The Power of the Therapeutic Relationship

Author: Angela McCrimmon

Is the relationship equal or is there a power struggle? Does mutual respect spill over the sides or is the respect demanded from the “Professional?”  Hang on a minute though…..which one is the Professional? Is it the one who has had years of training and is in some ways a fountain of knowledge on many illnesses but master of none or is the Professional the person who lives with the illness day in and day out? The one who knows it’s every move and hiding place, what it responds to and what intensifies its presence. For arguments sake I’m going to say that the Professional in this scenario is the person who does indeed live with the illness. In this case , Bipolar Disorder and on a daily basis, hour by hour, minute by minute. Nobody know this beast more than the person who spends their life trying to be one step ahead of it in anticipation of when it might strike next.

I’m finally at a place in my life where I will speak up if I feel that my care team are getting something wrong, but equally so I think it’s so important that I also speak up and tell them when they’re getting it right! That’s why I want to draw attention to the therapeutic relationship and remind people of its power in helping someone live with a long- term condition. I have a fantastic care team in my GP and Psychiatrist but it hasn’t always been the case which is why I respect and appreciate them so much. What is it that works so well though? There are many reasons but I’d like to highlight the 3 major aspects that from my side, the patient, make the world of difference to the positive progress we’ve made.

Communication- they allow me to communicate in the way I do best…writing. Possibly an unusual medium to choose but I will be forever grateful that they allow me this platform. Before appts I will often hand in a letter updating them on current circumstances and it allows us to use the appointment time to deal with any issues. They would rather spend 10 mins reading my written word than listen to me stumble my way through 40mins of details that are completely irrelevant to how they can help me. They can’t misinterpret what I’ve said when I’ve written it down either and they can re-read anything they’re unsure of. They allow me to express myself in my own way and for that I have eternal gratitude. Before this platform I felt silenced because it was just too distressing to try and communicate in any other form and my care team have recognised that for me.

They react by NOT reacting –  Okay, so this sounds a bit of a contradiction but it’s such a powerful skill that enables me to be open and honest without fear of their reaction. I am already excellent at overthinking my own thoughts so it’s vital that I don’t get caught up in overthinking theirs too! I’ve had a lifelong battle with self -harm and sometimes it can be extremely severe. Most people don’t self -harm to gain a reaction but for a variety of reasons it can often provoke one. I have confidence that my Dr’s won’t “react”….they will “respond” and there’s a huge difference. If I present with injuries that need attention they act quickly and in a practical manner. I will never forget being in a situation with my Psychiatrist who specifically asked if she could see my injury. I had a moment of hesitation through embarrassment but she was so calm and did something she will probably never be aware meant so much. She asked if she could walk down to the Emergency Room with me. At no point did I feel she didn’t trust me to go, she simply cared that I got the help I needed. I refused at first feeling that I should deal with it alone but eventually I agreed and I’ll always remember the care and reassurance I felt from her that day as we walked together quietly. No words were exchanged but in no way whatsoever did I feel she was “marching” me down to the Emergency Room or not trusting me to take care of it….I simply felt she literally walked by my side that day – both physically and emotionally.

Early Intervention – This is the key, where in past years I was left to spiral into a crisis that would then need a multitude of services to help pull me out. Keeping  a close eye on me , although there’s not a minute I forget I’m the one with the mental illness, they actually make me feel like we are in this fight together. I go down, they catch me. I go hypomanic, we all laugh together as they try to contain me. I wish they realised the power of the approach they take with me to enable them to impact someone else’s life in the same way. Forever grateful and will never take it for granted, ever.

So, between giving me my own platform to communicate……..responding and not reacting to situations…..and early intervention through keeping a closer eye on things. It could be a 5min call but it’s just touching base and adding another leaf of trust to our metaphorical therapeutic plant but our very real therapeutic relationship.

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