How does it feel to meet me for therapy?

If you come to have therapy or counselling, with me, even just one session, I have to balance two things: on the one hand, I have to make sure I don’t clutter the space (i.e. our meeting) with lots of my wishes, opinions, concerns, ideas etc.  I want you to have the freedom to come out with any thought that you want to share with me.  This requires space, and it requires my attention, with my concerns about my own life put aside by me.  I have to learn to shut up!  I have to learn to think, to wait, to ponder things with you before we have an answer.  If there’s a question to which we have no answer, I have to avoid rushing in with a comment, just so I have come up with something: I’ll wait until I have something useful to say.  There’s a great line in one of the books I read:

‘Don’t do something, just sit there!’

(Note: in case you are interested in the technical aspects of psychotherapy, this is referred to as ‘containment of anxiety’.)

But there’s another side to this coin: I will also talk!  I won’t just sit there nodding, saying ‘uhuh…..hmmm…. I see what you mean’.  You need to have a feeling that I am engaged with you, connected, and participating.  It’s no good if I am remote from you, ‘doing a therapist’ on you, hiding behind my training and behind the idea that I can possibly be perfectly ‘neutral’.  So, I will try to be present as a real person, interested and curious, and I will try to get alongside you and not confine my role as some ‘psychological consultant’ wearing a white coat.

It is risky my saying this last point, because whilst some people will be pleased to read the above, other people may well think ‘hang on a minute, I do want a psychological consultant!’  Well, of course, I am versed in psychology and you will receive any comments from me that I think may be useful, but I am trying to say here that I am not a text-book or a computer: I am a bloke sitting together with you in a room, and if we spend any time together you would probably sense that I am a person as well as a professional.

The initial session
The initial session lasts up to an hour and a half. We could then decide to set up a regular appointment, usually once a week for 50 minutes. That decision can be made over more than one session, if we so choose. But maybe you’re wondering what might happen in the first meeting, if you decide to come and see me… One thing is usually true: the person coming to see me is wanting to check me out, to find out if I am someone they can not only talk to about difficult things, but also whether I am someone who can help.  For example, sometimes people have wanted to be reassured that I won’t raise my eyebrows if they tell me something they feel guilty or ashamed about, or they have wanted to know that I won’t be gushing or artificially ‘nice’  – a kind of ‘tea-and-sympathy’ stereotype of the sympathetic counsellor.  And sometimes people want an immediate reassurance that they can start to talk to me about something that has remained unsaid for a long time, or even forever. Either way, there is only a certain amount that you can tell from a website, so unless you have been recommended me by a friend it’s something of a shot in the dark.  But I can tell you this… What I try to do in every first meeting with someone is firstly understand something about why they have come.  That may sound simple (examples: my partner has died/left me… I’m not confident… I am consumed with jealousy… I am having an affair… I am shy) but I think nothing is simple in the workings of us humans.  Part of my job is to put words to problems/feelings/emotions/processes so that they can feel more manageable.  This goes on all the way through therapy whether you come for weeks, months or years, but it starts right in the first meeting. I also try to give you some indication of my experience of you, right from the start.  It might just be one thing during the meeting.  Here are some examples:

 

  • ‘I’ve noticed as we have been talking that you have apologised to me three or four times, as though you’re expecting me to be irritated with how you’re talking to me.  Do you think this might connect with what you were saying earlier about your relationship with X?’
  • ‘You have spent a large part of our meeting talking about the background, but I’m not yet clear about the thing that brought you here.  I don’t know whether you are trying to put it off because it’s difficult, or whether you want me to know absolutely every detail, but the risk is that you’ll leave this meeting without having told me what you really want to address…  I don’t know if that happens elsewhere in your life…’
  • ‘I’m struck by the way you are describing a situation that sounds absolutely awful and is having a really bad impact on you, but when I ask you how you are feeling right now you say you are totally comfortable…’

Well, these are just examples that may not relate to your personality, but what I am trying to convey is that I am interactive rather that remaining purely an observer.  I know that my saying this risks frightening some people off, because they might want to stay in a safe, detached place, in which case that’s what we have to work with. One thing I do routinely in the first or second meeting is to write down a family tree.  I don’t want to imply that ‘it’s all about your childhood’: there’s a risk of looking only at the past instead of having a global, or ‘wide-angle’ view that combines the past, your here-and-now, and the future.  Nevertheless, our upbringing is very influential in the formation of our personality, and I will keep that in mind during all of our contact, even though it won’t be talked about in every meeting.

What therapy or counselling is

Having to deal with life’s challenges can bring up difficult and strong feelings e.g. anxiety, sadness, anger or guilt. Or, we may even feel empty in a very obscure or unsatisfying way. Counselling or therapy offers you a place to explore difficulties you are having in your personal life with someone who is trained to explore and sort through those feelings. It is vital that the practitioner help create an atmosphere of trust and safety, so that you feel able to become open about who you are. This means that the therapist does not offer judgements about you or advice.

The process may help feelings become more understandable and manageable, and may help you come up with choices or changes you want to make. It may help you come to terms with things that can’t be changed.

I think that this helps because we can develop self-awareness and get in touch with the truth about who we are and what makes us tick. That then can improve our ability to have control over our lives, instead of being at the mercy of emotions that we don’t understand.

The advantage of psychotherapy is that it offers the opportunity to explore the various ways in which we relate to other people. It helps us work on the acknowledgement and expression of various things that make up the empathy that connects us with other people, things like: gratitude, forgiveness, satisfactions and dissatisfactions, hopes and fears, needs and wishes, sadness and other vulnerabilities. I think all of these things lie behind anger.

In therapy it is also important to explore the ways in which we defend ourselves against the acknowledgement and expression of any of those things.

Who I help
There are many reasons for seeking help. You may be feeling upset and distressed, or have problems in your relationships with others. You may have had a life-crisis like bereavement or redundancy, or may feel upset about something that happened some time ago. You may feel empty or lacking a direction, and that life makes little sense. Perhaps you want to have more confidence in your dealings with others. Whilst on paper we can separate out distinct problem areas or issues – motivation, self-esteem, bereavement, abuse, sex, adoption, divorce etc – I see myself more as working with individuals, each with their own unique personality. In 10 years I have helped people with all sorts of issues. Perhaps it will help to know some of the issues people have come to me with:

 

  • abuse (sexual, mental or physical)
  • adoption
  • anxiety and panic
  • assertiveness skills
  • bereavement (including cot death)
  • depression and low mood
  • divorce and separation
  • eating or food-use disorders
  • ethnic identity
  • guilt about past behaviour
  • intimacy
  • motivation
  • relationship difficulties
  • self-esteem and self-confidence
  • sexuality
  • shyness
  • violence
  • workplace stress
Fees and times

My fees are stated below. But first…

Money-Back Guarantee
If you decide during the first hour of the initial session that you don’t want to take it any further with me, we can part company at that point and you’ll owe me nothing. If you’ve already paid by then I’ll refund you. It may take you longer than one hour, or one session, to find out that I’m the therapist for you, but if you come to the conclusion that you can’t really talk to me then we can stop at that point. I won’t raise this issue: it’s up to you to do so during the first hour of our first meeting.

Sessions for individuals
Regular weekly sessions last 50 minutes, and my fee for this is £60 per session in the daytime (until 6.00pm).
If your appointment starts at or after 6.00pm it costs £70.

The initial session lasts an hour and a half and costs £90. If your initial appointment starts at or after 6.00pm it costs £100.

Sessions for couples
Initial session

The initial session lasts an hour and a half and costs £90.
If your initial appointment starts at or after 6.00pm it costs £100.

Subsequent sessions
These last 50 minutes, and my fee for this is £65 per session in the daytime (until 6.00pm).
If your appointment starts at or after 6.00pm it costs £75.

How I work
When we are troubled by our ability to cope with something there is usually a relationship component to our difficulty. If we can understand how this affects us, we are better placed to take control of our own lives. The technical term which most closely describes my practice is Relational, which integrates psychodynamic therapy and the humanistic therapies. So, what do these terms mean?… The psychodynamic model puts relationships – both past and present – at the heart of emotional life: it aims to help us understand the flows of emotions, feelings, wishes and reactions both within ourselves and between us and other people. And, those other people are both those people who are around us in our life now, and those who were around us much earlier on during those years that shaped us. The humanistic therapies are very influenced by the Person Centred approach developed by Carl Rogers, which emphasis the contactful-ness and human-ness of the therapeutic relationship. Much of the value of therapy lies, I think, in being in the presence of someone who seeks to understand, explore, contribute ideas etc, without being punishing, retaliatory or belittling. Both of these above approaches work with feelings, and what we do with them, i.e. we look at the connection between feelings and behaviour. The therapeutic relationship itself is an important component in the work we undertake. If you come to see me, it is important that you feel safe enough within that relationship to explore (if you so choose) any difficulty which is felt. Creating a sense of trust and safety is therefore high on my agenda. My job is to develop a conversation with you in which I try to get to know you. Along the way, I communicate to you how I see you, and we explore together whether my perceptions fit with yours. This work is therefore challenging, as it needs to address areas that are uncomfortable to face (eg guilt, shame, sadness) or else need thinking about afresh.
FAQ

Can you help someone with my problem?
Whilst on paper we can separate out distinct problem areas or issues – motivation, self-esteem, bereavement, abuse, sex, adoption, divorce etc – I see myself more as working with individuals, each with their own unique personality. In 20 years I have helped people with all sorts of issues. Perhaps it will help to know some of the issues people have come to me with:

abuse (sexual, mental or physical)
adoption
anxiety and panic
bereavement (including cot death)
depression
directionless
divorce and separation
eating disorders or food-use disorders
ethnic identity
guilt about past behaviour
intimacy
motivation
relationship difficulties
self-esteem and self-confidence
sexuality
violence
workplace stress

What if I don’t have a problem – I just want to get more out of life?
I think everyone I see is ultimately coming to me because they want more out of life.

Will you offer me coping strategies?
I don’t do that directly, as the way I work is more about increasing self-awareness. However, people often find they come up with their own strategies, as a result of the work.

What are the different types of therapy on offer?
At the last count there were about 300 different types of psychological therapy. Pretty much all of these address the mind, body and soul, and thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and see what can be understood about how we are in the world. But I think the most important thing is the quality of the therapeutic relationship itself, rather than the methods.

How do you work?
My job is to develop a conversation with you in which I try to get to know you. Along the way, I communicate to you how I see you, and we explore together whether my perceptions fit with yours. From a technical point of view, I work psychodynamically, also integrating elements of the Humanistic approaches. This means making sense of ‘what makes us tick’ in the context of relationships in our life, both past and present.

What is your background?
I worked in industry as an export sales representative, then later as a guitar teacher before doing this work.

What professional experience do you have?
Since starting to work in this field in 1992 I have worked in a number of settings – student counselling, divorce counselling, community centre, in NHS GP practices and for workplace-stress counselling programmes. I have also worked with separated parents, in Family Mediation. Since 2003 I have concentrated on my private counselling and therapy practice.

What are your life experiences?
This is a tricky one to answer as I often don’t give a huge amount of information about my personal life to my therapy clients, which could clutter the space. On the other hand you would want me to have a richness of my own experience so that I can empathise with others’ experience. I’ll pass on this question.

Have you had your own therapy?
I think it is essential for a good therapist to have spent substantial time sorting through their own issues in personal therapy, so yes, I have been in both individual and group therapy.

How long does therapy last?
I have done a lot of time-limited work lasting 3 months or so. Some important issues can be addressed in that time-length. However, most people who see me privately come for longer than that.

Is the first appointment an assessment?
I try to steer clear of this word because it can remind people of being tested at school. However, the first meeting is about me assessing whether I can help you, and about you assessing whether therapy with me is the right step for you now.

How can I check out whether you are the therapist for me?
This is another difficult one. I don’t think It’s easy to tell on the phone, though a bit can be gleaned from tone of voice etc. Unless you have been recommended me by name, it’s a bit of a shot in the dark. The best way is to make an initial appointment with me, when you can get a flavour of what it might be like.

What is supervision?
Most professional associations require their members to have supervision. This is a confidential setting where I talk over my work with another therapist, in order to process my feelings and to make sense of the therapy. It’s not a very good term, I think, as it makes it sound like it’s there to check up on me. It might even suggest that if it were not there, quality control would suffer. It’s really about consultation with a colleague to look at things together from a number of different angles.

Are you a member of a professional organisation?
I am a Senior Accredited Counsellor/Psychotherapist with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Couples therapy
Do you deal with couples where resentment has built up?

Yes. I believe all human beings have feelings that are stored over time, and that it’s usually a good thing to become more aware of these. We then are in a better position to make good choices about how we act.

How do you handle a session where one partner comes out with a stream of criticism of the other and refuses to take responsibility for their own actions?

It’s my job to help anyone – and in couples therapy that means both partners – see what they are doing and own or take responsibility for their actions and feelings, but it’s not a straightforward process. ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink… etc’

I try to establish a vibe in the therapy room where things can gradually be said in an honest but non-destructive way. If it’s to be helpful it has to be both supportive (accepting) and challenging for both people.

If you want to take this further, please ask your partner to get in touch with me and confirm that she or he would like to have an initial consultation with you. I will then offer the two of a time to meet with me.