Michele Attias Life Coach

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3 Psychological Myths That Need Dumping

There's much we can learn about the clients we work with, and I was swiftly reminded of this a few days ago when I became re-acquainted with a Somali teenager who had been my client over 10 years ago.

I had met this young Somali child when he arrived in this country from war torn Somalia.

He had initially been separated from his father as they left Somalia and had in fact moved to a number of European locations before reaching London.  

As you can well imagine this child at the time was feeling deeply anxious, confused and displaced as one would be when losing their secure base they called home. At the time, I was working for a superb organisation as a Project Manager in charge of therapy services at a large school with a diverse mix of pupils.  

When the child's file landed on my desk, I remember planning our first session with trepidation.

In meeting him for the first time, I observed a somewhat underweight 9 year old child, who could barely make eye contact.

The child was withdrawn, spoke little English, found social interactions difficult and spent most of his time isolating himself wherever he could find a place to hide.  Although he was difficult to engage with, I welcomed him into our service with open arms.

I observed how vulnerable he felt and how much he was in need of attention and support. His parents although well meaning and incredibly supportive, spoke basic English and they were also struggling with their own displacement issues and fitting into the British culture which was worlds away from their own.

Throughout my time working with this child and becoming more involved with his family, I often wondered how children who are refugees from war torn countries recover from their past in order to carve out a better future. I knew that I had to hold the hope alive for this child.

I removed my professional hat and didn't focus on diagnosing him, but treating him with the humanity he deserved. 

I have never forgotten our sessions, or this child in particular, but as with all of my child, adolescent and adult clients I have worked with over the years, there comes a time when I have to let go and trust that they will find their way in life.

It was a chance meeting 10 years later that re-acquainted me with this child.

I bumped into him with his father at a packed shopping centre. Much to my delight, the child has now transformed into an extremely tall 19 year old. As soon as he saw me his eyes brightened up in recognition. 

Could it be possible that this teenager still recognised me after all these years? 

The moment that had the most significance was when he announced (with his dad watching proudly over him) that he was reading English at Cambridge University. My eyes welled up as I observed this young man in front of me who had been so vulnerable all those years ago, and yet had reached the pinnacle of the academic world.

What an incredible example of what human beings are capable of.

This certainly challenged the myths that I was familiar with when working within the Psychological realm.

Myth 1

Your early years determine how you turn out:

The early stages in life can and have the potential to affect the rest of your life, only if you allow this to be the case. It's due to your state of mind, and the thinking you have about your experience which determines which direction you will head to.

If you carry your past like a rucksack full of heavy stones, this is how you will experience it moving forward. I have worked with clients who have had the most unbelievable neglect in the early years of their lives. A number of them have progressed and been determined never to repeat the errors of their parents, whilst others have become destructive, vindictive and bitter.

Myth 2

Human beings are broken and need fixing from their psychological ailments.

When reflecting on the child concerned, it could have been easier to experience him as broken, and needing Psychological help. I saw him as innately healthy, he simply appeared unsettled and needed time to adjust to his new environment.  He had after all lived in a number of countries during a short space of time and was feeling quite shaky. He needed empathy, patience and understanding, not a diagnosis he would be stuck with for the rest of his life.

Myth 3

There is no hope for recovery once someone is diagnosed as being anxious or depressed.

I resent emotional diagnosis at most levels, because the reality is that once you diagnose, you're stuck with a label which is pretty hard to shake off. I remember working with an adult who was relating that her son had been diagnosed with ‘school anxiety disorder’ and she was wondering why he refused to go to school after his diagnosis. I asked her a question "If she were diagnosed with ‘coaching anxiety disorder’ would she come for coaching?" She stared at me and shook her head in response.

No matter how broken, confused, displaced or anxious someone might appear, there is always hope. There is no way I could have imagined this child progressing into Cambridge University all those years ago, such was his state.

It's important when working with clients to see beyond the content of what is being presented and beyond the clients state of mind.  This is important so that we don't define the client by their past state.  

To be able to connect with a clients humanity is what makes our work move past the theoretical concepts and case studies we so arduously pour over in University. We can't pretend to connect or empathise with someone, it's a feeling that is conveyed through our actions and body language.  

This is what makes it so magical when running into an ex-client who has survived their emotional condition, and rather than becoming a diagnosis statistic, is now a thriving Cambridge University student.

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