What is my purpose? It’s a question often asked at times of personal or professional change. For those with a calling or vocation – teachers, doctors, therapists, the police and emergency responders, the answer might simply be, ‘to teach, heal, care or help’. But when we lose our sense of purpose, we become disconnected and lose a part of our self. This is often precisely the moment in a client’s life when we meet them for the first time.
Zoe Davenport leads a national police psychological health surveillance programme and writes this issue’s lead article on working with the police. She describes the force as ‘the punchbags of society’, and her article makes for sobering reading: ‘I have worked with police officers who have been stabbed or shot, run over, or had their jaw or limbs broken; and most horrifically, set on fire.’ Little wonder that Zoe argues for a properly funded national standard of clinical support for the police – which begs the question, why isn’t it already in place?
The answer, unlikely to surprise anyone working with the public sector, appears to lie in chronic underfunding and a lack of staff and resources. This makes tough work even tougher and it lowers morale. Not only are police officers retiring earlier because they are no longer able to endure a 30-year career physically or mentally, but the OH staff who support them are in short supply, and few ‘helpers’ are drawn to work in a staff service so starved of investment.
It got me thinking about the wounds inflicted on employees, who become fodder for political distraction or expediency – from the GPs being told to ‘stop hiding’ by Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, to the teachers accused of being idle during lockdown. In ‘My workplace’, I talk to Naomi Ward, a former English teacher, who coaches educators across the world to rediscover their sense of purpose. I was touched to learn how Naomi offers her love of language and metaphor to help those who can’t put words to what they have lost: ‘When we can’t find the words to express something that we are longing for, we find that the poets have already said it.’ This, Naomi says, helps us to transcend the fear that we are alone – the connection reassures us and it gives us courage.
In ‘When “old Mark” meets “new Mark”’, Anupama Garg explains that she was unable to find a single case study written by a workplace counsellor on their work with an employee experiencing long COVID. This gave her a sense of purpose to write one. And finally, if you or your clients need reacquainting with your sense of purpose, I hope you’ll read my interview with Eloise Skinner about her new book, The Purpose Handbook.
Nicola Banning, Editor,