In June 2017 I found myself at the hub of the relief effort by Grenfell Tower. It was a lesson in powerlessness, having to accept being able to do little more than listen to others’ stories and hear their grief and desperation. Despite my training and experience as a clinical psychologist and understanding of the community from working for the NHS in the local area, I felt so limited. It is finding myself ineffective that has pushed my career.
My journey began in my last two years at St Paul’s when I volunteered twice a week at a homework club in north Kensington, primarily for kids known to social care. However, my embarking on a psychology degree at Durham was not because of any particular intention to work clinically, but rather due to being a science that is also discursive.
It was the youth work with kids from local Durham estates, again who were known to social care, which sparked the clinical interest. Activities based at the university or the city produced a wonderful response; any work based on the estate, in their usual context, and the aggression flooded back. Facing my ineffectiveness drove me and continues to do so.
My current role as a Clinical Psychologist at the NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service in Kensington and Chelsea means I work with a huge variety of people. It is one of the constituencies with the greatest disparity of wealth and has huge ethnic diversity.
Some children and adolescents from well-off backgrounds are no less in need of mental health support than their less well-off counterparts. ‘Middle class neglect’, where parents don’t attend enough to their children but expect the world of them, can be powerful.
It may not be a good advert for private work I am soon to begin, but therapy often is not effective. This may be because of the therapist, the patient, or an unfortunate combination of the two. In the same way that 93% of drivers declare themselves above median in terms of skills, so, in 2003, Dew & Rimmer found that, of 143 clinicians, not one rated themselves as of below average effectiveness. Clinicians are susceptible if they don’t know themselves and their minds.
And so, I have embarked upon psychoanalysis – five times a week therapy, with me as the subject. It is a truly extraordinary experience, drawing out and flinging in your face the fundamentals of your being. It is painful, terrifying, and exciting; it provides a unique intimacy and is constantly surprising; it is a real privilege. I am more aware, although I have always known I’m rubbish at parking. And despite my ineffectiveness in the shadow of Grenfell, I was right to be there.
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