First the super good news: people are asking for Christmas gift therapy vouchers again this year and I think that’s amazing. It’s a sure sign that mental wellbeing is being taken more seriously than ever before and that therapy is being normalised. When I first started out in private practice this was one of my dreams and honestly, I didn’t think we’d get here.
But here we are!
That said, I won’t sell vouchers. And here’s why:
For me, it’s a boundary issue. When we buy someone a voucher for a shop or online store or even a service like a hairdresser or gym, we are not suggesting, at some level, that they make permanent changes to their lives. We are merely offering them a treat. There is a chance of course that they might take it personally – do I LOOK like I need a haircut?? But the chances are, they’ll love it and it will be easy and commitment free.
With therapy comes work. It can be hard work, sometimes painful work, and it’s work that requires a relationship built on choice and trust. The timing is essential, and the potential client must be in control of it. Much as we might want the best for our partners, friends, family, we cannot force them to accept help. Therapy will work only when we choose to allow it. And much as we want to help our loved ones financially, there will enter into your friendship a possible expectation that they ‘use’ the voucher. And straight away their choice of therapy (and therapist) has become tainted.
Some questions that might help you figure this out:
What if we buy a voucher for a therapist that they don’t like, or that they know personally unbeknownst to you? What if they don’t want therapy? And so your relationship with them may suffer as a result.
Even if they do want therapy, what happens if it doesn’t work out, doesn’t work ‘as fast’ as you want it to? What if, as a result of the therapy, your friendship with them changes in ways that are painful for you? Will you be OK with that or will you punish yourself, or indeed your friend?
And for the voucher purchaser it is worth asking – why choose a voucher and not cash? Why do you want your friend to go for therapy?
We can unconsciously (or indeed consciously) attempt to control our loved ones’ choices – albeit with good intentions. But perhaps the need is our own. Perhaps we need to be leaned on less, we might need space. We might want to teach the person to look after themselves and so here’s the thing – is buying them a voucher engendering true independence? Or is it a passive way of saying – please get help, I cannot, or will not, support you anymore.
I know it can be hard to say to someone look, please get support elsewhere. I am not a professional or I have too much of my own stuff going on. And a voucher seems the obvious solution. But I believe that there are psychic strings attached to vouchers for therapy. The potential weight of expectation for your loved one and the narrowing of choice, and for you there is the potential disappointment if they don’t use it, the dynamic of you possibly being the ‘fixer’ in the relationship and the tiredness that goes with that, and the complex fallout from all of these dynamics.
What can you do instead?
If you are feeling overly leant on by your friend give yourself permission to say so. Give yourself permission to look after yourself more, to spend more time with other friends, family or indeed, alone. If your friend is low on cash perhaps get them a voucher for other necessities which will free up cash for them – and then if they choose to spend their own money on therapy, they will be more empowered by their choice, knowing it was fully theirs.
These are my suggestions. Again, I can’t emphasise enough how wonderful it is to be asked for vouchers for just the second Christmas ever! And as I pondered it I realised, it’s still not for me.
But serious kudos to all of us for changing, and long may it continue.
With a hope that this resonates and makes sense, and with my warmest wishes for Christmas,