I am a qualified counsellor in Exeter. If you’ve just landed on this page and you are looking for counselling please visit my Welcome Page here.
The following is an overview of my counselling philosophy and how I work. It is written with the person who probably knows very little about counselling theory in mind. It may be of interest to you if you are looking for a counsellor in Exeter and would like to know more about me and my work.
People are Complicated
I believe that people are complicated. Really, really complicated. We are a product of our genes, our upbringing, our families and our culture. We are our brain, our heart and our soul and we think, feel and believe. We filter the world through the lens of our experiences such that two individuals can look at the same object and see completely different things.
I believe it is common for us to experience ourselves as having different parts to our personality. We can be one person one day in one situation and then transform into someone completely different the next. It can be painful when we experience conflict between these different parts of ourselves or fail to reconcile dissonance between how we feel and how we believe we should feel. And it really hurts when others label us or judge us without understanding our complexities.
As a counsellor it is my job to see the whole of you. To listen, observe and notice without judgement. I work hard to see you for who you really are and, in doing so, to help you to get to know and accept all your contradictions and complexities. To see beyond the surface layers and to give you permission to to be the amazingly, complex being you really are.
There can be few amongst us who has not, at one time or another in our lives, experienced the pain of being judged by others. From our earliest days we are bought up to learn and follow the social rules of our respective tribe: how to look, behave, think and feel. Often these rules perform an important function in keeping us safe or maintaining the coherence of our social structures. Other times they impose arbitrary, unrealistic or even toxic expectations about how we should be upon us.
Judgement comes in many forms. It can be overtly bullying or more subtle and pernicious. Sometimes us we internalise and absorb the judgement of others, carrying it around with us wherever we go as an ever-present voice telling us that we should somehow be different to or better than we are. At its most toxic, judgement can strangle us and prevent us from becoming the person we ultimately could be.
At the heart of my counselling philosophy is a genuine, non-judgemental attitude towards my clients allowing them, perhaps for the first time, to express and explore their true selves without fear of shame. When we feel that we can truly be ourselves without censure or judgement we can begin to question and challenge the attitudes that have shaped us and which we may have swallowed uncritically. We can decide which codes we wish to live by and those we might consider rejecting possibly identifying life-changing choices that wouldn’t otherwise be available to us.
Change is possible. But it’s never easy.
Most people seek counselling because they want to change their life or themselves in some way. However, real change is one of the hardest thing we can ever do. However much we may need or desire it, real change is inherently scary. To change, by definition, we need to embrace uncertainty and the temptation to return to familiar territory can be overwhelming, even if it means going back to where we were when we were unhappy enough to seek counselling in the first place.
In bringing about real change in our lives we might need to make a number of attempts. We might try and fail a few times. We might need to experiment with new ways of being before we find ones that work.
I believe my role as a counsellor is to support you whilst you identify, explore and enact the changes you need to make in your life. To stay with you whilst you try and sometimes fail and to be the one who holds the map for those times when you might feel hopelessly lost.
Emotions and Feelings are natural
Fundamental to my counselling philosophy is that emotions and feelings are a normal, universal part the of human experience. You feel fear when faced with uncertainty or danger. You feel sad when you’ve experienced deep loss. And you feel angry when someone has treated you unjustly.
You may not like some of your feelings. Particularly if they sometimes overwhelm you, make it hard to function, or lead you make unwise decisions.
Many clients come to counselling believing that there must be something fundamentally wrong with them because they feel bad or believe their difficult feelings should be eradicated like a disease. People feel guilty for getting angry or believe themselves weak for living in fear. I often hear from people how their feelings don’t make any sense.
Anyone who has struggled with difficult or painful emotions knows that, however much we might try, we can’t rationalise them away. Even if, logically, we know that our reaction to a particular emotional trigger might be disproportionate or inappropriate we can’t switch them off. My experience is that fighting our feelings gets us nowhere. Ironically, it’s often when we start to pay attention to and explore our feelings that they begin to have less of a hold over us.
Other clients come to counselling with an absence of feeling, disconnected and alienated from their emotions. I see one of my roles as a counsellor is to help my clients to find balance between their rational and emotional selves.
The Client – Counsellor Relationship
Absolutely central to my counselling philosophy is the belief that the quality of the relationship between therapist and client is key to effective therapy. When a client feels that a counsellor really, truly sees and understands them without judgement the potential for healing to take place is created in the client.
I hold myself to the highest possible professional standards in the counselling room but it is just as important that I am human too and not a cold, detached expert whose job it is to diagnose and fix you. Whilst I am proud of the training and the skills I offer, counselling, for me, goes way beyond this. On many occasions I have experienced just how profound it is when we feel that someone really, really gets us.
The Counselling Journey
Cliche alert! You might wince at the analogy of life as a journey but, unfortunately, I have never been able to think of a better one.
Sometimes we find our self stuck in a place in life knowing it’s not where we wanted to end up but clueless about how to get out. Or you might already have a clear destination in mind, a mountain in the distance perhaps or a calm sea on the horizon but no idea how to reach it.
I see my role as counsellor as like a companion on your journey. Whatever, stage you’re at, I can be there to help you explore your surroundings and walk with you even when it feels like an impossibly hard slog. I might point out landmarks or paths that you’ve missed and help you to update your maps as you make new discoveries. You might take a wrong turn or stumble and need some moral support as you get back again on the right track or decide to go off in a completely different direction.
However, I never lose sight that it is your journey and that it’s not my job to tell you which road you should take or which direction should you go in.
The Importance of Boundaries and Contracting
Whilst I believe one of the most important purposes of counselling is to help us to recognise and accept all aspects of ourselves, including those darker, frightening and sometimes destructive parts, it is also important that we learn to respect boundaries – our own and those of others. Whatever turmoil we might experience inside we are always ultimately responsible for our own behaviour and its consequences.
If we don’t know how to set clear boundaries for ourself we have no way to prevent others from taking advantage of us or abusing us. Alternatively, if we set too rigid boundaries we can prevent anyone from getting close to us and restrict the potential for meaningful relationships developing in our lives. If we are unable to recognise and honour the boundaries of others we are likely causing them cause harm or distress.
Our understanding of and attitude towards boundaries can be a rich area to explore in counselling. Consequently I always strive to be as clear as I can be in setting my own boundaries during the counselling relationship and to understand and respect your boundaries. The main way in which we do this in counselling is through contracting.
You can find more about my business practices here.
Learning versus Experiencing
If you visit any high street bookshop you will almost certainly find a self-help section where you could spend an entire lifetime reading about how to be more assertive, have better sex, overcome anxiety, stop smoking, think creatively… and on and on and on.
So what can you get from counselling that you couldn’t learn from a book? In my counselling philosophy, therapy is much more of an experience than a lesson.
Sometimes you will have thoughts and ideas which we might explore in a rational, cognitive way and I might share intellectual resources and ideas with you. You might, for example find it helpful to know more about the psychological or physiological basis of your anxiety. You might recognise during a session how a particular situation triggers your anxiety and want to think about ways in which you might manage the situation differently in the future. This is really important.
However, when you talk about your anxiety in the session you might also experience the feeling itself rising up in you and opening up an opportunity for you to share your unique, lived experience of anxiety – how it effects your body and fluctuates and morphs. I see this is a different, deeper way of learning than our brains alone can achieve.
Sometimes clients experience moments of deep catharsis where they release deeply pent up emotions. Or find that things they thought they already understood suddenly seem to resonate with them at a deeper more fundamental level. These experiences can be transformative.
Sometimes, at its most basic level, counselling is simply an opportunity to vent. Sometimes we can become weighed down by thoughts and feelings building up inside of us. Just being able to externalise them with someone who will listen carefully and without judgement can feel be a huge relief allowing us to make sense of what is really going on for us.
Creativity and the ability to express ourselves creatively is a uniquely human trait. As you can probably glean from this rather verbose website my natural inclination is usually to try and express myself through words. However, I recognise that there are times when words are not enough and I encourage my clients to express themselves in whatever way feels easiest for them be it through words, drawing, poetry, music, movement or whatever.
I respect that for many people the idea of expressing themselves creatively is terrifying and I never expect anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. However, I am always alert and open to other forms of expression.
Sometimes, when we’re feeling particularly overwhelmed, confused or lost we might not even know how to begin to express ourself. At such times we might just need to sit with our feelings. It may sound silly to pay for a counselling session and not say or do anything but I see my role as counsellor in such situations as being to give permission and to just stay with my clients during that time.
We are all capable of thinking in different ways. Some people have more of a tendency to focus on details whilst others prefer to see the bigger picture. Some prefer to think in terms of linear processes whilst others tend to be more circular in their thinking.
If your car breaks down it will normally make sense to take an analytical approach to diagnosing and fixing the problem. A mechanic will run a serious of tests in order to narrow down and identify which component is at fault so it can be fixed or replaced. This approach works well with cars but people are vastly more complicated than even the most technologically advanced automobile. Trying to fix a person with such analytical methods, I believe, runs a real risk of dismissing and discounting the true essence of that person however sophisticated the analysis might be.
For whatever reason I seem to have a natural tendency towards what I think of as holistic thinking. This means that I am someone who tends to see the forest as well as the individual trees. This tendency really comes into its own in the counselling room where I find I am able to recognise and hold the mass of contradictions and conflicts that makes us human.
I believe that it is only by taking a more holistic view that one can even begin to honour the bewildering array of factors that make us who we are: our genes, our upbringing, our environment, our health, our relationships, our cultural and societal influences, our spiritual experiences, our politics, our brain, our heart and our soul.
As a counsellor I believe I have a duty to always be mindful of the ethical implications of my practice and as a member of the BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy) I am committed to working within their ethical framework. As counsellors we often come against knotty, ethical dilemmas. For example, we have a legal, professional and ethical obligation to protect our clients’ confidentiality. If I sold my clients’ data to a third party without their consent I would be in breach of the law and the ethical framework. If, however, I discovered my client was in mortal danger and shared their details with the emergency services who then saved their life presumably that would be OK? Even if they had specifically forbidden me from doing so? What if I knew they were a single parent of two young children?
As a counsellor I am committed to working within the laws of the land and the rules of my profession and to always be mindful of the ethical implications of my practice. I will not shy away from the need to explore challenging ethical dilemmas where necessary even if that comes at a cost to myself.
You can download the BACP’s ethical framework here if you would like to know more.
Diversity and Prejudice
As a counsellor I aspire to treat all of my clients without prejudice regardless of their gender, race, religious belief, disability etc.
That’s an easy thing to say and write. As a counsellor I recognise that we all have the capacity for judgement and discrimination within us however enlightened we may believe ourselves to be.
Whilst I hold dearly to my values of non-judgement and open mindedness I am committed to vigilance against any unconscious biases that might surface in the way I treat my clients and others.
Structure and Fluidity
Some counsellors value having a clearly defined structure and process to their therapy. I can see how for some this can be an effective way of working but I prefer a more fluid approach. I have faith that each of my clients already knows what it is they need to do bring about the change they need in their life and that imposing a pre-determined structure on therapy risks interfering wth that.
In practice this means that I constantly respond to my clients’ individual needs from session to session and tailor the work according to what they need at any particular time. I believe that whatever particular paths a client may choose to follow in their therapy, they will sooner or later get to where they need to go.
However, I recognise that there are times when a client might be so lost, stuck or chaotic that they need might need some direction. I like to think that, where necessary, I can be flexible about my flexibility.
The Dark Side
It is important to me to offer my clients a space where they can talk about what ever they need to talk about. However dark it might get. We grow up with many taboos. They differ from culture to culture and evolve through the ages but often include areas such as sex, death, illness, money, religion or violence.
I will never shy away from any area that a client needs to explore. Where there are boundaries I will always do best my to make them as clear as possible (e.g. when I might have a legal or ethical obligation to disclose information about a serious crime.)
I sincerely believe that, through counselling, I can help my clients with the problems in their lives. But what exactly do I get from it? If you’re considering working with me as a client I think you have a right to know what motivates me to do this for a living. I chose counselling as a career partly because I want to help people. I need to feel that what I do makes a positive difference to the world and peoples’ lives. I’m not sure I can explain why. It just seems to be the way I am. Whilst there is undoubtedly some altruism in making counselling my career, I am no martyr to the cause. If I didn’t want to this for a living – I wouldn’t.
Counselling seems to be at the centre of my (admittedly limited) natural talents and strengths. Many sports persons and musicians describe a feeling, sometimes called flow, when they become utterly absorbed in their chosen endeavour. I experience something similar when in the counsellor’s chair. A sense of purpose and meaning that is deeply satisfying and something I’ve rarely experienced elsewhere in my life. It never ceases to feel like anything other than a great privilege when my clients are prepared to share their deepest, inner-most selves with me. I trust that my clients learn something from me during our time together but they probably don’t realise just how much I learn from them. It is impossible not to gaze into the mind and soul of another human being without discovering deep truths about what it means to be human.
I have written a little more here about my story and what led me to become a counsellor.
My Counselling Philosophy – Summary:
This has been an attempt to share some of the key aspects of my personal counselling philosophy. I wanted it to be non-technical and to give people who might have no prior knowledge about counselling something of a flavour of what they might expect if they work with me as a client. To that end I have avoided talking about specific counselling theory in the style of an academic essay and have, instead, concentrated on a more personal, exploration of some of the principles that shape the way I work.
If you would like to know more about my practice or would like to arrange a free, initial consultation for counselling in Exeter please click here to find out how to contact me.