About Therapy

Why have counselling or therapy?

Some of us process problems and challenges through our inner resources and the people around us. We may seek counselling if we suffer a major reverse such as bereavement, a health issue, relationship difficulties or redundancy. Our self-esteem is OK, or better than OK.

Others do not wend their way through life so straightforwardly. It feels complicated and puzzling. It feels threatening or abandoning. We know we are not ill because we function, pay the bills and perhaps attend to others’ needs. But we go around in circles, repeating unrewarding patterns of behaviour. Emotions like sadness, anger or fear seem out of kilter, intruding into everyday life. We might want to curb our excesses, stop blaming others, tackle our compulsive need to escape, allow somebody to love us. Perhaps we feel stuck, wish-blocked, unsure of our direction of travel.

Some people find diagnoses like depression, anxiety, stress, PDOCD  and PTSD a relief because they provide parameters for the way they are feeling. Many are wary of the categorisation of human ‘existence pain.’ Whichever approach you take, you may want help to deal with what is troubling you.

Does it work?

Counselling and psychotherapy can help.

At the very least, talking therapy offers a regular and guaranteed space for ourselves. We can ponder and talk at a level, and with a quality of attention from another person, that isn’t available or safe to take advantage of in other settings. How often do you feel able to unburden yourself or think through an important choice without fear of judgment, competition, or being on the receiving end of well-meaning but unwelcome advice?

Counselling and psychotherapy can lead to key insights and understanding about our history, our choices and our unconscious processes. It is surprising how often we act and react in ways that are outside of our awareness. With reflection and guidance, we can learn to shift previous patterns and perceptions for the better.

What is the difference between the two?

Some people believe that there is no real difference between counselling and psychotherapy. I find the dizzying array of names, orientations and theories in the field a bit annoying so I think there is some merit in that view. However, I think that the two can be framed differently. So, briefly;

Counselling aims to get people on their feet. Feelings of sadness, anger, fear or loss may be temporary and an appropriate response to circumstances. Counselling deals with symptoms (for example, suddenly feeling panicky in lifts or having an unusual propensity to gamble) and perhaps belief systems (“I was bound to fail at this.”) getting in the way of social and emotional competence. Counselling might be short or short-to-medium-term work.

Psychotherapy is more likely to tackle persistent and entrenched difficulties. Time will be spent looking at early life experience and formative relationships. Core beliefs will definitely be explored. This will probably require a longer-term or even open-ended commitment to a process. The multidisciplinary field of neuroscience, which studies structural, functional and emotional brain networks, is contributing hugely to our understanding of why people experience distress internally, in response to daily life stressors, in relation to others, and in the face of difficult life events. Neuroscientific research informs my practice. It helps with understanding ‘relational’ trauma in particular. This is where our earliest experiences of being cared for are consistently less than optimal. Working through the consequences of relational trauma is often not a rapid process because it involves tackling what we can refer to in shorthand as ‘wiring.’

Therapy in the UK

I work with people from all corners of the globe, which is delightful, life-enhancing and often a steep learning curve. On the other hand, a pet passion of mine is the British and their relationship with therapy. I am writing a book on this subject.

None of our national characteristics – stiff upper lips, pulled up socks, being plucky losers in the sporting arena, queuing patiently, championing fairplay, having homes that are castles where we draw up the bridge and peek out from behind the curtains – lend themselves to the therapeutic endeavour.

It seems that we are resistant to being seen as self-focused or, heaven forfend, indulgent. Are we as interested in ourselves, who we are, what makes us feel good, bad or both at the same time, as we are in the operating system of our computers or taking our cars for a service? Do we pull apart a football match or a cake recipe with more vigour than we explore a row with a family member or a slight that leaves us feeling humiliated at a party?

Is the detective story that is your life as much of a thrill as a popular investigative novel or TV series?

The idea of the forthcoming book is to present contemporary case studies which are exciting and relevant in a British context. I hope to elicit responses like ‘that sounds like me’ or ‘I have always accepted the way things are, but why shouldn’t they change for the better?”

Which adverts do you cry at, and why? Why is your favourite movie? What aspects of your life make you feel connected to others? The answers are fascinating, honestly.