Where does Agency Begin?

I heard this question asked this week. It wasn’t directed at me in particular, more sort of to society in general. I took it to mean the point someone makes a decision to take control of their own destiny.

It made me think about the role of counselling and maybe there is an aspect of empowerment through relationship and positive regard, but wouldn’t someone have to have already had agency to seek help in the first place. It takes a lot of courage to engage the service of someone unknown and divulge your most personal information.

I read Dr Sanah Ahsan’s article in The Guardian – I’m a psychologist – and I believe we’ve been told devastating lies about mental health | Sanah Ahsan | The Guardian about the effects of a person’s social and economic environment on their mental health. One of her concerns is that “individualised understanding of mental health puts plasters over big gaping wounds” without addressing the wider issues. Her concerns are not new ideas for many of us; the wider question is how to solve it. Dr Ahsan also comments “Individual therapy is brilliant for lots of people”, unfortunately people are often unable to access counselling whether they have agency or not, we all have a different starting point. I think counselling can help people to see problems in a wider perspective, see their options and develop their own sense of agency. Maybe at some future point, more people will have access to therapy that they choose, or have the offer of therapy or counselling before too much agency is required.

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