When out socially, I’m regularly told that my work must be demanding, difficult and depressing. It must take its toll on you, people say.
I don’t want to pretend that being a therapist isn’t challenging and personally tough at times. It is. But it is also a vocation full of inspiration and motivation. I thought I would take the time in this post to appreciate and reflect on the meaning and fulfilment I gain from therapeutic consultations and to share some of the most rewarding aspects of my work from 2013.
Therapy as an ‘In Treatment’ Journey
This year, I have met and continued to work with some wonderful people, journeying with them through confusion, uncertainty and change. An ongoing therapeutic relationship is like travelling with someone. You get to know them over time and through different moods and experiences. You see their ups and downs, are privy to their fears and share their relief.
Some of these are short journeys, for example, adjusting to separation or the breakdown of a long term relationship. Others have been over longer periods or are ongoing: helping guys who are coming out later in life; assisting adults responding to memories of childhood physical or sexual abuse; supporting those in grief around the death of their partner or a loss of direction in life.
In both my short term and long term work, I admire the preparedness of those who consult me in treatment. I notice and call attention to their courage or their skills, their abilities. I’m curious about the sense they are making of their circumstances. I hear their stories and draw out the meaning they make of what is happening to and for them.
Sex, Sexuality and Relationships: Inspiration through Counselling
One of the areas in which I specialise is depression experienced by gay men. In these conversations, we often find ourselves pulling apart the way in which their identities as gay men have been constructed and taking a closer look at what might have contributed to depressed feelings. I’m very conscious that most of us seem to develop our identity against the backdrop of heteronormativity (and homonormativity). Many men feel constrained by the way sexuality has been defined in the last 50 or so years, by the prevailing assumptions about sexuality being fixed. For some of my clients, the only word that comes close to their experience of themselves is ‘bisexual‘, but they say this does not really work for them for a number of reasons.
There are also questions of masculinity to be explored and I always find these conversations stimulating because, as quite a few guys have pointed out to me, the representation of masculinity in popular media is quite limited. This year, I intend to develop my site www.GayCounsellor.com.au with short blogs and articles that will be of interested to all men.
Something else that has been on the radar this year has been the return to dating or relationships by both men and women who are in what they might describe as ‘middle age’. It might be that a long term partner has passed away, or that the person is beginning a new life post-separation. I might be speaking with a man who has lived most of his adult life with a woman, raised children together with her, but decided now to take a new direction, one that feels more comfortable and in keeping with his sense of sexual orientation. Or it could be someone who has spent the last 20 years having casual sex, who has decided they want to experience something different.
These new directions can be quite scary and also take some time. People often feel they have ‘messed up’ or ‘failed’ when trying to establish a new relationship. Sometimes they tell me that it is about learning to date again. They say they feel like a clumsy teenager trying to get a boyfriend or girlfriend. Often they end up finding themselves in treatment, recovering a sense of connection with something quite important about themselves they had lost.
Developing Professionally as a Therapist: Some Reflections
Through this year, I’ve also changed and grown from my experiences. I was fortunate to attend an international social work conference in Kochi, India and present a workshop to an international HIV conference in Paris, France. I lived across 2 continents and worked with individuals and couples across the world. Due to my masters studies commitments, many of these conversation have been online over webcam. Colleagues are usually surprised when they hear I have conversations with individuals in cities as far spread as Moscow, Bangkok, Dublin, Stockholm, Baghdad, Perth, Capetown and Tokyo. But online clients continue to tell me that they feel more at ease working this way online. I’m convinced online counselling and therapy has a big future and can exist alongside ‘face to face’ therapy as another option for accessing help and support.
I’m now working in-person in Sydney Australia again, as a Medicare provider while I continue with my online clients. The Australian healthcare system is one of the best in the world, up there with the NHS in Britain and the public health system in Sweden. Each has its limitations but I feel quite privileged to work in cooperation with GPs to improve mental health outcomes for individuals. I am grateful to the AASW for representing my interests as a mental health practitioner.
My hope for the year ahead is to continue as a counsellor-therapist both online and in-person in this rewarding work with people and their stories. Specifically, I’ll keep pursing my professional interest in concerns about pornography ‘addiction’, ‘sex addiction‘ and mental health services for gay men. I plan to continue some supervision of social workers and complete my dissertation on community work with men who have sex with men. I’ll also be returning to my creative writing. I believe we make sense of our lives through telling stories, to ourselves and to others. This is also the therapeutic nature of narratives.
I look forward to more conversations with those currently consulting me and with new people who contact me. They are doctors, nurses, paramedics, software developers, IT engineers, mechanical engineers, teachers, academics, students, lawyers, journalists, artists, musicians, actors, sportspeople, business owners, business consultants, tradespeople and sales professionals. I find inspiration in their different experiences, stories and meanings, their different lives.
I’m grateful for the opportunity I have to journey with people through the toughest times in their lives. Regardless of whether you are in difficult circumstances right now, or you are travelling fine, I wish you well for 2014 and hope that you find peace and contentment in the year ahead.
For appointments and questions: Contact me