Sue Yabsley is the diocesan Advisor for Clergy Counselling and Wellbeing
Sometimes the path becomes a bit steep, and we need time to reflect. I’m here to walk alongside our clergy and their families as they discern their paths amongst the chaos of life. It’s a real privilege to do so.
After over 25 years as a psychotherapist working in the NHS and education, I set up a private practice and connected with the diocese to take on clergy referrals.
When the role of advisor came up 5 years ago I really felt it was an opportunity to do more. In terms of my faith, it feels like a calling. Coming from a clergy family myself I hope I bring a deeper understanding of the complex boundaries which can be so hard to navigate for all the family.
I may see a number of people in my day: those who are ordained, spouses or children facing difficulties from personal bereavement to a move, or change in school or job. I might work with them, or refer to a more appropriate senior therapist, ensuring specialist provision for all in a convenient location. I often suggest Reflective Practice Groups which provide a safe and confidential space to explore the relationship between self, faith, spirituality and role.
Then I’m off to visit clergy new in post: to offer an informal welcome to ensure they can ask questions, making them aware of our support whenever they may need it.
I encourage people to pick up the phone anytime they feel unsure or face an issue – prevention is always better than cure. We often feel we should be able to find a path through complex situations alone, which is never the case. Those in ordained ministry and their families are particularly vulnerable, being less protected than most professions. Boundaries in relation to time and place can be unclear; offices are at home with no switchboard to take over at the end of the day. Whilst there is great love for work and calling, it is often hard to discern when they are or are not at work.
Overwork and loss of personal space are the most common issues we address within our service. My role is increasingly preventative: I dedicate more and more time to clergy who have stepped too close to the dangerous arena of overload and stress. It can creep up on us with the greatest of ease, adeptly convincing us that it is our own inadequacy causing our uncharacteristic fatigue and frustration.
Sometimes we have to deny or put aside the pain that is carried for others: a difficult funeral, an emotional wedding or christening, the despair of what we witness in our communities. This can result in the time for our own self-care not quite happening. We all know that we need to keep our emotional wellbeing ‘well-oiled’ to work effectively, but it’s easy to neglect amidst the sheer volume of work.
We need to know ourselves deeply in order to provide sustenance to others. It can really help to have a personal checklist: if you haven’t laughed or spent a quality moment with your spouse or children that day, or are feeling grumpy, sorry for yourself, disconnected, it’s time to revise priorities.
I truly value the mirror that others can hold up to me when I lose my perspective. It can be hard to find the time and acceptance to see what that mirror tells me, but without it, I’d be lost.
You walk beside me in green places and lead me beside quiet waters, you restore my soul. You lead me in the right pathways and even when I am in the darkest of places, you are with me. Psalm 23:2-4
Life’s journeys can take us all into a great variety of places, many good and some challenging or downright scary. We can face times when it is an effort to get out of bed and we would prefer to turn our faces to the wall and let life go on without us and it is especially at such times that we need people who can offer a helping hand to lift us up. Yet it is also at such times that we find can find it most difficult to ask our friends and family for the support we need. Instead we can try to put on a brave face, reply ‘fine’ to every inquiry, and force our selves to carry on.
Sue Yabsley and her team are such a great blessing to have in the diocese, providing wise and confidential counselling when everything is just too much. Countless clergy and their families have real cause to be grateful not just that they are there but for the way they come alongside and share the load. Jesus was able to see into the realities of peoples lives and search out for them the depths of their need. He could be challenging as well as sympathetic but he faced that reality with them. He restored peoples souls – let us give thanks for people like Sue who follow Christ in sharing, challenging and supporting those in need – through her and her team, souls are indeed restored.
We first shared Sue’s story as part of the Bishops’ Lent Appeal 2017