By its very nature, psychotherapy risks being disempowering even before you enter the room (or Zoom call). Therapists often only consider what happens in appointments to try and mitigate this risk, but there are many contact points whilst navigating the mental health system where this can happen too. For example:
1. It can be hard to ask for help.
2. Finding the right therapist/service takes time.
3. Being on a waiting list when you’re ready to receive support now.
4. Being matched up with the first therapist available, usually only getting their name before you meet for the first time.
5. Being offered a set number of appointments.
If you are able to afford private psychotherapy then you largely bypass the above, as you’re more in control. However, this does not totally mitigate the potential for disempowerment.
Accessibility isn’t just about funding. It’s about offering non-oppressive contact at every stage of the process to invite people into what we have to offer.
As psychotherapists we must assess ourselves personally and professionally to: unlearn biases, challenge myths, share and re-distribute our power, and tackle all the -isms (e.g.- racism/sexism/classism/ableism) to adequately support others.
Making consensual contact can be part of demonstrating that a client is empathically held in mind, especially whilst they wait for appointments. For example:
1. Ask what it has been like to access support to better understand disempowerment and oppression.
2. Ask what people need from local services and include them in their formation, delivery, and assessment. This can include co-delivery with members of the community, so that information and power isn’t withheld by professionals only.
3. Advise clients on a waiting list that they are still on the list, other support available in the meantime, and how long it might be until they are offered an appointment.
4. Add a photo of their therapist to communications about their first appointment.
5. Fight for funding and for and with clients in order to secure their right to mental health care.