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American Imago 62.1 (2005) 125-131
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Letter from London
17 Hampstead High St.
London NW3 1QW
On Practicing Therapy at 1:45 A.M.
In July of 2004, I became the Resident Psychotherapist for B.B.C. Radio 2, the most popular radio station in Great Britain, which attracts approximately 15,000,000 listeners weekly from all parts of the British Isles. Some four months earlier, Lesley Douglas, the forward-thinking and visionary new Controller of Radio 2, had invited me for a breakfast meeting atop St. George's Hotel on Langham Place, near her offices at Broadcasting House, to discuss possibilities for bringing good psychological and psychotherapeutic ideas onto the radio. As we munched on delicious croissants, Lesley told me that as the new Controller she hoped not only to maintain and indeed expand upon the high quality of Radio 2's current music and arts programs, but also that she wished to find a way for Radio 2 to help foster a greater sense of well-being and "citizenship" in Britain, and she wondered whether a mental-health professional might be able to make a contribution to the network. I had made my first radio broadcast some twenty years earlier, in 1984, back on the "Dave Freeman" radio program on B.B.C. Radio Oxford, defending psychoanalysis against heated attacks from Professor Hans Eysenck; and in the intervening decades, I had accumulated a goodly amount of broadcasting experience. I applauded Lesley Douglas on her very exciting proposal, and shortly thereafter I met her senior colleague Dave Barber and his "Social Action" team, Senior Producer Mark Hill, and Broadcast Assistant Nicky Davidson. Within a matter of months, we had created the infrastructure for a nationwide [End Page 125] radio initiative, "Life 2 Live," designed to provide coverage of psychological themes and topics in the most basic language, for members of the general public. We launched on July 23, 2004, on Jeremy Vine's flagship lunchtime news program, discussing the psychology of relationships, and we have proceeded to develop from strength to strength.
Lesley Douglas had planned for me not to have my own slot on Radio 2, but rather to visit as many of the already existent radio programs as possible, thereby helping to disseminate a psychotherapeutic presence throughout the radio station. Thus far, I have made frequent appearances on "Jeremy Vine," on "Johnnie Walker," the early evening Drivetime program, as well as for "Steve Wright," the highly popular and hugely durable host of the afternoon program. We also have a special "Life 2 Live" section on the B.B.C. website, for which I write short pieces (book reviews, fact sheets, responses to Frequently Asked Questions about the nature of therapy, and so forth). The website, lovingly maintained by my colleague Terri Sweeney, who has extensive experience of working for B.B.C. Interactive, has helped "Life 2 Live" reach an even wider audience, as we receive tens of thousands of page impressions weekly. Together, we look after the Message Board, where members of the public write to us with their personal problems—often quite heartbreaking difficulties and traumas. So under the guidance of my producer, Mark Hill, we have begun, I trust, to make a contribution to raising the level of public awareness about psychotherapy and mental health issues, especially in parts of the country where we as mental health professionals have not yet made much of an impact.
When we had initially discussed what my title would be, colleagues at the B.B.C. wondered whether I could be called a "life coach." I told them that this would not suit me, as I have neither trained as a "life coach" nor would I describe myself as one. I explained that I would prefer to be known as a "psychotherapist," my professional title. The Social Action team seemed somewhat concerned that this very clinical- sounding term might be too off-putting or indeed scary to some listeners, but I held my ground; and now, each week, the announcers introduce...