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Counselling with Care

 

Many people who have been bullied will need to seek counselling or some kind of medical assistance. This page is not to advise people on the right treatment for any physical or psychological disorder they may have as a result of being bullied (we are not doctors), but to draw attention to the fact that the effects of bullying are not always properly recognised and understood by doctors and therapists.

People who have been bullied may face either or both of these two problems when they turn to a counsellor/therapist for help:

The result can be that an already traumatised victim of bullying is further damaged and traumatised. A typical scenario might be that the counsellor misunderstands the abusive nature of bullying (seeing it more as a conflict and/or something the victim allowed to happen), and tries to focus on the client's perceived responsibility for what happened. Unfortunately, this tends to trigger or reinforce feelings of failure and self-blame, thus increasing the client's distress and trauma responses, which the counsellor then struggles to understand, since he/she has not recognised that the client has experienced a trauma.

The counsellor then starts to look for other possible explanations of the client's symptoms and may come to the conclusion that the client is seriously disturbed, has a personality disorder or is in some other way seriously mentally ill. This further provokes the client's symptoms, but this may then seen by the counsellor as further "proof" that their conclusions are correct.

 

So how can this be avoided?

Firstly, it is very important that people who've been bullied do not hold back from seeking appropriate help simply because there is a potential for being further traumatised by counsellors. Sympathetic support, along with the opportunity to talk about the bullying, is vital, and the right help in the early days will give them a much better chance of avoiding long-term problems and of being able to put the experience properly behind them. Suppressing the painful memories and trying to cope without support may do more harm than good in the long run.

Instead, the following suggestions may help in finding the right counsellor.

Before starting counselling:

Once counselling has begun:

Effective therapy after bullying will include:

 

Doctors and psychiatrists

The advice so far relates to finding a good counsellor. Some people who have been bullied will need to seek the advice of their doctor and may at some stage be referred to a psychiatrist, but will often have very little choice about who they see. However, it is wise to be aware that some psychiatrists may also have very little understanding of bullying and the effect it has on people. Sometimes victims of bullying are wrongly diagnosed and offered inappropriate treatment.

Whilst we would not recommend self-diagnosis (which can be dangerous), there are plenty of resources on the internet where people can check out a diagnosis they have been given, find out more about the condition and gather information to question the diagnosis if they feel this is necessary. (See, for example, http://www.mentalhealth.com.)

Update for the UK: At the end of March 2005, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) published information about its guidelines to the NHS on the treatment and care of people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These new guidelines may assist in obtaining appropriate diagnosis and care after bullying because they:

The booklet Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - Information for the Public is available free of charge, either by download from the NICE website at http://guidance.nice.org.uk/CG26/PublicInfo/pdf/English or via the NHS Response Line (0870 1555 455), quoting reference number N0849.

 

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Gaslighting, The Double Whammy, Interrogation and Other Methods of Covert Control in Psychotherapy & Analysis - Theo. L. Dorpat (Jason Aronson Inc.)

VEX - The Support, Information and Campaign Group for Survivors of Therapeutic Abuse Worldwide:
http://website.lineone.net/~vex/

Bullying, Stress and the Effects of Stress on Health:
http://www.bullyonline.org/stress/health.htm

Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):
http://www.bullyonline.org/stress/ptsd.htm


Where next?

BALM Home Page
Introducing the Founders of BALM
How to Support a Bullied Minister
What Not to Say to a Bullied Minister
How Bullying has Affected Me
Bullying and Spirituality
Group Dynamics
Links to Other Websites and Organisations
Book List
Counselling with Care
Bullied in Ministry
Bullying in the Church
Bullying and Burnout
Submission on Clergy Stress
Media Requests
Additional Resources on Church Abuse