Australia Counselling member Andrea Szasz is a counsellor and therapist with a private practice in Mosman, on the north shore of Sydney.
Andrea is passionate about helping people navigate difficult life events that can cause a traumatic response in the person.
She is also the first person to bring The Daring Way™ workshop to Australia, based on the work of Brené Brown.
We spoke to her about her practice and how she helps people overcome trauma and difficult life events.
Tell us a bit about your practice- where it is, who you work with and the services you offer.
I work with a wide variety of people, mostly adults, but also a few teenage clients. Brave Therapy is my private practice, and it operates on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Bondi Junction, and in Mosman on Wednesdays.
In my practice, I offer psychotherapy, which is usually long-term work, and incorporates a mixture of methods that are tailored to the client.
The palette of methods I am able to choose from includes EMDR, Brainspotting, the Conversational Model, somatic experiencing and other creative processes. My new venture is to run The Daring Way™ workshops on weekends; these are based on Brené Brown’s work. I also offer short-term focused treatment for people coming in with a specific problem. For example, I recently treated a professional athlete who had developed certain fears and was unable to perform at the usual high level.
How did you become interested in counselling and working with trauma?
I have always been interested in human behaviour and spirit, and the body-mind connection. I started my formal training in the field of counselling and psychotherapy after I tackled some difficult relationship issues in my life, and was put on antidepressants with horrible side effects. I sought answers to how this had happened to me. Once I entered the world of psychotherapy, my own experiences and the incredible stories of people around me pushed me to keep studying and later, running my practice.
My passion for working with trauma came when I discovered that many people do not get better from 10-12 sessions by changing their thoughts and some of their behaviours. Clients in this situation would relapse or otherwise return to unhealthy ways of relating and being.
Studying attachment and the effect of relational and other trauma on the brain and our nervous system really made sense to me, and made a difference in my therapy room for my clients.
I think of trauma as not just the horrific life events that happen to people, but rather, that trauma is experienced when someone grows up in a situation that is anything less than nurturing. I find that educating people about their brain and how their nervous system operates can release lots of shame and the self-imposed stigma that they might have about their mental state or relational problems.
What kinds of experiences of trauma have your clients had?
My clients often have experiences of sexual abuse, as well as other physical and emotional abuse. In addition, many people present with generational abuse and trauma histories. I find that the accumulation of ‘small’ verbal abuses affects people’s sense of self-worth, and can have a traumatic effect.
How does someone know if they are suffering from trauma- what are the symptoms?
Trauma can cause anxiety, insomnia, flashbacks, intractable depression, and relational problems. It can lead to a sense of loss of self, disturbed thinking, hopelessness, disregulated emotions, lack of trust, shame and PTSD. Often people self –medicate and use drugs, alcohol, or food to manage these symptoms.
How do you believe people recover from trauma and traumatic events?
People can overcome trauma by examining how the trauma has affected them and how they interact with others and how they treat themselves. I have found that the most effective way to do this is to heal relational dynamics through the therapeutic relationship, i.e., the connection between client and therapist. This is, I believe, one of the most important parts of therapy. By developing this connection in a safe and nurturing environment, clients are able to learn new ways of relating. I have been training in somatic experiencing, and feel that getting clients to feel safe in, and to trust, their own body, is vital. Recovery from trauma involves learning to observe and regulate the nervous system, and integration of the emotions and cognitions surrounding the specific trauma. This work is complex and also very rewarding. I make a point of nurturing the creativity and flexibility that people often recover when they overcome their traumatic experiences.
Tell us about your approach and why you believe the way you work is effective in helping people overcome trauma
I have been training in somatic experiencing, and feel that getting clients to feel safe in, and to trust, their own body, is vital. Recovery from trauma involves learning to observe and regulate the nervous system, and integration of the emotions and cognitions surrounding the specific trauma. This work is complex and also very rewarding. I make a point of nurturing the creativity and flexibility that people often recover when they overcome their traumatic experiences.
Tell us what a client can expect to experience in an initial counselling session with you
In an initial counselling session, my clients usually come in and we have a chat. It begins when they look around and settle in the room. I let them know about my approach and give all the information they would like.
Often clients are very educated about many aspects of psychotherapy by the time they land in my rooms. While we talk, I gently focus their attention towards their body, asking questions like: “ so when you are talking about this is there any sensation in your body?” I also try to slow them down by just letting them notice their breathing, and modeling mindfulness. Usually they feel calmer and more in power by being able to regulate themselves a little bit.
Together we learn with the clients how to stay regulated, calm and help them feel safe before we process any trauma. I meet my clients with compassion, and I am usually amazed by human resilience and the bravery that is required for anyone to come to therapy.
Tell us about the new workshop you’re premiering in Australia called The Daring Way™, based on the work of Brené Brown
I am very excited to introduce The Daring Way™ workshops in Australia, as I am a big fan of Brené Brown’s work. Her insights into human behavior have been inspiring and revolutionary, and I am thrilled to be the first in Australia to be able to run workshops based on her methodology. You can read more about the upcoming workshop here.
On a personal note, tell us something that you’re passionate about or love to do in your spare time.
I love live music and discovering new bands. I have three gorgeous young adult daughters so I have fun listening to their new spotify playlists and checking out gigs. I am also very passionate about martial arts, I believe that practicing it keeps me able to work with trauma. It is a kind of therapy for me ☺