• Question: When you start a new mental health session with someone new, how do you cope if they have a seriously sad story to tell, as you cant let their story affect your treatment for them?

    Asked by rodgersl19 to SarahC, Paige, Nuru, NathanK, Andrea on 2 Mar 2020.
    • Photo: Nathan Kindred

      Nathan Kindred answered on 2 Mar 2020:


      I don’t currently work with patients, but I think in terms of being affected by someone’s story you just have to make sure that you’ve set up your treatment plan to be the same for everyone in the treatment group, if the treatment is drug based. And if you have a group who receive a different drug or a placebo then you shouldn’t know who is in which group.

      With mental health though if the therapy isn’t drug based then it can sometimes be better to personalise the treatment for each individual, in which case you wouldn’t have to worry about being affected by their story.

    • Photo: Nuru Noor

      Nuru Noor answered on 2 Mar 2020:


      Thanks that’s a really good question. So I mainly see and help look after people who have problems with their bowels. This can be quite an embarassing topic and having to rush to the loo can make people feel very upset and sad.

      One of the key skills I learned and developed throughout my studies and now working as a doctor, has been the importance of listening and giving people a chance to tell their story. Having someone to listen can be really helpful, and ultimately I then work with patients I see to try and work out what’s bothering them and what we can work on to try and get them feeling better.

    • Photo: Andrea Kusec

      Andrea Kusec answered on 2 Mar 2020: last edited 2 Mar 2020 6:44 pm


      Many of the patients I see have really heartwrenching stories – such as being in really bad car accident or losing friends or family members. In the moment, I need to remember that they are sharing something very personal with me that might have taken a lot of courage to say, so as Nuru said it’s so important to listen and be empathetic. People often don’t want to be pitied – they want others to understand why something is hard for them. The best thing for me to do is acknowledge how they feel and ask if they would like me to help them.

      For my own coping – often the weight of hearing other people’s stories doesn’t hit me until later in the day. I try to (anonymously) write down how I am feeling about someone’s sad story, and remind myself that it’s important not to take everything very personally – I can’t be a good listener without taking a step back from everything. I also try and just have a laugh about something separate with my friends (say, a good joke) so that I don’t dwell on other people’s sad stories too much.

    • Photo: Sarah Clarke

      Sarah Clarke answered on 2 Mar 2020:


      That’s a really thoughtful question, thank you. I don’t do that much mental health work at the moment, but I have done some in the past. Firstly, I think it is important to remember that we are all human and it can be difficult not to get affected by sad stories – many of us have confidential support at work to help us with situations that we find difficult. For me, I find it easiest to cope by reminding myself that I am there as a professional person – that it is my job to help and that I must try my best to do that no matter how hard it might seem. Unfortunately, I can’t change what has already happened to someone but I can have a very important role in working with them to help them move forwards. I try to empathises with people and thank them for their honesty (especially when something is difficult to talk about) and ask about what help they want. As you say, we can’t let how a person’s story makes us feel affect their treatment. But at the same time what treatments benefit one person might be different to someone else and its important that we recognise that too.

    • Photo: Paige Chandler

      Paige Chandler answered on 2 Mar 2020:


      Thank you for your question, it’s a very thoughtful one.

      I’m tagged in this question but I do not work with human patients. I study the genetics of schizophrenia using mice. I would very much like to work with humans one day, though.

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