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What is Gestalt psychotherapy?

Gestalt is a highly practical integrative therapeutic approach that views human nature in a positive way. It is considered an ‘existential-phenomenological’ approach.

  • It is existential in that it focuses on the nature of what it is to be human, and the inherent joys and suffering that brings
  • It is phenomenological in that it helps people stand aside from their usual way of thinking and bring awareness to what is actually being perceived rather than focusing on residues from the past.

Essentially, Gestalt practitioners help people to focus on their immediate thoughts, feelings and behaviour and to better understand the way they relate to others. Using this framework, Helen will help you increase your awareness opening up new perspectives, seeing the bigger picture and starting to effect changes.

How is Buddhist psychology relevant to psychotherapy?

The founder of Gestalt psychotherapy, Fritz Perls, brought much of his approach over from Zen Buddhism – and people will recognise the similar ‘here and now’ approach offered by Gestalt and mindfulness practices. You don’t have to be a Buddhist or on a spiritual path to benefit from the 2500 year old teachings and practices: in fact the abhidharma is often considered the world's oldest system of psychology, and far from being a religion as commonly understood. Buddhist ideas are therefore useful to non-Buddhists and non-meditators. They help us appreciate that pain is inherent to a human life (we – and our loved ones - all age, get sick and eventually die); yet we CAN work with our attitude to that pain. With acceptance - rather than resistance- we can reduce our suffering. The Buddhist teachings point to the causes of the suffering and how that gets created and experienced in our mind and in our body.

What is experiential psychotherapy?

Experiential psychotherapy is not one system of therapy but rather an umbrella term for approaches that work with opening up immediate experience and breaking down our ‘concretised’ thinking and stories. Eugene Gendlin, the founder of Focusing-orientated therapy described how one's sense of immediate experiencing is not emotion, words, muscle movements, but a direct feel of the complexity of situations and difficulties. In working experientially, Helen encourages clients to 'get a sense' of what is happening: and often that is by turning inward and touching what is being brought forth by the body – the so-called ‘felt-sense’. Coming from a background in physiology and as a former athlete, it is perhaps unsurprising that Helen's therapy work has been greatly influenced by these bodily aware approaches. Her approach brings together the wisdom of the thinking mind with the intuition of the feeling body. Becoming aware of our total experience as it is and accepting ourselves fully as we are is the first step to long-lasting change.

What is the difference between counselling and psychotherapy?

Much of the time these two terms are used inter-changeably. Helen’s view is that counselling tends to address a specific issue (e.g. bereavement) whilst psychotherapy is longer term and takes a deeper look at what makes us the person we are. Helen makes no distinction in her methods of working. Psychotherapists are required to do longer training (4 years at Master’s level): look for a practitioner’s registration to the UKCP to be sure.

Do I need coaching or psychotherapy?

Having an initial meeting with Helen to discuss your situation and needs will help you make this decision. Generally speaking, coaching helps people set goals and move towards those goals with a structured plan. The coach helps the client remain accountable with monthly sessions. Counselling and psychotherapy on the other hand tend to be more directed toward helping people with a struggle in life, such as relationship issues i.e. it is less goal-orientated and more focused on the processes and causes of the distress. Many people that start with coaching move on to a more therapeutic approach if it becomes apparent there is something deeper that continues to sabotage the movement toward goals. Helen is able to help her clients make this transition if necessary.

How can mindfulness meditation help me?

Most of us live busy, multi-tasking lives. Helen has noticed in many of the people she works with how much time is given over to thinking about the past, and thinking about the future. As we become lost in our efforts to juggle work, home, finances, and other conflicting demands we lose awareness of the present moment. If we are not fully present in our lives, we can fail to notice the good things about our lives, fail to hear what our bodies are telling us and beat ourselves up with self-criticism. Developing mindfulness through a practice of meditation helps us see clearly whatever is happening in our lives. It allows us to recognise and step away from habitual, often unconscious emotional and physiological reactions to everyday events. Mindfulness is not a means of eliminating life's difficulties, but it can help provide a space that allows us to respond to them more wisely, in a calmer manner that benefits our head, heart and body.

Why should I consider meditation AND psychotherapy? Isn’t one or the other enough?

Both meditation and psychotherapy are powerful as standalone methods. Meditation is commonly used by people on a spiritual path, helping people to understand what it means to be human. We might view psychotherapy as the process that unblocks the ability to be this human. Helen believes that meditation and psychotherapy can be mutually benefitting and complimentary practices:

  • developing mindfulness through meditation can help bring clarity to what is being experienced in the moment; similarly, it brings awareness to a habitual pattern we might have developed to deal with distress and discomfort. A client can bring this awareness to therapy sessions to explore the causes and develop understanding
  • getting more experienced with meditation allows the mind to settle and the speed of thoughts to calm down (a bit like letting a bottle of muddy water settle in to dirt and water). With the clarity that develops, we get in touch with what is going on underneath - maybe we become aware of a tightness and tension in the body and the felt sense and meaning comes forth to us. We can take that experience to therapy for further exploration. 
  • attending therapy helps a client explore and unpack the history of their life. This may bring up a lot of material that needs to be assimilated and digested, and that can take time. Sitting in meditation and giving emotions space is a great way to facilitate that ‘composting’. The ancient Eastern wisdom traditions believe mediation to be the path of making friends with oneself; the ultimate kind act.

It is important to point out that meditation may not be suitable to use with all mental health issues (for example extreme anxiety), but Helen can guide clients on the benefits and pitfalls. Helen often writes about the integration of meditation and psychotherapy on her blog.

How does counselling and psychotherapy work?

Your first contact with Helen might be on the phone or via email. At this time, Helen will suggest you meet her for an initial session at her private practice in Eastbourne.

  • This first session will give her a chance to ask you a few questions about the situation you find yourself in and why you are looking for support. It is also an opportunity for you to decide if you feel comfortable with Helen and would like to continue working with her.
  • If you do decide to continue, you would agree a time to meet with Helen on a weekly basis – each session is 50 minutes in length. What you wish to work on is always under your control – Helen will have no agenda and will follow what forms at the forefront of your mind: in this sense, therapy is always a collaborative journey.
  • How long that journey is depends on what you bring – there is no prescribed time frame; you and Helen will frequently review your progress and what you are getting from the work. Helen does ask for a one month period of notice so that she can arrange her client load.

Probably the most important qualities you can bring to therapy are curiosity and kindness to your self. 

What happens if I find the therapy too difficult?

It is not uncommon for therapy work to uncover deep issues and cause some discomfort. People have sometimes used the analogy of taking off a sticking plaster to reveal a deep wound – whilst raw and painful, airing the wound will lead to better healing in the long term. Helen is highly experienced in providing a safe and containing space; and she is committed to staying alongside you through periods where you feel lost or stuck. She will encourage you to always share difficulties with the process and any thoughts you might have about leaving.

Do you offer CBT?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has become a popular approach to helping people in distress. If you go to your GP asking for help with your mental / emotional health, it is CBT that may be offered. Helen has training in CBT and does believe it can be useful in treating conditions such as insomnia, acute anxiety and phobias. It can also be useful in helping clients manage symptoms in preparation for longer term therapy e.g. to address overwhelming anxiety that prevents people from sitting with how they feel or even getting out of the house. However, Helen believes in approaches that go deeper in to a client's stories and experience and hence why she chose to train in the Humanistic psychotherapies: these get to the root of the distress rather than treating the symptoms. 

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