Although I love my work there has always been a constant nagging voice in my head. It is a voice which says, “fifty years of CBT and the world is getting worse.”

Unfortunately, it is a voice which feels as if it is getting stronger.

Whatever I do on my own or in collaboration with others it sometimes feels as if I am just responding with the sticking plaster of CBT to issues which are deeply embedded in society.

Mental health is public health

Mental health is public health and we need to tackle it at a much earlier stage than we do now.

Initiatives such as World Mental Health day are rightfully celebrated within Mental Health Today. However such initiatives still feel as if they are exceptions rather than the rule. The new ”rule” I think we need to adopt is to start mental health education early preferably at school.

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Lessons in empathy

Therapist, Michael O'Sullivan, considers whether it is possible to teach empathy and what the consequences might be ... 

There was an article in the Spanish newspaper El País which spoke about the possible benefits that might be seen through teaching lessons in empathy to school children.

The article proposed a curriculum based on working with marginalised groups from the homeless to victims of domestic violence and refugees.

The article believed that such lessons would help young people to make connections with people who may be seen as outsiders. As they began to make these connections they would begin to see that person as another human being and would become more empathic.

The benefits of empathy for society

'Lessons in empathy would offer children the possibility of developing more meaningful relationships'

Lessons in empathy would offer children the possibility of developing more meaningful relationships which would then have a ripple effect throughout society.  

The benefits of this could be profound.

When we think of people who have been excluded from so called ‘mainstream’ society, we often speak in terms of “us and them”.

The reality is that there is only “us and us”.  The case for more empathy feels strong.

Why empathising with others is so difficult

Compassion Focussed Therapy looks at how our “threat” system robs us of the ability to empathise with others.

It is far easier to stereotype and demonise others.  The case for empathy lessons feels strong but is it something which is teachable?

I think it is.  Good communication must include empathic communication.

In the 1980s following qualification as a nurse, I did a counselling course.  It was very basic. There was little by way of theory and was purely skills based.

However, those skills- reflecting, paraphrasing and summarising were pinpointed in the course team as evidence of demonstrating empathy.

Mental health is everyone’s business

Mental health problems are complex.

However, they are problems we all need to own. They are truly “everyone’s business”.

We are always striving to find that one “domino” to push to make all of the other dominos fall down.

Could lessons in empathy be that “domino”? Empathy is challenging. We can strive to be more empathic but it is not a goal. 

There will never be a 100% score in any empathy exam.

Nevertheless, if empathy could be taught at schools we may begin to tackle some of those deeply rooted problems and the nagging voice in my head may become quieter.