While waiting in the hair salon one crowded Saturday afternoon. I overheard one of the patrons speaking to a hairstylist about her marital problems; which included infidelity, medical, financial concerns, and undiagnosed mental health issues. Although the stylist listened attentively and was very empathetic, she appeared overwhelmed and did not know how to respond to all her problems. Other patrons in the salon chimed in, sharing how they dealt with their “no good” significant others, encouraging the patron to leave her spouse.
I reflected on how many times I have overheard conversations similar to the one above during my numerous salon visits. From early childhood until now the salon has been a place where you would get updates on the latest world events and gossip. A place filled with laughter. A place where you felt comfortable sharing your successes (work promotions, engagements, baby news) and your heartaches (divorces, lay-offs, medical illnesses). Nothing was off limits. The salon has always been a place for pseudo therapy sessions. We all think that our stylists “know us.”
Many clients express how for years they struggled with, adjustment disorder, depression, anxiety, and grief, before deciding to meet with a mental health clinician. Clients share how they confided in their stylist, friends, and family members, but never felt at ease or motivated to make changes or explore internal hurts. Having a strong relationship with your stylist is great, but it won’t get you to the root of the issue.
You may ask, what is so different in speaking with a mental health clinician rather than my stylist? Here are a few reasons why the shampoo bowl is not the place to seek therapy.
- The information disclosed may not be kept confidential. Whatever you share with your hairstylist (nail technician, esthetician, or barber) may be shared with others. Your stylist is not obligated to keep your information private. Whereas, mental health professionals abide by a code of ethics and are mandated to protect and respect a clients’ right to privacy and confidentiality of information. Confidentiality is also an essential component in building trust in the client-therapist relationship. Being honest with yourself, trusting your therapist to keep your fears and concerns private, provides for a healing environment. An environment where the mental health clinician can take steps to support, educate, and make recommendations related to your specific issue. You ask, why is privacy so important? Expressing your concerns in a public arena, opens your situation to unprofessional advice. Advice that may not be in your best interest. Reflecting on the situation above. Salon patrons’ encouraging the young lady to leave her spouse is more of an easy way out. There may be underlying issues associated with the infidelity and financial concerns, further discussion is needed.
- While most stylist are extremely good listeners and may have the gift of discernment. Stylist are not trained to handle many of the stressors (mental and physical concerns) that patrons disclose. For example, sharing a recent medical diagnosis may seem harmless, but the skill set required to work through the diagnosis, the ability to provide practical coping skills, and assess for depression associated with the illness, is provided by mental health professionals. Mental Health Clinicians are trained to handle difficult conversations.
- Stylist may feel overwhelmed or traumatized. If you disclose tumultuous family issues (rape, abuse, domestic violence), the stylist may feel shaken by your narrative. Your personal trauma may bring up unresolved issues that your stylist hasn’t addressed. Mental health professionals understand vicarious trauma and know how to work through it. Clinicians understand how trauma can affect your marriage and interpersonal relationships. We just get it!
So, before you decide to disclose your heartaches or fears at the shampoo bowl, think about how your information will be used by others. And above all, if you are receiving the tools needed to work through your concerns.
Disclaimer: In no way is the blog written to undermine stylists, nail artists, or estheticians. This article is designed to highlight the proper channels that benefit those in need of mental health services.
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Angela Body, MSW, LCSW