October 18, 2013

HannahDuring my work as a hypnotherapist, I’ve often been told that it’s not safe to work with someone who has a diagnosed depressive illness. I’ve heard this from seniors in my field and from newer therapists who in turn are repeating what they were told.

Others say it’s ok to work with a depressed person as long as they’re not bipolar. And let me be clear, these people are not only saying that hypnotherapy isn’t an effective treatment for bipolar disorder itself, they’re saying that we shouldn’t hypnotise a bipolar person at all, for any reason.

So even if the client only wanted to quit smoking, we shouldn’t let them through the doors for fear of them having a psychotic episode! These opinions are generally based on stereotypes that don’t take into account the wide range of experiences that people on the bipolar spectrum can have.

I’d like to say, "actually, I have bipolar disorder."

I sit and listen to this, and I’d like to say, “actually, I have bipolar disorder.” I imagine the embarrassed silence that would follow. If it’s dangerous for a mentally ill person to receive hypnotherapy, how dangerous must it be for one to give it? I keep quiet not so much because I’m scared of being discredited – more because I don’t want to embarrass others by showing them how far inside their own mouth their foot is! I end up protecting them.

I don’t think many people who know me as a professional would ever consider that I might have a mental health condition, let alone one as famously ‘serious’ as I have. You could say that’s a tribute to my success but I also think it’s a sign of how much stigma still exists. My ability to function as a therapist – and in life generally - contradicts many of the popular stereotypes about someone with my diagnosis. I feel I’m living proof of how outdated and unhelpful those stereotypes are.

I felt I had to keep silent

But I don’t want to have to talk about my most personal, private experiences when I’m at work. And often I can’t; when a client comes to me for help, they don’t want me to start talking about my own issues. A while ago, one woman contacted me to say that her GP had told her not to continue with hypnotherapy, because it wasn’t safe given her current depressed state. I felt that stigma had dealt me a double-blow: as a therapist trying to earn a living, I’d lost a client. And as a mental health patient, it was a reminder of how often we are told that we can’t trust our own minds, choose our own forms of therapy, or recognise when something is or isn’t safe for us. But In this case, like so many others, I felt I had to keep silent.

When I first began training in hypnotherapy, I hadn’t yet been diagnosed as having bipolar. But I told my tutor (now my supervisor) about my history of depression, and when my diagnosis did change a few years ago, I kept him up to speed. I’ve had nothing but encouragement from him, as well as from my partner, close friends and family – and even from my psychiatrist, who fortunately has never seen a problem with me doing the work that I do.

I'm gradually beginning to write more about my mental health

But so far, I’ve always been very selective with who I do let in on the ‘secret.’ I am even cagey around most people I know socially, because they too know what I do for a living, and I’m embarrassed; concerned about the perceived conflict between these different parts of my life. It’s hard for me not to feel ashamed or apologetic about my illness. I think, how can I expect others to view me as being competent, professional, reliable or creditworthy, when I’m also part of a group that’s seen as being volatile, delusional and psychotic?

I’m gradually beginning to write more about my mental health and the conflicts it brings up and I’m expanding my ideas of who I can and can’t ‘tell.’ In fact, I’ve yet to really have a bad response from anyone I have directly talked to. But there are still many occasions when I don’t have the opportunity for self-disclosure - or don’t feel I should have to share personal information. If the stigma around mental illness reduced, I think fewer people would repeat the stereotypes or generalisations they’d heard without stopping to think about how their words might affect other people in the room.

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