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28th April 2017
This week we will get to know our lovely counsellor Stephanie, make a plea for some volunteers and get some Mindfulness tips off Lorraine!
Lets meet Steph
Louise: How long have you been a therapist for?
Stephanie: I think it’s from 2009 when I actually started practicing
Louise: Wow that’s quite a long time
Stephanie: Yes, it was later on that I qualified but obviously when I was first training, in rather than one placement I started in two placements. I had a placement with Mind mental health and I also had a placement with Cruise Bereavement and I found as a trainee counsellor that they really worked well together because there was no one that was experiencing any form of loss with Cruise Bereavement that wasn’t experiencing some form of mental illness.
When we lose a person it’s not just how it affects us mentally but how it affects us personally as well and it is loss of identity, you can feel like you’re losing your mind, there’s all the other things that go along with loss. So for anybody that was experiencing some form of loss they were also experiencing depression and anxiety and maybe panic attacks. For some people that had found the person it would be experiencing PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder.
There were always other things that came along with the loss that related to mental health and likewise, my perception on it anyway – likewise there was nobody that was in Mind that wasn’t experiencing some form of loss, whether it be loss of identity, through a sudden exposure to schizophrenia, loss of happiness, depression, so working with loss and mental health together seemed to be my foundations.
When I went on then to volunteer for New Pathways, that is working with victims of historical childhood abuse, rape and trauma, there was a lot of losses and a lot of mental health problems that were there as-well because predominantly childhood abuse would come with many aspects to it because it could be Borderline Personality Disorder because of trauma in childhood and along with other things as well such as anorexia, co-dependency, many other issues. People that have generally been abused as children often find it so hard to trust anybody ever – because when the person that you love when you’ve been brought up into the world – your parent is your abuser – where do you go with that? I mean how do you trust when you grow and realise actually this isn’t happening to all the other kids. As a child you believe that to be true and obviously as children because we don’t understand the world at that point in time, when bad things happen to us – we perceive ourselves as bad.
It becomes a core belief that something bad has happened to them therefor they are bad and then they carry that into adulthood. This also makes them very fearful to trust anybody and consciously then they keep on having – they will have a history of finding partners that basically will abuse them in some way. It’s not necessarily a conscious thing it’s unconsciously they’re familiar with abuse so they keep on getting into one relationship to another where the abuse will be present. So what I was relating that to as a therapist was building up a really good relationship with my client – it is so imperative. Because they are not going to be able to tell me their innermost thoughts, how it’s made them feel and how the abuse is affecting them in the here and now. Sometimes they don’t realise how the abuse is affecting them in the here and now. What I tend to do then, no matter what the problems are, I look to see how the past is affecting the present so that might be someone who is too frightened to have a relationship, too frightened to have sex or maybe no self-confidence, poor quality of life – they put obstacles in the way of them and a normal quality of life. What I do then is work to try and take those obstacles away. It doesn’t happen overnight and it takes time, I haven’t got a magic wand, it takes work on behalf of the client, to really look at where we are in the here and now. Once I’ve discovered how it is affecting that individual person and what prevents them from having a normal quality of life we work together on what goals they choose they want to work on to give them a more meaningful quality of life.
Louise: What made you get into therapy?
Stephanie: I’ve always liked reading, and I always read a lot of counselling and psychology books. I never thought I would end up being a counsellor; never in a million years. I always read these books and really enjoyed them.
I can remember I wanted to get into psychology and there wasn’t a space available in college when I finally thought I would give it a go, I didn’t think I would ever manage to get there because I didn’t go to school; all of my qualifications are from after school, I qualified as a hairdresser, plumber and ended up doing all sorts of different jobs so I never thought I would be academically able to achieve that.
It was a 10 week counselling course and I gave it a go and there was a book I picked up when I was on this course and it was theory in counselling and it was very small book – if you ever get a chance to read it it’s called Counselling for Toads and it made me realise that – it was like a lightbulb moment for me because I can sit in a room with other people that are engaging in conversation and I was able to see unconsciously that although they had no idea I was able to see unconsciously what states people were in – it was incredible!
Having a knowledge of that stuff helped me to realise that actually I can’t change other people but if I want to improve on my relationships with others I can’t change other people but I can always change myself. When I change how I respond then they naturally have to change how they are reacting. It’s cutting those barriers you know, it was something I picked up on very very early and obviously then I was addicted; this theory had really roped me in.
Through the counselling process then I learnt many theories so it’s always a case of looking at the same subject or topic in many different ways. There’s a part truth in all of the ways. At the moment I feel like when I began my training – it should come with some kind of government health warning [laughs] because although my basic personality is the there - because you know I like to have a laugh and a joke and stuff, sometimes I laugh and joke with my clients as well – it’s not something you’re supposed to do but I’m human and sometimes it comes into it - I don’t see anything or view anything the way I used to because everything I see I see in a different light now.
Having this knowledge is to me, it is priceless and if I could give to people how I felt it would be like a million pounds. I feel in a state you know, pretty balanced now you know, my thoughts are not controlling me: I’m controlling my thoughts. I don’t get run away with unhelpful thinking styles - I am able to sit back and catch the thoughts as they appear and put them in places that they need to be.
I spend more of my time enjoying myself instead of worrying and catastrophizing over things. I just feel a more balanced person through the knowledge and what I try to do then when I’m helping a person is – part counselling and part educational as well because I help them to the tools to acknowledge their thinking styles and awareness of the behaviours that they are repeating unconsciously and really look at where we are now and where we want to be.
Louise: What kind of thing do you like to do outside of work?
Stephanie: Well, I love, I absolutely love cooking so that’s one of my, obviously you know I do a lot of reading as well with the counselling because there’s always more that you can learn! So you’re always learning more – so I enjoy reading, I love taking my dogs for a walk!
Louise: Awh, what dogs have you got?
Stephanie: Well I’ve got – they were both abandoned actually I found them on the same mountain. One years ago when I moved to where I’m living now – she was about 6 months old and I found her on the mountain, opened my car door and she just jumped onto me and licked me to death and I just thought oh my god – so I took her home – she is a cross between a staff and what I say is a giraffe because she’s got longer legs! and then ironically enough, the same mountain a cross between an Alsatian and a collie and it was a bitter cold winters day and my daughter was going over the mountain and she’s seen him on a chain, obviously a farmers dog that had gone off it had a big metal chain around its neck, the chain itself – he was bleeding all around his neck where he had been pulling – he was full of fur but just pure bones and he was so scared of people, when you would go to stroke him or anything he was terrified, just whimpering, he wouldn’t even eat or drink! It was as though whoever had him, had a command for him to eat and drink and he was too scared to eat or drink.
I’d pick up the ball to throw for my other dog and he would be just cowering. If you felt his ribs you could feel where they had been broken where he had been kicked. And now he has gone from that – it’s like the advert on PDSA – he’s gone from that to jumping all over me and lucky enough – my fear was that if the dog I already had didn’t get on with him then I couldn’t keep him because they would be fighting but, no they get along fine.
I couldn’t believe that, I wasn’t planning on having two dogs but I think to myself it’s kind of like the therapy process, it’s teaching them that it is ok and that they can trust. Animals are very instinctive aren’t they? It is just like the PDSA advert though, he’s gone from being so scared to doing backward shuffles around the room and jumping on you – he has really settled in now.
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This weeks Mindfulness tip!
Brushing your teeth
Next time you clean your teeth try cleaning them mindfully. After putting the toothpaste on your toothbrush, feel the sensations of taste in your mouth while brushing your teeth. Mind will keep wandering, that's ok, just keep coming back to cleaning your teeth. Feeling the sensations in your mouth as you wash your mouth out with water.
If you are struggling with getting started don't worry we can help you. We have two mindfulness centres in Wales one in Cardiff and the other in Caerphilly. We run lots of events to help you learn about mindfulness.
A great way to get started is to come to one of our introduction to mindfulness workshops which is an excellent way to familiarise yourself with mindfulness practice and gives you an understanding of the benefits it will bring you. It’s a perfect taster!