World Mental Health Day Interview: Sass Boucher
In the third of our interview series around World Mental Health Day 2018 we spoke to Sass Boucher, counsellor and psychotherapist. We talk about youth mental health, professional inspirations and life lessons!
Tell us a little bit about yourself / career history / what you do now.
Hey, I’m Sass, and I’m always a little bit stumped when I’m asked this, where to start, how much to share, my career is particularly diverse.
I’ve worked with people for many many years, as a volunteer, a front-line domestic abuse support worker, manager of services, trainer, social work practice educator, and I also blog and write.
My day to day full time role is as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice, working with clients in many areas of their lives where they would like to understand themselves more and make changes. I work with a lot of anxiety, stress, low mood and also looking at relationships and identity.
I’m also Co-founder of Self-Care Psychology, where we concentrate on training blogging and designing resources to support practitioners in human services to buffer the impacts of professional trauma and fatigue.
I am frustrated daily by the fact that we are losing awesomely talented and highly trained professionals to professional trauma and fatigue. It doesn’t make sense on any level when we KNOW there are cost effective and efficient tools and strategies that we can put into place to protect them, and keep them doing the awesome jobs they do.
What inspired you to go in to the line of work you are in?
I had moved through domestic abuse front line services, then became a manager of a domestic violence outreach project, managing volunteers and I also designed and delivered safeguarding and domestic violence training.
I suddenly realised that I desperately missed the privilege of working with individuals, listening, and supporting their change. So, I went back to uni and started the life altering professional qualification needed to become a counsellor and psychotherapist, I then made another huge decision to top it off with a MSc research project because I wanted to know more and try to rid myself of ‘imposter syndrome’.
Tell us something that you like about yourself.
Eeeek, this has been hugely difficult concept for me to grapple with over the last few years. I struggle with the concept of ‘loving myself’ and maybe need to take this to therapy ☺, but I am learning to like me.
I’ve learned to aim for good enough and be as authentic as I can be with myself and others.
If we are able to be more truly authentic with ourselves then the emotional distress of questioning “have I done the right thing”, or making the ‘wrong decision’ is easier, as I generally know that I made a decision that was genuinely ok for me, and those around me at that time. Life changes, we need to change with it, and my husband has always been a big influence on me here. “If you make a decision that doesn’t feel right, make another one!”
So, I guess I like my optimism, my voracious but draining appetite for learning and I’m just starting to like my ‘say yes and just give it a go’ philosophy.
What does the term mental health mean to you?
Mental health for me is about our emotional, psychological, and social well-being, and how this can impact on how we think, feel, and act. The ‘health’ is around a balance of how we handle stress, how we relate to others, and how we might have the resilience and courage to make our own choices.
What are your views on mental health vs physical health?
My view is very simple, they are equally immensely important, inextricably linked and both demands evenly balanced understanding, resources, funding and education.
This years theme for WMHD is ‘Youth’ What do you think is key in helping young people of today with their mental health?
Again, I believe at the core it is very simple. Young people need to be given an awareness of mental health, what it means, and the accessibility to source support and services is key, without stigma.
If our children and young adults are not aware, or do not understand what they or their friends may be experiencing, that in itself can be truly isolating and terrifying. When the awareness is there, then the courage of what to do, or where to go next becomes a possibility.
What do you think is the cause(s) of the current epidemic in youth mental ill-health?
BIG question, and one that I don’t feel academically or sufficiently researched to answer from any other perspective than my own experience and that of working with young people.
Most of us lead very stressful lives, in a frantic and chaotic environment. We have to cope with the constant bombardment from 24-hour news, the immediate reporting of terrorism, natural disasters and the reports of horrific crimes in detail.
We are exposed to, and many of us feel obliged to, take part in social media. I firmly believe social media has some huge positive’s, but it also promotes ‘should’s’ to us. I.e. we ‘should’ look like this, act like this, have this, be like this.
I get frustrated when I hear adults suggest the young ‘have it all these days’ and question ‘how are they so stressed’.
We live in an ‘immediate’ ‘on call 24/7’ culture.
I used to have one phone in my house when I was young (giving away my age here) if you were out you didn’t get the call, and in all honesty if you wanted to ignore it you could.
We had one TV with 3, and latterly 4 channels, and the news was only on a couple of times a day.
Shops were shut on a Sunday, I know I’m sounding so old, but life was slower in many ways.
I’m a fan of, and believe in change and progress, I would probably starve if we didn’t have a convenience shop down the road open until 10pm each night, but I believe our youngsters are growing up on red alert, confronted with constant comparison and having notifications constantly pinging away to alert them to this. This is unreasonably and immensely stressful and highly demanding, we simply cannot do it all!
How do you support your own mental health day to day? Any top tips for wellbeing?
I guess it is no surprise that my passion for self-care and desire to support client’s wellbeing comes from a distinct previous inability to do this myself, and I am still very much a work in progress, but here goes as a top three tips.
- I have learned to take responsibility for my own wellbeing, no one can do it for me.
- Change is tough, and takes time, but it IS possible, I’ve learned to truly believe this.
- Keep self-care small, it’s not about grand gestures it’s about finding small manageable actionable actions that make me smile!
In relation to your own mental health, what is your biggest life lesson so far?
That its ok to have thoughts and feelings, even if they’re the ones growing up I thought were ‘stupid’ ‘bad’ or ‘mad’.
Thoughts come and go, they can be dangerous, crazy, beautiful, scary, angry and so much more, but they are just thoughts, you can learn to ‘pop them down’ or just sit with them, safe in the knowledge that they’re not necessarily fact or something you have to act on.
The awareness of how thoughts can impact on your feelings and how we can start to work with that becomes quite empowering.
When you hear ‘It’s ok not to be ok’ what does this make you think.
It’s comforting to me, no judgement, it’s just so ok to give myself permission to feel pants at times!
One of Be Empowered goals is to empower self care and self help for young people, what do you think about this?
It’s a no brainer! We (SCP) published a blog recently about setting yourself up as a self-care model for your kids and it’s been really well received. How else are our young people to learn that its ok to look after yourself, it’s not selfish in fact in this frantic world it is absolutely necessary?
What advice would you give to a young person who is currently struggling with their mental health? What advice would you give to a parent of a young person who is self-harming?
For parents or carers I’d say educate yourself as best you can, there are some great legitimate resources out there, Mind for example, an understanding and knowledge around self-harm can be a great support and also enable you to be there for your child, be present, listen and try not to panic. Find a professional to talk to if necessary and look after your own needs (I know this isn’t easy) as you need to stay ok too.
For a young person themselves I would always recommend the same, accurate safe knowledge and awareness, and try to talk to someone you trust, someone you might feel safe with. Again, Mind have some great resources, fact sheets and videos to watch.
Finally, At Be Empowered, we use a variety of wellbeing strategies and one of them is daily affirmations, what would your affirmation be?
I have two, the first mirrors the question earlier, as its simply “It’ll be ok”. The second is also simple, “Slow down” as I am constantly on the move and on the go, I’m learning that I miss things living this way.
We want to say a big thank you to Sass for taking the time to talk to us and hope you too found it as inspiring as we did!