Why seeking psychological services is not like calling the coastguard.

A metaphor about psychological support

We can imagine that going through life is like sailing your own boat across the ocean. We all have different boats, some are faster, some slower. Some are power boats and others sail with the wind.  But most importantly we all have different directions that we want to go in, and destinations that we want to visit along the way. 

As we travel along our journey we pick up skills and we go through challenges.  There are clear days with flat calm water that grants a smooth journey.  And there are weeks of being stuck in the doldrums unable to catch the wind, or being tossed about by the waves while the engine fails.  There are storms: times when our boats are rocked and pushed to the rocks. our boats may get damaged and we need to repair them.

We learn to handle our boat.

We all have different ways of dealing with these times.  Sometimes we’re able to fix things ourselves and get going but often will need help from other people.  A lot of the time we might be able to get help from friends and family, but sometimes they might be far away or struggling with their own journey.

Requesting professional support is a bit like putting a call out on the radio.  But, although sometimes people think that seeking psychological support is like calling the coastguard and being airlifted off a sinking ship, it’s really, more like travelling alongside another boat and opening-up the port hole to talk.

From a different perspective or different point on the journey they may be able to help you to make sense of what is going on, creating space to let you think things through and set a course.  Perhaps they can help you to gain a different view of yourself, or the passengers on your boat.  If need be, they can teach you some skills to use on your journey.  Or simply to be there while seas are rough.

Yet, a psychologist will have their own boat and their own journey, with their own challenges and their own course to follow. They cannot jump on board your boat to take the wheel and transport you to your destination.  Anyway, as tempting as it may be to let someone else steer the boat, another person will never truly follow your course. 

This is instead a gentler type of assistance that is about helping you get back in charge of steering your own boat.