This is our truth, tell us yours
I have a favourite story I use to help friends who are struggling with feeling down. It’s a story in part about the limits of help, as opposed to professional intervention.
More than twenty years ago I was so depressed I was referred by my GP to an NHS psychotherapist. It was made clear to me that the offer was time limited, and,whilst there was an initial screening interview with a psychiatrist, that was merely precutionary and would not lead to a psychiatric intervention unless I was a danger to myself or others.
I had a story to tell to the psychotherapist,and half way through our second session she looked at me,repeated back to the me the series of recent events that had led to the circumstances in which I found myself, and told me that both she and the psychiatrist would have been more concenred about me if, in the circumstances, I were not depressed, than if I was.
I haven’t always used that story well. It’s a great example of a useful idea provided you’re aware of the context. Really, what I now think the therapist was saying to me, was ‘Given who you are, a man who is obsessed with masculinity but confused about your sexuality, convinced you should be useful but feeling disempowered, it is no surprise you are depressed.’ Of course, entering that inner circle, about who I was, and the baggage I was carrying from my upbringing, was probably not a good option in the context of time limited therapy.
I’m not claiming that psychotherapist knew that if she entered that circle, there would be another within it about childhood sexual abuse, or my unresolved doubts about how much my parents knew about those years; it was enough for her to know that in most cases, there would be another recursion within each new exploration of who I was, and how I came to be that troubled man in the second chair, alongside the traditional couch, but refusing to use it for fear the status of patient might become permanent if I lay down and closed my eyes.
When I use that story now, about knowing the external events that might be making me, or someone else, depressed, I remember its limits. The fact that a reaction to an external event is entirely understandable doesn’t mean that reaction will be the same in everyone; context is everything. Nevertheless, the reasurance that, in this circle, at this level, reactions are recognizable, are congruent with aother person’s view is healthy first aid; but like all first aid it’s just about buying time until professional help arrives.