Simon has an interest in how the relationship between therapist and client can be an instrumental in bringing about profound change.
Here’s what he had to say…
Tell us a bit about your practice and the services you offer
I have a two-centre practice – Newtown in Sydney and Faulconbridge in the Blue Mountains. In Sydney I see a variety of people though the theme over the last year or so has been relationship difficulties and life direction/life meaning. In the Mountains I’m seeing several clients who either have a severe cancer diagnosis themselves or have a partner with a severe diagnosis. I also work with patients in palliative care as a volunteer.
I’m currently doing my Masters in Psychotherapy with the Westmead Centre for Complex Trauma concentrating on Russell Meares’ Conversational Model which is aimed at people suffering with personality disorders so I’m getting experience with this area and broadening my area of practice to include folks who find it hard to make progress with other therapeutic modalities.
How did you become interested in counselling and working as a psychotherapist?
As with many of us practitioners, I have had my own psycho-emotional problems and since my early twenties have been periodically in therapy. So the question of how these problems work and how we can move beyond them has been a primary focus of my interest for over 40 years. I’ve also been a practicing secular Buddhist for almost as long and the cross-over between the two ways of seeing and experiencing “self” has been a fertile field for keeping that interest alive.
My early ambitions were toward medicine but I now find the more personal, sometimes spiritual, engagement of therapy the vehicle of fulfilling my desire to be of service to others.
How do you believe people change and what supports long-lasting change?
Wow! This question is worthy of a library of PhD theses.
Here’s a sketch: By definition, our psycho-emotional difficulties are caused by reactions we are not aware of and which are not, initially, subject to conscious control: if we were aware of them and wanted to change them we would.
The art of helping people change I think is two-fold: 1) to help them become more aware of these unconscious, or preconscious emotional reactions and the thoughts that flow from them and 2) to provide a relational experience in therapy which allows them to internalise, consciously and unconsciously, new and more constructive emotional reactions.
Tell us about your approach and why you believe the way you work is effective in helping people change
My primary approach is based on the second point in my previous answer as that corrective emotional experience is the foundation for more conscious change. Beyond that foundation I select from my toolkit an approach that best fits with the client’s own conception of how change works for them, however vague that may be.
To help someone lower anxiety immediately and to help with awareness building, I favour mindfulness techniques from 10-second quickies to more formal sitting or movement meditation. Where the problem has a strong cognitive component, I’ll use CBT as a major component. I’m also intensely aware of existential issues around illness, aging and life purpose and find that many clients get a great deal of relief in sharing their thoughts and feelings around these issues.
But with all clients, I’m working with them to help make emotional reactions, including positive reactions, more conscious in a supportive environment which allows them to experience themselves in new ways.
I chose this method, which is very congruent with Meares’ Conversational Model, because it puts the major emphasis on the affective relationship between client and therapist which has consistently been shown to be the major factor within the therapy setting of successful change. There is a large and growing body of evidence from neuro-science which indicates both why the relationship is so crucial and is beginning to show how it facilitates change.
Tell us what a client can expect to experience in an initial counselling session with you
After a ten minute phone conversation to allow an initial mutual assessment, in the initial session of about an hour, I’ll ask the client to tell me in their own words what brought them to therapy and what they want to achieve out of it. That’ll usually give rise to some discussion and perhaps a few questions from me, but I much prefer to allow most of the time for the client to tell me in their own way what they’re feeling, thinking and what they want to change. I’ll save about 15 minutes at the end to give a quick overview of how I work and setting the frame of our therapy: session frequency, confidentiality, cancellation policy and any questions they have for me.
On a personal note, tell us something that you’re passionate about or love to do in your spare time
I’ve been studying jazz guitar for many years and that remains a significant source of pleasure, and some frustration of course. Music in forms that aren’t afraid of complexity is always a source of deep pleasure.
I have always been physically active mostly through martial arts but now I’m concentrating on general fitness and the fit of exercise to the aging body. I’m currently training at Mid Mountains Crossfit which is a challenge physically, and to character, and pleasantly social. As I said earlier, I’ve been a practicing secular Buddhist for almost all my adult life and the ethical, spiritual and philosophical fulfilment that provides is ongoing and seems to continuously deepen.
If you would like to book a session with Simon, visit his Australia Counselling profile or website.