Oct 18

“Sex Education” Wrap-Up: Wounded Healers in Youth

If you’ve finished watching (this means spoilers ahead!) all four seasons of the Netflix series Sex Education (see previous post), you’ve seen a number of flawed but well-meaning helpers reach fairly satisfying turning points in their lives. This includes not only student “sex therapists” Otis and O, who ultimately vie to become their college’s sole sex therapist, but also Otis’s mom Jean (Gillian Anderson), a practicing sex therapist in actuality, who’s eventually seen in flashbacks to her teens.

In my estimation, one of the major themes of Sex Education is that of the wounded healer, a concept known to non-shrinks as “therapists are as screwed up as the rest of us.” Although many other TV series and movies have depicted dysfunctional therapists (some examples here and here), typically it’s played for laughs and/or derision and not so much for understanding or acceptance. Not really the case in Sex Education.

Roger M. Cahak, Psychology Today, on the origins of “wounded healer” in the work of Carl Jung. “His theory is that therapists who have been wounded can provide their clients with a deeper level of empathy, patience, and acceptance. Since we’ve already traveled the journey, we’ve encountered the hazards and dead ends, navigated the detours and discovered the most breathtaking vistas.”

All the significant helpers in Sex Education struggle with their own issues. Although Otis, for instance, is highly anxious about having sex himself, he is able to offer sound advice to his more sexually active peers. O’s unresolved issues include a budding awareness of her own asexuality, yet she’s extremely well informed about the issues plaguing her more sexualized clientele. Jean, a mostly successful therapist who has experienced multiple episodes of depression, has a history of childhood and family trauma.

Over 25 years ago Robert Epstein and Tim Bower wrote (Psychology Today), “Here’s a theory that’s not so crazy: Maybe people enter the mental health field because they have a history of psychological difficulties. Perhaps they’re trying to understand or overcome their own problems…”.

Recent research confirms that many mental health professionals do have their own significant issues. In a study of psychologists “(o)ver 80% of all respondents reported having mental health difficulties at some point, and 48% reported having a diagnosed mental illness. These rates are similar to rates of mental illness in the general population,” reports The Conversation.

Similarly, a 2018 Social Work article notes that a large 2015 survey of licensed social workers found “that 40.2 percent of respondents reported mental health problems before becoming social workers, increasing to 51.8 percent during their social work career, with 28 percent currently experiencing such problems.”

Naturally, it’s important that practicing therapists seek and maintain whatever forms of help they need in order to function effectively. When this is not the case, impaired therapists need to be identified.

There are other kinds of wounded healers besides therapists, by the way. In her recent post “Are You a Wounded Healer?” Diana Raab, Psychology Today, states, “They can be mothers, fathers, or found in many other vocations. They often have a tendency to make their family and friends feel better, especially when their loved ones experience challenging times. Because they’ve dealt with their own challenges in the past, they more easily understand hardship. They also know, like therapists, that to help others heal, it’s important to instill hope so the person is able to see the light in their darkness.”

Are you a wounded healer? Raab provides this list of possible traits:

  • You are a lifelong seeker.
  • You have a strong sense of purpose.
  • People call on you when in need.
  • You’ve helped people since you were a child.
  • You look at all experiences as an opportunity for growth.
  • You’re able to find the calm in the chaos.
Sep 14

Confidentiality: Keeping Secrets (Or Not) In or Out of Therapy

Most people, whether ever in therapy or not, are aware of the code of confidentiality. As therapist Daryl states to a client in my novel Minding Therapy, “Keeping secrets about you not keeping secrets is one of the therapist’s main obligations…”

From GoodTherapy.org:

Confidentiality includes not just the contents of therapy, but often the fact that a client is in therapy. For example, it is common that therapists will not acknowledge their clients if they run into them outside of therapy in an effort to protect client confidentiality. Other ways confidentiality is protected include:

    • Not leaving revealing information on voicemail or text.
    • Not acknowledging to outside parties that a client has an appointment.
    • Not discussing the contents of therapy with a third party without the explicit permission of the client.

For licensed mental health professionals, confidentiality is protected by state laws and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

One of the main reasons it’s so important not to breach confidentiality is because therapy may be the first, maybe the only, place one’s confidences are disclosed. And people need to feel their secrets are in good hands.

This is not to say that everyone divulges all their private thoughts to their shrinks. For good or for bad, often there are things kept out of sessions. What to divulge is an individual choice based on any number of factors.

Even therapists in therapy might hold back. Andrea Rosenhaft for one. She’s a clinical social worker who calls her own years of omission “living heavy” and states on her Psychology Today blog:

I regret all the deceit, the secrets, and the manipulation. The blatant lies, the lies of omission have come back to hurt me in the form of the hands of the clock making endless rounds. I alienated psychiatrists, therapists and nurses with my calculating actions designed to mislead.

If I had been forthright, as difficult as that would have been, if I had simply told the truth, my treatment would have progressed much faster and perhaps I would not still need to be in therapy.

The jaunty song “Secrets” by singer/songwriter Mary Lambert (of Same Love and “She Keeps Me Warm”), on the other hand, is about things she would appear not to be keeping under wraps. These include personal tidbits involving such matters as the status of her mental health, her family issues, and her personality weaknesses.

She’s saying, in fact, that she doesn’t care if the whole world knows her secrets. (Which makes them no longer secrets, of course!)

The first verse and chorus of “Secrets” by Mary Lambert are as follows. See the rest at Genius.com or watch the lyric video above.

I’ve got bi-polar disorder
My shit’s not in order
I’m overweight
I’m always late
I’ve got too many things to say
I rock mom jeans, cat earrings
Extrapolate my feelings
My family is dysfunctional
But we have a good time killing each other

[Pre-Chorus]
They tell us from the time we’re young
To hide the things that we don’t like about ourselves
Inside ourselves
I know I’m not the only one who spent so long attempting to be someone else
Well I’m over it

[Chorus]
I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are (secrets are)
I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are (secrets are)So-o-o-o-o what
So what
So what
So what