safety and choice
“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.” Bessel van der Kolk
These are values that are fundamental to how I work.
Ensuring you feel emotionally and physically safe is an essential starting point and may also form part of our work together, if safety is not something you are used to experiencing.
Choice can help us to feel safe - not too much, not too little. Hopefully, just enough. Anything that we talk about or exercises that I might invite you to explore with me in our work, are always just that. Invitations. And I would invite you to say “no”, if you don’t want to, or “stop” if that becomes necessary for you.
The humanistic approach to therapy that I use means that I believe that you are the expert in yourself, and our work together is designed to help you uncover your own answers, your own strengths and sense of identity. I truly believe that given the right environment and conditions, we can all change.
We are all unique and consequently, I approach each client with respect, empathy and a genuine desire to understand what it means to be you and the changes that you want to make to your life. One analogy I can give you is that entering counselling is like embarking on a journey and, as your counsellor, I am there to walk beside you. You can set the pace and the direction we take and I will be your companion as you travel, always offering you support along the way, perhaps offering suggestions at times, if you’d like them.
The “integrative” aspect of my approach means that I am trained in different models of therapy, aspects of which I can draw on to offer an approach that is tailored you.
"We come into the world wired to connect. With our first breath, we embark on a lifelong quest to feel safe in our bodies, in our environments and in our relationships with others." Deb Dana
I believe that one of the most important aspects of therapy (and of life) is relationship. Relationship to others, to ourselves, to the world, to nature, to what we might define as our own version of spirituality.
It seems that we are biologically “wired” to be in relationship and in therapy, the relationship between the client and the counsellor is so important, not least because you need to feel comfortable opening up to me. My job is partly to help you feel safe enough to do so, and sometimes that might mean acknowledging between us that, in that moment, that you do not want to open up. Or that feeling safe in a relationship is something that you have not experienced.
Safety and connection are key, I think.
“In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them.” Bessel van der Kolk
Although I offer talking therapy, I incorporate the body into my approach, as we are human beings, living in a body, and often our bodies are impacted by our experiences. They can help us not only to understand what is happening when our minds are unable to access those experiences, but we can also process and heal through working with the body.
A somatic approach to therapy may include bringing your attention to your physical sensations (or lack of), locating emotions in your body, movement, breathing, visualisation, grounding, learning to regulate your emotions.
These can be new skills to develop if you’ve not been used to noticing your body and the sensations that occur within it. Or you may be used to no sensation or no emotion. I will be here to support you in this.
In case you were wondering, the only touch involved would be yours.
“Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness.” Peter A. Levine
“Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.” Peter A. Levine
Conventionally, we tend to think of trauma as what is sometimes referred to as big “T” Trauma, such as incidents that are experienced as a threat to life or safety, or witnessing such an incident. Increasingly, we are seeing that the small “T” traumas can be equally impactful.
It seems that anything that overwhelms us, our nervous system and our resources that enable us to cope, can be experienced as trauma and, because of the way that trauma can affect our development, our brain and nervous system function, it’s important to work in a trauma informed way.
Sometimes the difference between a traumatic experience that we are able to move on from and one that continues to affect our lives years later is whether or not we have been able to talk about it and feel heard. As Peter Levine says, when there is an “absence of an empathetic witness”.
Bullying, neglect, bereavement, medical issues, loss of a relationship, job or friends, separation, betrayal, not being listened to… There are so many experiences that can leave us feeling traumatised and those trauma experiences can change our beliefs in such a profound way
Trauma, if unprocessed, is held in the body, so often when working with trauma, working somatically is part of the approach that has been shown to be effective.
And it’s also crucial to remember that you survived and to allow space for you to acknowledge that and to help you build on your strengths.
mindfulness and compassion
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” Jon Kabat Zinn
“Mindfulness not only makes it possible to survey our internal landscape with compassion and curiosity but can also actively steer us in the right direction for self-care.” Bessel van der Kolk
Mindfulness can help us bring awareness to our experiences both internally and externally, in our thoughts, body and emotions and of our environment.
We can also notice when we are not present and this is also helpful, as it tells us something about what is happening in our experience that means we do not feel safe enough perhaps to be present.
When we can bring an attitude of compassion and curiosity to our experience, we can then perhaps begin to be with any difficult feelings that are coming up for us without immediately needing to move away from them, and then, in time, we can also notice what it is that we need to take care of ourselves.
Mindfulness can also allow us to notice our more comfortable experiences and absorb them into our system. Rick Hanson, a psychologist working with neuroplasticity observes that “the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones”, but we can practice absorbing the positive experiences into our system.
I am a trained Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction teacher and can integrate this into my counselling work if clients are interested and it feels helpful.
If a mindfulness-based approach appeals, I have studied Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (or ACT) which combines mindfulness with behavioural therapy. It's a model that can work well for clients who prefer a more structured approach.
At times, words don’t come easily, so I offer a creative space to express yourself in ways that may not involve a more conventional use of words.
These might include art, music, movement, dance, photography, poetry, journalling, fashion, to name a few options. Only if they feel appealing to you though. If not, we stick to the spoken word.