Tag Archives: psychological therapy

What really goes through my head when I get dressed for work.

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What do you wear when you are working as a therapist? Read on to find out how I choose my clothes, and why I wear the things I do. Fashion and CBT not the most likely of topics, but a subject that I find quite intriguing. 

When I first started my CBT training, I asked my clinical supervisor ‘what should I wear when I start to see clients?’ He looked at me puzzled and replied ‘Clothes, Alieshia!’. ‘Very funny’, I said but seriously, I said, ‘how do I know what to wear?’. He looked at me again and could see I genuinely wanted advice. He said ‘as a woman you don’t want to wear anything that is too revealing, simply because it is too distracting for clients’. I said ‘yes, I had already thought that, I have never worn anything that shows my cleavage or is too short whenever I have worked in the caring profession. I agree. But apart from that how do I know what to wear?’ He looked at me again, surprised that I still was not satisfied with his answer. He looked down at himself and said, ‘I just wear this’. He was wearing a pair of jeans and a polo shirt. I looked at him and said ‘Yes, that is fine, but you have many years of experience and look your age, I don’t’.

My issue is that I look very young. Only the other week my new cardiologist started asking my Mum about my usual energy levels at home. My Mum had to turn round and say, sorry Dr S****** but Alieshia lives with her husband, she is actually 29. He turned round and apologised to me, he had thought I was still a teenager, living at home.

I feel that if I turned up to meet clients in a polo shirt and jeans that I would look so young that they may doubt my clinical capability and lose confidence in the therapeutic process, which would be counter-productive. For me personally it’s important for me to dress in a way that looks professional and choose an outfit that makes me look at least 20, I mean this sincerely, I do not jest. I have discussed clothing with some other therapists. My colleagues do not have the age issue to contend with but are honest with me, and can understand why it is important for me to dress in way which enhances my age.

So aside from the age issue, what other factors are there to consider when I dress for work?

For me I think it’s great that my first clinical supervisor wore casual clothes. On one level, I believe what you wear should not matter, CBT is a collaboration and not a platform for power dressing. By wearing jeans, it could convey the message that ‘I am relaxed, it’s ok for you to be too’. I can particularly appreciate how this might be great when working with children and young people. Business attire can sometimes be intimidating. However for me personally I believe that dressing smartly (not a three piece suit or anything, but smart trousers, top and shoes) conveys to my client ‘I respect you and have made an effort to dress this way. I am a professional and I want you to have confidence in that from everything, from the way I speak, the content of what I say, the way I conduct myself and what I wear’.

Some therapeutic approaches discourage from any personal expression and therapists will wear exactly the same outfit, or extremely similar clothing to each session. CBT is not like that, I have never come across any literature that discusses proper work attire! I still feel able to express my personality through my clothing and make-up without being distracting to my clients, whilst still being professional. What do you think about what your therapist wears? Are you a mental health professional, have you ever considered your work attire? Let me know in the comments below, or send me a tweet.

On a final note I shall leave you with this memory…… I wore a yellow top one day with matching yellow nail polish. In the morning my client said to me ‘Alieshia, you look like a ray of sunshine’. The next day my supervisor said to me (I had a different top on, but the same nail polish) ‘Alieshia, that is the most disgusting colour nail polish I have ever seen. It’s horrible’. Make of that what you will!

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Why do people become therapists?

There are academic research studies published about the various reasons why people choose to become therapists. Have a Google, it is rather interesting. If you would like to know why I became a therapist read on…….

whyAged 19 I had a very promising career in opera and classical music ahead of me. The pleasure I got from singing gradually reduced over time as the pressure increased. I became more and more disillusioned with the classical singing world and eventually decided that despite my talent, this it was not what I wanted for my career anymore. I was then at a loss. Even if I had wanted to pursue a musical career it had started to become apparent that it was too physically demanding for me (I now know this  is due to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome although I was undiagnosed at the time) My life had revolved around music from the age of six. What on earth was I going to do now?

I remember getting out a piece of paper and a pen. I thought that if I made a list of all the things I enjoyed, that it might be helpful. The first two things I wrote down were;

  1. People
  2. Animals

I briefly entertained the idea of becoming a veterinary receptionist, but did not know where my career would go after that. I then realised I was more of a dog person than an animal person.

I was then left with just people. I love people. I really do. I have always been fascinated by why people behave or think in certain ways. Just for my own pleasure I would watch anything to do with psychology on television and read anything I could get my hands on. I don’t remember but apparently when I was in infant school, before I started studying music, I would tell people I wanted to be a psychiatrist. People very close to me had experienced psychosis and depression, so I was also aware that mental health problems were very real.  One of the main issues I had with my career as a classical singer, is that I did not find it meaningful. Although I greatly appreciate the benefits of entertainment for others, I was so wrapped up in my own performance nerves that I could not appreciate it. I had this urge, and still do – to help people. I did not feel I was helping people with my singing voice.

The next natural step was to find a way to combine psychology with my love of people. I did some career research and decided that I would like to go into psychological therapy. I did not feel that a counselling course would provide me with enough depth or breadth to enable me to make informed decisions about which type of therapy I’d like to study (that is not to say I do not think counselling can be helpful for others. I sometimes refer people on to counselling if I feel it may more appropriate for them than CBT, and during my career in mental health I have met many people who have found counselling beneficial). It was very important for me to become and member of the British Psychological Society and so I enrolled to start BSc Psychology. Ironically before beginning my degree I became very depressed. This was before IAPTs existed and I saw a psychologist within the NHS and had what I now realise was CBT based therapy. I then went on to have cognitive-behavioural therapy to try and help manage chronic fatigue. I kind of fell in love with it (CBT not the fatigue!). People close to me had also had CBT. Whilst it is not a miraculous cure, it really had a meaningful effect on my life and my nearest and dearest. I wanted to offer the same support to others, with a therapy grounded in a solid evidence base. I still kept an open mind and studied many different perspectives during my degree.  I graduated and worked in different roles in mental health. I got to witness the impact of CBT on lots of different people. My love and respect for CBT only deepened, so I took the plunge and trained did my post graduate diploma in cognitive behavioural therapy –  and the rest as they say is history!