The Hair Chair: A Great Place to Sharpen Self-Image

Question: Where do some people share their innermost thoughts?

Answer: The “hair chair.”

There’s a transformation that occurs in hair stylists’ and barbers’ swivel chairs. Men and women sink into them and confidential chatter begins.

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Counseling offices have walls, doors, and white noise machines. High priority is placed on confidentiality. The “hair chair,” in contrast, sits in the open, offering no privacy.

Stylists and barbers alternate between using sharp scissors and loud blow dryers. The minute the magic cape gets fastened at the nape of the neck, freestyle babbling ensues. Yapping, bitching, moaning and gossiping commences.

The month of May was officially named “Mental Health Awareness Month” in 1949 by The National Association of Mental Health in the United States. I don’t recall this “celebration” in my childhood. I’m almost sixty-one years. My parents missed the memo. They were devotees of American pediatrician, Dr. Benjamin Spock. Well, they had his best-selling book. I’m not sure they read it. Displays of emotion were discouraged. “I’ll give you something to cry about!” That threat was an effective deterrent. The message was to put up and shut up.

I’m a Psychotherapist who helps people emote. My practice invites expression of feelings and promotes methods for making great use of the information. It’s July. Why not make mental health awareness a regular thing, a household word with the emphasis on health? Perhaps we’ll witness a reduction in stigma and an increase in empathy.

Let’s turn our attention back to the “hair-chair.” Why do many of us feel comfortable opening up to hair stylists and barbers? These are people we trust with our hair, for starters. People form alliances with their stylists, often seeing them more frequently than their physicians. The familiarity fosters connection, a belief that the professional is a friend who really cares.

The informality of the open space plays a role as well. Sometimes people just want someone to listen. They don’t want solutions or advice. They just want to discharge negative energy or share some good news.

My stylist says she isn’t trained to do therapy. Academically, this is a fact. However, she is very skilled in seeing and listening to her clients. In addition to gathering essential hair information, she is capable of spotting signs of depression, anxiety and physical illness in her clients’ expressions, tone and the health of their hair. There isn’t much that gets past a seasoned stylist.

Health Magazine (3/16/2017) featured an article entitled, “Could a Barber Save Your Life?” The piece noted that men have a difficult time opening up because they fear being judged as being less than manly. One barber lost a friend to suicide so he campaigned to raise awareness and increase support for depressed and suicidal guys. “Barbers around the country (UK) are being trained to recognize signs of depression and suicidal tendencies, listen to clients’ mental health issues and advise them on the best places to go for support.” I read about similar programs in other countries, suggesting the trend is catching-on (http://www.bbc.com/news/health-39281204).

TheGuardian (1/7/2017) posted more validation on the topic. Laura Bates’ article, “Why Training Hair Stylists to Spot Signs of Abuse Works,” provided exciting updates about advances in protection for women. “A new law in the US state of Illinois will require salon professionals to receive training in domestic abuse prevention. The law aims to train beauty therapists and hair stylists to recognize signs of abuse and will see around 88,000 people trained over the next two years. The initiative, launched by a coalition of Chicago-based domestic violence advocacy groups, is an innovative way to harness the often intimate relationship between stylists and clients.” (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2017/jan/07/training-hair-stylists-spot-signs-domestic-abuse?CMP=share_btn_link)

The eye is connected to a computer that assigns a value to the image. Many people silently walk around with a profoundly critical voice inside their heads. When they look at themselves, the image is often a severe distortion from what others see and think. How sad to learn that we allow our thoughts to tell us disparaging things but we would never stand for it from those around us. Several clients, who worked on self-esteem and negative self-talk, benefitted from hair make-overs. I prepared them, in advance, for making changes to the way they viewed themselves before they walked into the salon.

Hair care is about more than hair. Look good and feel better!

Write to me, share your thoughts and experiences. I promise I’ll listen!

– Pandora (pandora@think-diff.com)

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