My initial training was humanistic but I now work integratively, choosing
from various approaches whatever seems to best suit the person at that
particular moment. Having a range of therapeutic possibilities to draw on allows
me to be flexible in matching my style to the richness and diversity of
personalities, backgrounds and problems of those who come for therapy.
Having had personal therapy myself helps me to empathise with the uncertainties of those embarking on the process for the first time, as well as serving as a reminder of how draining therapy sessions can be.
In the course of a number of sessions, or even within one session, I may move between many approaches to therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Transactional Analysis, trauma work such as Rewind, or methods using insights thrown up by current research into embodied cognition.
With some people, in some sessions, I work at a very deep level, geared towards
personality transformation, while at other times the work concerns present and
future issues and my role is more like that of a life coach. With other people I
develop stress management or assertiveness skills. I also offer personal-growth,
for example for students on counselling courses which require trainees to seek
In the Consulting Room
Sometimes, when people come to my consulting room for the first time, they comment on the unexpectedly wide range of items in it!
I suppose a standard consulting room has simple décor with a couple of chairs, a low table, a box of tissues and little else. My room certainly has the chairs and the tissues - but it has a lot more than that. I have written two books for HarperCollins, for counsellors, psychologists and other practitioners, one of which is on the use of tangible materials in therapy. In it I encourage readers to use objects in addition to what have come to be known as "talking treatments".
So, in my consulting room, there are boxes of stones, drawers containing dolls and soft toys and lots of other items including pictures from magazines, buttons, coloured pens and scraps of material. Quite often, people jump to the conclusion that I work extensively with children but that is actually not the case. In explaining how I use some of these items, when working with people of any age, I usually pick up a few small dolls from the basket on the desk and say something like:
"People use them in different ways. But, say someone is telling me about his family and how his parents showed favouritism towards his sister: he can quickly convey how that felt by placing a mum, dad and girl doll over here and a boy doll several inches apart from them". As I say this, I put the dolls down in positions, relative to each other, that fit with the description. Generally, people are nodding sagely by this point - or even smiling with delighted comprehension.
Our time may be spent sitting and talking or using some of the creative tools, which I describe in my second book, and which can add extra clarity and precision or open whole new areas of understanding.
A basket of stones has now become a customary addition to many therapists’ toolkit and, as well as these, I have baskets of shells, glass nuggets and other materials. When I conduct workshops in which I train other practitioners in the use of tangible objects in therapy, I sometimes give an example of a woman who was coming to terms with changes in the dynamics within her family. She made use of a number of stones, each of which she selected to represent herself or a member of her family. A counsellor, herself, she was aware of how useful the stones had been and gave me full permission to describe in my book and recreate in workshops the way that she had worked with them.
Each person uses tangible objects differently in therapy: her way was to carefully select one stone at a time, placing it gently on the table and identifying a member of her family which it represented. She was a naturally intuitive person and understood immediately that her placement of each stone indicated how she saw each member of the family, with respect to herself and to each other.
Very rapidly, and with minimal input from me, she experienced several insights about the new ways that members of the family were relating to each other – and therefore she could see the source of the discomfort she had been feeling, but which, until then, she had been unable to articulate.
As well as stones, shells and glass nuggets, I have an array of items that people may wish to use in (just about) any way they wish. An obvious example is the large quantity of soft toys and also of nesting ("Russian") dolls.
In therapy people can use soft toys and dolls to represent people they know or even to represent parts of themselves. For example, if a man was considering the significance of the impact on him of his grandmother's death he might use nesting dolls to help clarify his thinking. Removing the dolls one by one, each smaller than the last, he may be drawn to a consideration of the relationship with his grandmother that he had had at different stages of his life. For example, if in early childhood he had been virtually brought up by her, their bond may have been very strong. As he got older, and moved house with his family, their relationship may have become less intense.
If he then experienced a significant amount of grief when she died, that could have taken him by surprise. However, working with the nesting dolls could well have provided rapid insight into the important role held by his grandmother in his childhood. From this standpoint, he could have appreciated for the first time that his reaction to her death was entirely fitting and understandable. If, on the other hand, we had been only talking about his feelings, I doubt whether we would have come so quickly or so clearly to this insight about the extent of his grief.
Religious and cultural issues
I respect each individual's cultural and religious beliefs. While I maintain
firm boundaries and make no attempt to influence others' beliefs, my own
Christian faith is important to me. Therefore, some of the people who come to me
are fellow Christians who know that our shared faith is a positive factor in my
gaining empathic understanding of the person and his or her world.
Codes of Ethics
I am registered with the Health Professions Council as a Practitioner Psychologist and am an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. I therefore adhere to the Code of Ethics and Conduct of the BPS.