We're so close to the big day I can smell the cranberry sauce! For a bit of fun, I thought I'd do a "survival guide" for all you therapists out there (counsellors, clinical psychologists, assorted trainees, etc). It's only meant in jest, because it's the season of love and laughter after all!
Being a therapist at Christmas can be tough. There are so many decisions to agonise over, which is great for perfectionistic psychologists! Here are some ways to get through the holidays (relatively) in tact.
Understand that it doesn't matter what you buy people. For some, it really is the thought that counts, but lots of therapists spend hours trying to pick the "perfect" present for their friends and family. After all, you're a human behaviour specialist, so you should know exactly what they want, right? As always, your loved ones are confusing "psychologist" with "psychic," and that only ever ends with your father's disappointed face at yet another pair of socks, and your disappointed face in a bottle of merlot. In the spirit of encouraging effective communication, tell your family that if they want any presents this year they have to tell you exactly what they want - no surprises, no disappointment, and no risk of you drinking all the merlot. Bonus points if you get one family member to ask the others and relay back to you in secret, so you can look like an actual psychic when your sister exclaims "just what I always wanted!"
No matter how many times your mother asks you, don't engage with her questions about whether Mavis in the corner shop's son could be depressed and whether you can prescribe him something to help. There are so many things wrong with this that I can't even begin to start, but this also holds for every family member you come into contact with. Hide in a cupboard when Mavis "pops round unannounced." You have to have enough of these conversations at work, don't engage with them at home as well.
Equally, if you're the type of therapist who works in a hospital like me, don't let your dad start talking about the funny rash he's had on his chest for the last week. Your family haven't quite understood the difference between a medical doctor and a psychological one and frankly, at this point they're not even trying. Rather than having that discussion for the seventieth time, possibly accompanied by your mother muttering something under her breath about you not being a "real doctor," try drinking more merlot instead. Possibly whilst hiding in the cupboard again.
When your children misbehave, as children often do, don't take this as a personal affront. It's Christmas - there's too much going on, and gingerbread for breakfast, and it's simply unreasonable to expect them not to be a little hyper and unmanageable at this time of year. Don't engage with negative thoughts about how you're "supposed" to know what you're doing, especially as you work in CAMHS - your children are supposed to be perfect, of course. Don't engage in negative comparisons with your perfect sister's perfect children, and how they always say please and thank you and never tell your family about the time you forgot to pick them up from the childminder's. Recognise that your negative thoughts are just that - thoughts - and mindfully let them go. This can be made easier by engaging in another mindful activity - mindful merlot drinking, perhaps.
For the love of God, read a book that isn't about psychology. Yes you're in training, yes there's a lot on and your thesis is due in six months, and yes you probably think that your old school friends will be impressed by you sitting in a coffee shop reading "Forms of Feeling: The Heart of Psychotherapy" while they're all adding Bailey's to their hot chocolate and reminiscing about the time you all locked the teachers in the staff room, but there's more to life than psychology. Shocking, I know. That book will still be there after the holidays, and you'll regret not spending more time with your friends and family. If you want to read something, your mother has a shelf full of Patricia Cornwell novels that she'll let you borrow (and a shelf full of Jackie Collins novels that she keeps out of sight and that she still thinks you're too young to read, if you can find them!).
For the love of God, have a conversation that isn't about psychology. Talking about "work" still counts as psychology, you're a therapist, you know this. Talk about your hopes and dreams, your unruly children, the latest Patricia Cornwell novel you've been reading, anything except your job. It'll only encourage your mother to ask you about Mavis's son again, and aren't you always talking to your patients about self-care and getting away from work for a bit? Then again you always talk about drinking in moderation, but isn't that your second bottle of merlot this week?
Above all, however ridiculous your loved ones might be, remember that they're exactly that - loved ones. They love you even when you're pulling another all-nighter because that research paper has to be finished by tomorrow, and they love you even when you're telling them about Bowlby's attachment theory when all they asked you was "don't you miss your son when you're at work?" They mean well, and they love you, and that's all they ask in return. So love your loved ones this Christmas, and I'll see you in the new year (no post next week in the spirit of self-care!).
Dr Sarah Blackshaw: Clinical Psychologist, blogger, tea drinker, interested in dinosaurs and shiny objects