Boys in Mind Meets...
An Interview with Wayne Mertins-Brown
By: Kit Cooper-Harrison
My name is Wayne Mertins-Brown and I’m a counsellor. My full title is psychotherapeutic counsellor and that means I do talking therapy with people. It’s for people who want to work through challenges, traumas, or just want to find out more about themselves. That’s when they come and do talking therapy with me. I had a lot of emotional challenges growing up. I’m a black man, I’m a gay man, and I live with various chronic health conditions. I found that coming to terms with each of those things – being black in a white world, being gay in a straight world, living with chronic illness in a world that doesn’t truly appreciate illness – I felt I needed to get support, so I was very fortunate in being able to reach out to different counsellors and support services over the years.
I was in a working environment which was homophobic and clearly racist. It was common to hear racist or homophobic banter in the office and I found it very challenging. I became overwhelmed by it. I found myself getting more and more upset because I used to feel that I was colluding in that very toxic environment. A colleague said to me one day that she found it quite distasteful what was being said and she wondered why I put up with it. That made me think about it long and hard and that got me quite upset. I remember driving home from work and I nearly had an accident because I was so worked up and so upset. Talking to my GP about that, he signed me off work with work-related anxiety, stress and depression and sent me to a counsellor which was enormously beneficial. Later, I found myself wanting to give back to others what I had gained and decided to train professionally as a counsellor.
I have had to adapt my work quite significantly during the pandemic. Normally I meet my clients face to face in a quiet therapy room however once the lockdown began, I had to take my work online. There’s something about being with a person in a room, being able to make direct eye contact that is helpful to the process of sharing our thoughts and feelings. I thought it might be a huge challenge but some of the clients found it more comfortable to work online because they were in their own space, they didn’t have to go to this other clinical space to talk, they could do it from their own home. Many of my clients said they preferred it and felt more comfortable and this led to them feeling they could open up more.
It was a challenge where people were living with a partner or had a family. Everybody was in lockdown, the children aren’t at school, the partner is at home, so how do they find that private space to talk to me? The therapeutic alliance is a precious relationship and what is said in that space can be very different to what is said outside of that space. Therefore, for some of my clients it was difficult to find privacy, so I suggested they take a telephone, go out for their daily exercise and talk to me then. Being on the move is very helpful in allowing the mind to work a bit differently, to work in a way that is evolving; you’re thinking, you’re walking, you’re talking, it can help us to get to places we might not otherwise get to, emotionally. Never underestimate the power of nature.
I have lots of different areas within my support network. Throughout the pandemic, a couple of friends and I would have a daily group call because we found that we each had our own challenges with being alone. It was surprising just how important those daily calls became, we could find ourselves on the phone, sometimes for five minutes, sometimes for two hours, day after day with so much to share. It was lovely. Sometimes two people would be chatting and the third just listening, sometimes we were all talking and fighting for space! A lot of laughter but also a lot of tears. That was a really important part of my day to keep me feeling connected to others and give me a space to express what I was going through.
What would I say to my younger self? Don’t be afraid to be yourself, don’t be afraid to sometimes let go of friends in order to find new, closer friends. We grow and evolve all the time; we are not going to be the same people that we were at 10 as we are going to be at 20. You can be different things, you can be a brick layer or a doctor, you can go from being a poet to a fitness instructor, a salsa dancer to a school teacher, you can do anything. Life should be fun in exploring and finding things that you can do and enjoy. Find those unique qualities and enjoy experiencing them and letting others experience them. Enjoy your birthdays knowing that the day you came into the world was a special day. Take a day each year to really enjoy that experience and know that the world benefits from your being here.