiting in limbo an appointment arrived by which time all memory of that original GP appointment had faded into myth and legend. The client continued to yo-yo for what seemed an eternity, backwards and forth between different mental health workers and varying degrees of ‘support’. Finally a decision was made (no idea by who) that they would see a Psychologist… but there would be a wait.
The psychologist asked them about this, and about that, spoke about the weather and in a language the client did not understand. Some tests were done, and forms completed, chins were scratched, and brows rubbed before a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was declared. The client greeted this with a ‘no shit Sherlock’ response and went back out into the world. They continued to see their Psychologist and after several further sessions they were told they would see a Psychiatrist… but there would be a wait. The Psychologist informed them they didn’t have the time to keep seeing them, ‘seeing me for what?’ asked the client.
As time went by wheelie bins were put out and toilets were flushed, a letter eventually arrived to see a Psychiatrist. As time went on medications were prescribed, doses changed, and mixtures of eye of newt and wing of bat seemed to do nothing. As time went by the Psychiatrist told them they didn’t have the time to keep seeing them. A decision was made to refer them for counselling but yes you guessed it… there would be a wait.
The client eventually arrived in the counselling room years later with a weary of account of what had happened to them. They gave an account of the hoops they had jumped through to speak with a human being who was able to afford them the space and dignity to hear their story. The client’s experiences of ‘the system’ had to be heard first, all its damage, failings and its de-humanisation of someone already stripped of their humanity.
The client stated that they had seen just about everyone over the years from a GP, Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Butcher, Baker and candlestick maker before finally someone had asked them ‘what has happened?’. The client had shared experiences, were it was no longer about them, nor about their childhood experiences and their reason to seek support. They had found themselves lost in a system where the ‘helper’ is the expert who knows best. The client had experienced an obsessed with diagnosis and experimenting with medications rather than hearing the client’s story. The client eventually found something that didn’t point out the obvious, that they had a boil on the end of their nose and to be honest who needs someone to point that out to you anyway!