Current research from Dr. John Kabat-Zin and the medical team at the University of Massachusetts provides strong evidence of the healing power of mindfulness.
In my work with couples and individuals I believe it is important to come from a place of loving kindness, compassion, equanimity and good humour.
Being mindful of this, the consulting room becomes a place where you can feel safely ‘held’ as you work on the problems that are currently giving you a hard time.
Neuroscience now tells us unequivocally, if you can locate the emotion in your body, name it and accept its presence then let it dissipate, you can train your brain to handle things much more effectively. In other words, you will be regulating your emotional response to the world more skillfully so you will be less worried about being engulfed or shut down.
Working with a mindfulness approach means that I can help you learn how to regulate your own emotions individually, and within your relationships. This can help you to feel a greater peace, calm and contentment in your life.
Gestalt Therapy As An Approach To Change
Working mindfully with clients, I draw upon a number of different therapeutic approaches. However, the bedrock of all therapy that happens in my counselling room is based on the Gestalt principles of being attentive to what is present in the ‘here and now’ of your relationship.
This means that along with ‘talking about’ your problems, we also look at the patterns that show up in the therapeutic relationship in the consulting room. This gives us the chance to stop right in the moment and bring your attention to the familiar interactions that are causing you distress in your relationship.
I work in a holistic way helping you notice your thoughts, bodily sensations and emotions in relation to the problem. This helps you develop a fresh perspective and allows you to make better choices within the relationship and the way you relate.
Everything is possibly relevant: A Holistic Approach
When you first arrive in my consulting room, I put all my theories and assumptions to one side so I can listen to you with a fresh pair of ears or what Buddhist philosophy calls a ‘beginner’s mind’.
I believe you are the expert in your own experience and it is my job to be curious about this and ask questions that will help me understand you better.
Together we can see the patterns as they emerge, affording you greater awareness of what affects you, how you react and the consequences of that.
I like to keep the idea that ‘everything is possibly relevant’ in the forefront of my mind. I use a collaborative approach so together we review our work and I listen to your feedback. This means that I can adjust my approach based on your feedback and you’re more likely to get the results you’re looking for.
In our therapy together I adopt a holistic approach. This means that I am interested and want to acknowledge all of you, including your values and beliefs, cultural heritage, family of origin influences, history, plus present and future aspirations.
I can help you to accept and truly know who you are. You can discover how to be a friend to yourself rather than a critic. I believe that when you stop trying to change yourself and become more aware of what, how and who you are, then change will surely follow.
Experiment With Change, Building New Neural Pathways
“Very little grows on jagged rock,
Be ground, be crumbled,
So wild flowers will come up where you are,
Try something different,
Within the safety of the therapy room, you have a unique opportunity to experiment with change and to try something different.
To begin with, trying something new can feel awkward, rather like wearing a brand new outfit. You may feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. You have to wear it a few times before it feels familiar.
Being able to experiment with new ways of handling a situation or managing your experience in the therapy room provides a rich learning. I encourage you to let your body and brain really learn what this feels like and to know you can retrieve that feeling anytime they like in the future.
I might even give you what is known as a ‘transitional object’ to take with you into your world, like a shell or a little ‘rescue remedy’ we have created together in the session. This acts as a reminder that you can do something different out there at the coal face of your own life, far away from the therapy room.
I like to keep that thread of connection alive, bridging the gap between the world of therapy and the world out there with all its challenges and hurdles. What this means for you is you can take your learning in the therapy room and start to experience change in your life and relationships outside of our session. Some of my clients report such changes even after only one or two sessions.
Loving, Safe Relationships Are Healing
Sue Johnson’s research into emotionally focused therapy now shows that people can enjoy better emotional and physiological well being when in a loving relationship that provides a safe haven for each other.
When working with couples it is important that you get a greater understanding of your partner as well as yourself. This is especially important if you have experienced a trauma.
Most of us have two or three tender spots left over from our past which, when bumped into, can cause great hurt.
When you understand your partner’s hurt, you can position yourself more skillfully and compassionately around your partner, making the relationship a supportive rather than reactive place.
It can be helpful to remember your partner is simply doing the best he can and, with that in mind, curb the judgements and criticisms that so often snake their way into your relationship.
You can learn to do this by slowing down and becoming more mindful, more aware of your own experience in any given moment. Getting off ‘auto pilot’ and asking yourself what is your intention before you do or say something to your partner. This can be a powerful way to enrich your relationship and create that sense of shelter and protection.
Reducing Anxiety Levels
Before any effective therapy can take hold, you need to know how to calm yourself down. When you are anxious, the prefrontal cortex of your brain which organises information and makes decisions based on that, shuts down and you are unable to think clearly at all.
Couples counselling can be nerve wracking. One good way of reducing the anxiety levels in the therapy room is to offer the couple a scaffolding for having a conversation where each party can experience empathy, feel listened to and acknowledged. In my couple therapy I draw on the work of Stan Tatkin’s PACT therapy, which is a psychobiological approach, looking at how we regulate our emotions and our nervous system, plus our attachment and relational styles. I also use the work of Harville Hendrix. This scaffolding provides an opportunity for each of you to speak and to listen, to validate and be validated, to empathise and receive empathy.
Once again, dealing with anxiety is multi layered. You have to attend to your physical symptoms, which signal where it is happening in the body and notice any judgements or criticisms which come with that. You also have to understand the history of your anxiety and how it has played out in your life and relationships. Where it gets more power, where it has less.
As I help you each reduce your own anxiety and you discover how to reduce your partner’s anxiety, this helps you build a long-lasting strong and secure relationship.
Couples Unite – A Narrative Perspective
From a Narrative Therapy perspective, it is important to be careful with your use of language. Non-blaming language, locating the problem ‘out there’ rather than within the person, can help put a little distance between yourself and ‘the problem’ thus avoiding the pathologising which can sometimes go on when you are experiencing relationship pain.
Narrative Therapy states ‘the problem is always the problem – not the person.’ With this in mind, I like to get you uniting together to stand against the problems which trouble your relationship.
This means that the blame game is cut off at the knees because you each can have a look at the problems together rather than pointing fingers at each other. The relationship is under attack and I like to discover ways in which you can stand firmly together to counter the destructive stories in which you have become embroiled.
I am passionate about helping couples recreate the shelter of each other, collaboratively and creatively using their resources to rebuild and rediscover all that is useful and affirming which may have gone into hiding whilst the relationship is under threat.