Much has been written about Do No Harm memoir by one of our most expert neurosurgeons Henry Marsh and I don’t want to add much more. Coming to the end of his 30 year career in risky (terrifying) neuro-surgery, he is clearly in reflective mode and weaves a humility through a narrative that could otherwise land as a bit pompous at times. I got the sense he needed to square up to some regrets – clinicially and otherwise – as well as celebrate his undoubted numerous triumphs (and have a poke at the dire state of the NHS since the coalition). It makes a gripping read, not least because of the galloping pace (he clearly has the capacity to work and work and work), but also because we are all deeply fascinated by the workings of our brains and stories about life and death.
It’s the learning by mistakes that reminded me of my own work. This is an obvious and natural way to learn of course – watching a child learn how to write is a good example of this. Seeing the ‘j’ written backwards is a useful way to learn to put it the right way around. Ten years into my job, I get things wrong still -but if I handle things well enough, my mistakes can be useful rather than destructive to the work I do. So, for example I say something that is clunky or wrong or even hurtful to my client. If I grab this quickly, acknowledge it and then talk through it’s impact, this can be useful to someone who doesn’t usually have an opportunity to unpack something that landed badly. It doesn’t let me off the hook – nor should it – but conflicts are often the stuff of therapy -how to ‘do them’ well. If we survive a mistake I made, this can enrich a relationship – just as it can outside of the consulting room.