The Big Secret of Successful Mental Health Recovery

Luke Woodley is the Chief Executive Officer of Walnut Tree Health and Wellbeing C.I.C based in the UK.

He is passionate about changing outdated and mediocre practices surrounding mental health treatment. He comes from the perspective of lived-experience and years of cutting-edge research. He is determined people shouldn’t have to suffer even more because of the lack of adequate and appropriate mental health care.

What follows is part of his story. Here he describes a major turning point in his recovery.

I was first diagnosed with PTSD in 1994 whilst still serving in the Coldstream Guards. The army was all I knew. I’d joined at 16 and at 18 had signed on for 22 years service. Medical discharge had not featured in my career plan! My battalion did all it could to support me when I became unwell. My commanding officer made sure I got my war pension and other such entitlements. However I received no treatment for my mental health, simply a diagnosis and medical discharge.

At first my only priority was to find a home for my family and a job to pay for it. This massive life change turned my world upside down. As time went on my mental health got worse. I lost my business and my marriage ended. I just wanted to run and hide from the world. My drinking increased and I made a couple of attempts to end my life. Relationships never worked as I was emotionally detached and shut down, always angry and always drinking.

Many years later, in 2005 I found myself sat in the waiting room at King Fisher House at Hellesdon Hospital, Norwich run by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. In the years that had passed I’d become an alcoholic, drinking to self-medicate, homeless, divorced and having made attempts to end my life.

As I sat there my inner critic piped up, as it often did: “ Look at what you’ve become, you should be ashamed of yourself” The voice in my head never seemed to have anything but scorn, disgust and condemnation for me.

Suddenly I became aware of my name being called. I looked towards the doorway and saw a slim man dressed smartly in shirt and well-pressed trousers. I figured him to be about my own age. He fixed me with good eye contact and introduced himself confidently as Roger. His handshake suggested he was confident in his own skin. As we walked to the consulting room all I could think was “say nothing”! I had met plenty of ‘professionals’ during those wasted years and nobody seemed capable of believing me, understanding me or in most cases really listening to me.

Roger asked question after question, the thing that struck me most was how he listened, I mean truly listened! No rush to fill the gaps if I paused, always giving me the opportunity to finish if I was just pausing to gather my thoughts. After my initial consultation Dr Kingerlee reassured me I would be getting treatment. He advised me I would receive an appointment to start treatment in six weeks time.

I drove home feeling that for the first time in a long time I had hope. This psychologist was very different from any clinician I’d every met. Roger was true to his word and time came round and I started treatment but this was not what I expected at all. Roger gave me things to read, suggested books and challenged my thinking. He challenged and pushed me to try new coping strategies, to train in them till I could do them without thinking. Yet when thing’s were bad this mild mannered, one might say a little introverted, but genuinely kind psychologist, seemed to swoop in like Superman. Safe guarding was always strong but with flexibility so as to not stifle recovery.

Letters of support and instruction were dispatched, helping make my life easier. When I had no place to go, he found me a space at a really nice hostel. It seemed he could move mountains! Sometimes I would smile to myself and think Roger was another reincarnation of Clark Kent.

I trusted and respected Roger, as treatment moved on from CBT to EMDR always accompanied by Rogers cutting of mental health stories from the news papers or copies of medical articles, treatment moved from Hellesdon Hospital to my GP surgery and finally Roger would see me at home. Sadly before the work was complete the mental health trust set about a major restructure, Roger was assigned to a different area. However his reaction to this turned out to be the positive force that kick-started my recovery. Roger didn’t hide behind a letter, on his last visit to my home he told me face to face, with compassion and dignity that our therapeutic relationship would have to come to an end.

The news I would have to pick up with a new psychologist some how didn’t matter, I wasn’t going to do it and the fact that Roger had told me face to face made me realise time had come to leave services and put all he had taught me into practise. What came next was a journey of discovery beyond my wildest dreams that unbeknown would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this mild mannered psychologist, this Clark Kent really did have Superman qualities. He had given ‘me’ back to ‘me’ albeit in a different guise due to the circumstances I had been through. I had my advocacy back and the motivation to go on to experience post traumatic growth .

However dark your days, never give up. Keep looking for the man or women or group that have your best interests at heart. There are superheros out there you just have to look out for them.

Luke Woodley is founder, CEO and motivational speaker at Walnut Tree Health and Wellbeing C.I.C headquartered in Norfolk, UK. You can read Luke’s story here. He is passionate about changing the way we treat those with complex mental health conditions and believes a better way of life is possible.