Your First Session
In your first session, we will take some time getting to know each other. Our relationship is the key to you getting the most out of your sessions. I will try and learn as much as I can about you and this will help me understand how I can work with you in a way that you feel comfortable with.
You will have the opportunity to ask me as many questions as you like - there is no such thing as a stupid question. I will do my best to answer as many as I can. We will also have a chat about what you hope to get from our sessions together. These sessions are for you and therefore I will try and help you reach that goal.
Different Counselling Approaches
You may have heard of the term 'integrative counselling'. All this means is that an integrative therapist doesn't stick to one approach. I liken this to having a toolbox that contains a variety of different tools. So as an integrative counsellor, I am not stuck with just one tool.
We are all different aren't we. What works for you won't always work for everyone else. We all have different experiences, different reasons for therapy, different ways of dealing with stuff.
It is important that I am able to work with you and with your needs. I need to have that range of 'tools' and select which ones you prefer to work with. These sessions are all about you - how often do you get a space where it is all about you? They are few and far between but this time, it really is about you.
Some counselling approaches that I use are:
This approach focuses on your ability to flourish if you have the right conditions provided. If you buy a beautiful plant for your garden, do you plant it in the best position, give it sunlight and food and water, or do you chuck it in anywhere and leave it to get on with it? Well you can do whatever you choose, but which option encourages the plant to be the best it can be?
Alright, I get it, this is a bit of a ‘hippy’ example but the same is true of us. For you to be the best you can be, you need food, water, care, and a bit of the old vitamin D from the sun. If you are left to fend for yourself, you may do a great job. No one is doubting your strength and resilience. But if you get the right conditions, how much easier is it to succeed in whatever you want to succeed?
However, if you told that you are not good enough and that you need to change to be seen as acceptable, you are going to struggle to be the best that you want to be. I will give you those right conditions – I will be empathetic, I will not be judgemental, I will be genuine, and I will accept you for who you are. All of you, even those sides that you struggle to show yourself as well as others.
This is when you start to realise that you are good enough and you can start to flourish and succeed in whatever way success is important to you.
How often have you had times when you have struggled and thought oh god, I am so weak, I suck at life because I can’t cope with stuff? You do not suck at life. You know why? Your brain has done its job!
The basis behind this approach is all focused around your amazing brain doing its job well. Let’s go back to basics. One of the brain's jobs is to keep you safe.
You have a primeval part of the brain that is designed to alert you to a sabre tooth tiger. The sabre tooth tiger comes along and your brain starts working - your heart beats faster, it makes you ahem, ‘let go’ of certain bodily functions so you are lighter and faster.
Those three components of your brain are still there. Your brain is still primed to sense danger. So, if you have had a particularly tricky experience, your brain is going to store that away so that if there is any hint of that experience comes back, you will be ready and waiting.
The smoke alarm part of your brain (the amygdala) is now oversensitive. It goes off easily when the danger is not really there but also your thinking part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) shuts down.
So, you can’t rationally stop and think oh well, actually I am very safe. This is where anxiety comes in. You often feel a sense of real danger despite not knowing what that danger is. Your heart rate still increases. You still feel sick. You still need the loo more often and you still have trouble sleeping.
This is your brain doing too good a job. So, what can be done if this is the brain's job? Well remember we talked about the rational part of the brain shutting down? We need to get that thing revving up. We need to switch it back on. This is where I come in. I can help you to get thinking about what is happening, to recognise there are triggers rather than dangers. The more we practice together, the stronger your brain is and the greater it can differentiate between real danger and a false alarm.
This approach is interesting. It focuses on what lies beneath the surface, in the unconscious. I am sure you know the analogy of the iceberg? We only see the tip of it but there is a shed load of it that we can’t see.
I bet you believe that your experiences shape who you are. Well you are right! Everyone buries some stuff away. What is the point in going over old ground, it is in the past isn’t it? Well yes and no... It is in the past but often we build ingenious defence mechanisms to keep stuff in the past. Those defence mechanisms do a cracking job but sometimes the defences can stop you from leading the life that you want to.
Maybe you push people away. Maybe you are fiercely independent. Maybe you are quite intense and sometimes feel needy of others and feel let down when we don’t feel as protected as we would like.
Psychodynamic counselling works with you to uncover these experiences, explore them, and acknowledge the impact of them.
Processing these experiences and understanding them means that they can be resolved, and you can begin to move forward, feeling safe, without those defences.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
This approach focuses on changing unhelpful thoughts. It believes that many people develop habits of unhelpful thinking which makes them respond to life events in unhelpful ways. This way of thinking can make us feel unhappy, depressed and anxious and lead to a vicious cycle that’s difficult to get out of.
For example, we may tell ourselves that we are unlovable without actually having any evidence for this. This can make us feel depressed and then believe that we are unlovable because of the depression. Our thoughts inform our feelings which then inform our behaviour. CBT counselling explores these unhelpful thinking patterns and replaces them with a more helpful way of thinking.