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Where in the world are you?

It's exciting to know that while I'm writing this in a city in the east of England, you might be reading this anywhere in the world. Where in the world are you? I can imagine you on a bus, or in your kitchen, or garden, perhaps standing in a queue (a line) somewhere, scrolling on your phone, checking social media, and then, through some kind of serendipity, finding yourself right here. Right now.

This is the wonderful connected world we now live in, separately and together. In 2020 we are separated, at least temporarily, by social distancing and limitations on travel, meetings, and even vital social events like funerals and weddings. And yet most of us can now connect quickly, easily, and cheaply, almost anywhere in the work. We can teach and learn from each other and share extraordinary resources. All we need is a common purpose, shared interests, similar values, and enough time. We've 'met' here because we share an interest in mental health, psychology or psychological therapies and because we want (or need) to learn. We might have met 'in real life' at a conference or meeting of some kind. You might have taught me, or I might have taught you. Perhaps we learned something together.

Earlier this year I took a trip to New Zealand - it was fantastic timing, I returned as the world locked-down around me. And whilst there, as well as spending time with my wonderful extended Kiwi family, I also touched base with Teresa, who had been a school friend of mine for a few years. We sat in the same classroom in North West London and learned together for 2 years. Then at age 13, she and her family moved to Australia and hadn't seen (or heard from) each other since. And when she went to Australia it wasn't somewhere you popped back from very often so I never expected to see or hear from her again.

Many, many, many years later, she emailed me. I didn't recognise her name, which had changed, but I certainly recognised her. She had moved to New Zealand. And she, like me, had become a clinical psychologist. Through work she had found something I'd written and made the connection back to school, to Forms 1B and 2B, and back to me. Completely by accident. We were both pleased and amazed at the connection between us after so many years. We were each the only psychologists we knew that we hadn't met at work or university. At our school we were expected to become nuns, nurses, teachers, or to work in a bank. The very clever girls were expected to be doctors. My mum wanted me to be an air hostess - so that she could visit her brothers and sisters who had emigrated to New Zealand. She just didn't accept that I wasn't tall enough, servile enough, or good enough at languages.

But 'Psychology'? What's that? Psychology definitely wasn't a career that girls or women like us, from good working-class, Irish families did then. Somehow though, quite independently we had managed to fall into psychology degrees, find our niche, scramble through the obstacle courses and barriers to training, come out the other side as a clinical psychologists and then stick with it. This may not seem strange to you - but to me this coincidence was simply astonishing. I had thought myself a bit of a rebel to choose clinical psychology - obviously I wasn't! It also made me reflect on similarities between my friend and I, what was it that set us on parallel paths to clinical psychology thousands of miles apart?

I think it is common now to expect people who want careers in the 'helping professions' to have some insight into their motives. And this makes perfect sense - it's a tough career to follow and there are many personal challenges that can derail, distress, and overcome us. Understanding our motives and attraction to 'helping others' can protect us and make us better therapists. But I can honestly say that I've always struggled to come up with a satisfactory answer to the question 'Why clinical psychology'? I'm still not sure how I ended up here. My best guess is that it was a combination of the values drummed into me at home, church, and school, my affiliation with justice, human rights, and politics, a desire to 'make a difference', my inability to do what was expected (e.g. nursing or teaching), an interest in people, statistics and science, and chance. I wonder what Teresa would answer to the same question. And incidentally, how I wonder, would my younger relatives who have also chosen clinical psychology or psychological therapy as a career, answer the same question. At a guess I'd say they would almost certainly be more fluent, more confident, and more accurate.

Last week I asked 'What Matters to You?' - and wherever you are in the world we probably share many values simply on the basis of the career paths we have chosen. However, although it is tempting to look out for and enjoy our common values and shared interests, we also need to be alert to the many subtle differences between us. We all make assumptions based on our own experiences. I assume that Teresa and I are very similar, based on our family backgrounds and chosen profession - but this can make me blind to our differences. As we find ways to connect more and more, wider and wider, reaching further and further, let's not loose sight of the many fascinating ways in which we and the work we do, is different. I am aware that whilst the resources on this website come from many different countries, all of them are presented in English. I know this is a serious limitation - do we need alternative version of this site that are culturally specific or at least more culturally diverse? If we do, how shall we make that happen? I'd love to hear from you if you have any suggestions or would like to join forces to develop resources better suited to your world? Where in the world are you?

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