Australia Counselling member Susannah Paterson is passionate about helping people reduce their stress and anxiety and live happier lives.
This is a pressing issue for many people in our culture today, with the demands of work, relationships, and family ever increasing.
Susannah uses practical and proven strategies to help her clients get on top of their stress and anxiety, so they can feel more in control, make better decisions, improve their relationships, and experience greater happiness and joy in their day to day lives.
Here’s what Susannah had to say to us about this important issue:
Tell us a bit about your practice- where it is, who you work with and the services you offer.
I work from home in Neutral Bay, very close to Military Road. I work with people who want to gain more control over their lives. They may have a particular challenge to deal with such as a difficult work situation, or relationship, or they may have been suffering from panic attacks or anxiety and not be sure why or what to do about it.
In the first couple of sessions I begin by getting to know the person, their history and the issues they face. We then make a plan about roughly how long it will take to address the issues and how we might do that. I try to tailor my approach for that person. Some people like explore their issues through talking, whilst others prefer more structured exercises like learning meditation or anti-anxiety techniques, or utilising my hypnotherapy skills. Often, it is a combination of resources that we use so that the client gains that skill for the rest of their lives. Ultimately, it’s my job to do myself out of a job!
How did you become interested in counselling and working as a psychotherapist with stress and anxiety issues?
Over the last 25 years I have encountered most issues people seek help with, and it has always struck me that no matter what your problem or challenge may be, if you can be calmer about it, it is easier to make good decisions. Stress and anxiety make everything worse, so learning how to be more resilient and less anxious is very empowering. Once you have this as a good foundation, you can build on it. It’s a little like building a completely safe refuge from which you can go out and explore the terrain.
I realised this might be my area of speciality when clients kept telling me that they have felt some much more in control of themselves and their lives and that they are much more confident and relaxed about whatever life dishes up.
What do you see are the root causes of worry, stress and anxiety in people?
The root cause of stress and anxiety is the conscious or unconscious belief that “I don’t have enough (time, money, strength, energy, food etc) of a resource to deal with whatever is happening right now. These thoughts, even if based in reality, trigger a “stress reaction” in the brain, and put us into “fight, flight or freeze”. When you are in a stress reaction state, it is impossible to think or act clearly. Because our lives are so pressured these days, by so many “calls to action” and demands (phone, text, email, work, family, friends … ), lots of us are in a permanent state of stress reaction. This has a huge detrimental effect on both our physical, mental and emotional health.
How do you know if you’re suffering from too much stress and anxiety? What are the symptoms you might need to seek help?
Some of the common symptoms of stress would be feeling nervous, agitated and under pressure much of the time. Life feels like it’s taking you for a ride rather than the other way round. You may also have sleep issues, mood swings, particularly irritability or teary and angry outbursts. Often you are suffering from what I call “todoitis” when you just can’t or won’t let yourself rest and relax. Instead you might drink or eat too much, or develop another unhealthy coping mechanism.
The only other thing I would add, is that sometimes people are so used to operating at a high level of stress and anxiety that they don’t recognise it because they have never known anything different. For those people, it can be quite a strange thing to have the experience of full relaxation of mind and body. Luckily, you can become familiar with this state too so it becomes easier and easier to create.
How do you believe people overcome worry, stress and anxiety?
Often people have tried to solve their stress problems by trying to to gain more and more control over the external environment, – I’ll change my house/job/relationship syndrome. My approach is different – learn how to gain more control over your internal environment before you change the external one. This means learning how to calm yourself, be a good critic and observer of your own thought processes, your own self talk, and how you deal with your emotions.
Tell us about your approach and why you believe the way you work is effective in helping people overcome stress, worry and anxiety
If you had met me as 25 or more years ago, you would have met a very anxious and up tight person. I have slowly and steadily learned how to be calmer, stronger, with much better boundaries by learning many of the skills and practices I now teach.
When I work with someone, I really try to help them utilise these skills and awarenesses so that they fit into their lifestyles. There’s no point for example, asking someone to meditate even 30 mins a day if they are already jam packed with other commitments. Teaching them “mini meditations” and quick relaxation practices is much more likely to work for them.
Many of my clients remark on how much calmer and better they feel after just two or three sessions, and so the proof is in the pudding as they say … and I think the recipe I use works very well.
Tell us what a client can expect to experience in an initial counselling session with you
Most people are a bit nervous before they come, so I try to normalise this and put them at ease very quickly. I explain that I will ask them some standard questions to begin with, just so I can get a bit of background on their lives, and then I usually ask: what brings you here or how can I help? We talk about the issue or issues they want to address, and then, about 10 minutes before the end of the hour, we stop to reflect on the session and discuss what seems appropriate as the next step.
On a personal note, tell us something that you’re passionate about or love to do in your spare time
I am a practicing artist (a painter and ceramicist) in my spare time and I have begun to exhibit recently. Creative expression is very important to me and both painting and pottery allow me to do this. I aim to keep a good balance between my therapy practice and my art practice, so that I can be the best I can be at both.