Monday, April 21, 2008

Tea with the aunts!

When people hear that I'm an agony aunt, one of the questions I always get asked is... "and do you and all the other agony aunts meet up then, and swap notes". Normally, I say no. We tend to live at opposite ends of the country - and we tend to live very busy lives. "Tea with the aunts" just isn't on the cards.

But recently, thanks to an invitation from The Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships, several of us did meet up - and yes, there were tea and cakes served. From the Tavistock's point of view, this was an opportunity to spread the word about the therapy they offer, and - I guess - to debunk a few myths about their being exclusive, traditional and totally out of most people's price bracket. (In fact, much of the work they do is subsidised and you can, theoretically, see one of their highly experienced counsellors completely for free).

There were six of us "aggies" at this meeting and we all listened attentively as the speakers - Susannah Abse and Brett Kahr - outlined the work they do. But then came the surprise. The Tavistock was not just holding an information/publicity session. They were also wanting to swap notes with us as fellow professionals, ask what we did, offer support, identify our daily challenges and compare them with their own.

This was unexpected. I firmly believe that media advisors are just as much trained professionals as anyone else in the field. I would never claim that our job is a counselling job - it's not interactive and it's not longterm. But I would argue that we play just as skilled and demanding a role. We advise not just one but many millions of people. We need to offer wisdom in a few dozen words not over several hundred hours. When we do our job well we disseminate society's best practice. Yes, we are different from counsellors; but we are no less useful or professional.

Some counsellors don't get that. "Agony aunt" can be seen not only as a soft option but as a less skilled one. So it was delightful that the Tavistock were responding to us totally as equals, and initiating a conversation between equals. It turned into an astoundingly useful and insightful occasion, where we discussed mutual problems, offered suggestions and resources, and where both sides learned huge amounts about themselves and about the other.

At the end, it was so successful that we all agreed to meet regularly - for mutual information and support. I am thoroughly looking forward to the next session. And now, if asked whether aggies meet for tea, I can say 'yes'!

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