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'My therapeutic journey began when I was 21, arriving wide-eyed in Hillhead'

To mark World Mental Health Day 2020 (Saturday October 10), Charley Gavigan looks back at her early career in Glasgow and the influence of a friend and pioneering practitioner.

During lockdown Colin and I have been revisiting what we have learned over our combined 67 years of counselling practice.

My therapeutic journey began in the mid-80’s, when I was 21, arriving wide-eyed in Hillhead from Dundee.

As a community development graduate I was impatient to create a fresh chapter of independence for myself. 

 Back then: Charley came to work in Glasgow from Dundee.
Back then: Charley came to work in Glasgow from Dundee.

My first job was a live-in position in Scotland’s only therapeutic community, ‘Huntly Lodge’, for thirty adults who were living with or recovering from mental health issues.

High on the hill of Huntly Gardens, two adjoining town houses, number 33-34, boasted an original stained-glass door, pillared entrance hall, carved wooden bannisters, high ornate corniced rooms, bay windowed views, gothic mantelpieces and built in bookcases. 

‘Huntly Lodge’ offered me not only my first workplace, like no other, but also a school of life for my own psychological woes.

'Rooftops'

My bedroom was in the attic staff quarters many floors up with breath-taking views across the West End rooftops and the small rear garden leading to Athole Lane.

Looking back to my younger self I can picture a lonely, young woman working hard to wear her brave face, yearning for the anticipation of stimulating experiences and with luggage loads of emotional turmoil.

Coming to live in the midst of the vibrant sights and sounds of the West End of Glasgow from Dundee in the ‘80s was like stepping into technicolour. 

Retrospectively a therapeutic community was probably one of the best environments I could have chosen as the first rung of my career. 

 Huntley Lodge where Charley came to work in the '80s.
Huntley Lodge where Charley came to work in the '80s.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, a therapeutic community creates an everyday learning experience for both residents and staff, in an ordinary house in an ordinary street. 

A community within a community for adults who have survived traumas, abuses, problems in living and/or the consequence of the revolving door of the psychiatric system. 

My own steep learning curve started as soon as I was welcomed as a new staff member to the community, with daily delegation of tasks, regardless of status, from cleaning toilets to making dinner for over 30 people.

This is perhaps where my bravery seed was first planted, encouraging me to be open to vulnerability and learning from peers about my relationship with myself and others.

I witnessed so many wounded souls learn to reclaim their power and go onto mutually support others and build positive relationships. 

'My bedroom was in the attic, staff quarters many floors up with breath-taking views across the west end rooftops and the small rear garden leading to Athole Lane.

'Looking back to my younger self I can picture a lonely, young woman working hard to wear her brave face, yearning for the anticipation of stimulating experiences and with luggage loads of emotional turmoil.

'Coming to live in the midst of the vibrant sights and sounds of the West End of Glasgow from Dundee in the ‘80s was like stepping into technicolour'

Charley Gavigan

I am privileged to have belonged to this community.

Although it’s now over 30 years, I look back on the valuable lessons I carry with me in my work and life today, to amplify the basics of believing people can reclaim their own story, belonging, acceptance, love and respect. 

My boss at that time was Anne Houston, a phenomenal practitioner and leader. She is also a West Ender.

Anne is a force of nature, a lifetime pioneer pushing against taboos for human supports that value the experience of vulnerable children, young people and adults. 

She encouraged my therapeutic qualifications at the community and later when we worked together on the small team that set up ChildLine Scotland.

Anne taught me how to listen, hear what’s not being said and be with people as the experts in their own experience. 

 Anne Houston: 'A force of nature, a lifetime pioneer' who helped set up ChildLine in Scotland.
Anne Houston: 'A force of nature, a lifetime pioneer' who helped set up ChildLine in Scotland.

It has been a tough year with Coronavirus and the domino effect on the mental health of millions of people.

This year ‘World Mental Health Day 2020’ (October 10th) is promoting the theme of ‘mental health for all’. 

Yet despite the public health campaigns to raise awareness to reduce stigma, of all our mental health, there appears to be continued, perceived barriers, embarrassment and fears that thwart so many from seeking the emotional support they need. 

As for the other 364 days a year, unfortunately we can’t magic-away our mental stress and distress.

Our mental health lives in us every day.

 Brave Your Day podcast from the Glasgow-based The Big Light network.
Brave Your Day podcast from the Glasgow-based The Big Light network.

* Charley and Colin Gavigan are therapeutic and leadership counsellors who set up a mental health practice, Brave Your Day, in 2017. Search 'Brave Your Day' to subscribe to their podcast on Apple or Spotify and find out more about Brave Your Day here. For more information about Anne Houston visit her Linkedin page

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