Origins and Manifestations: An Interview with John Mason, Chinese Medicine practitioner.

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Upasana:  John, can acupuncture address issues that people experience such as stress, anxiety and depression? Does it conceptualise these things differently to how a field like medicine or psychology would, in your opinion?

John: Rather than talk about acupuncture specifically I would prefer to answer your questions in terms of Chinese Medicine of which acupuncture is a treatment method.

In my opinion and experience one of the strengths of Chinese Medicine is the effective treatment and management of stress, anxiety and depression and related disorders, either as a stand-alone therapy or in conjunction with Psychology and Western Medicine

To answer the second part of your question, the largest difference between Chinese Medicine and Western Medicine in this respect is that Chinese Medicine holds that there is no dividing line between mind body and spirit when considering disorders of the person. Signs and symptoms of psychological disturbance are seen in the same way with the same origins as somatic disorders. Psychological signs and symptoms almost always have concurrently identifiable and associated somatic signs and symptoms. In the Chinese Medicine context, this concurrency of signs and symptoms helps in differentially diagnosing and treating psychological disorders.

Accordingly, ‘anxiety’ is not a specific diagnosis in Chinese Medicine. The diagnosis may well be ‘heart yin and blood deficiency’ presenting with signs and symptoms such as panic, tachycardia, dizziness and spontaneous sweating.

In stress, anxiety and depression it is also essential to identify and assess the emotions involved. For example, one stressed person can be predominantly experiencing emotions of anger/frustration, while emotions of worry/fear may dominate in another. Each requires different treatment considerations and strategies.

Moreton Bay Fig Study byMalcolm Pettigrove

Moreton Bay Fig Study by
Malcolm Pettigrove

Upasana: could you explain how Chinese Medicine can work on something like anxiety?

John: In Chinese Medicine diagnosis, a key principal is the concept of ‘ben’ and ‘biao’, that is ‘root’ and ‘branch’. In Chinese Medicine pathology, disease is seen as have a ‘root’ origin and a ‘branch’ manifestation. That is, a particular disease (branch) can be coming from one or more different ‘root’ pathologies.

In order to effectively treat an issue such as anxiety we need to look at the person and their signs and symptoms picture as a whole in order to differentially diagnose the root cause. Anxiety usually arises from disharmonies in one or more of the liver, heart and spleen organ systems so effective treatment is reliant on accurate assessment and differentiation of the overall signs and symptoms picture.

Chinese Medicine generally uses a much wider and less specific set of signs and symptoms than Western Medicine and consequently looks at a much bigger picture than Western Medicine. Accordingly there are often many factors making up a therapeutic program for someone suffering anxiety, including acupuncture, Chinese Medicine herbs, counselling and lifestyle and dietary changes.

At a basic biophysical level, using acupuncture needles in specific combinations and techniques, stimulates endorphin and enkephalin release which in turn act as a GABA antagonist, allowing the release of dopamine into the brain, thus immediately ameliorating symptoms of stress and anxiety. This amelioration is a temporary effect but become stronger and longer lasting with subsequent treatment. But this is only a part of a treatment program.

In an effective treatment program, not only does the client’s anxiety improve, but so does their overall state of health. This is because, very often, we have to fix other things in order to get a lasting improvement in the signs and symptoms that we call anxiety.

This is not to say that psychological therapy and drug therapy are not effective as well, it’s just that those approaches are not my field. I do know from experience that amazing results can be achieved in the field of mental health when all three modalities work together in consultative integration

Upasana: is there a ‘counselling’ component to your work?

John: Counselling is a huge component of my work although I would see my counselling with clients in terms of Chinese Medicine and not Western Medicine. What I do with clients certainly could not be called counselling psychology although it does have many similarities with concepts used in mindfullness techniques and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

In my work, counselling is not limited to psychological disorders. In Chinese Medicine the aetiological factors of disease, disorder, imbalance, however you would have it, can be very deep and broad. In my counselling I help the client to understand and recognise the contributing factors. Experience and classical psychological thought tells me that once a person understands the factors involved in their illness, they are immediately moving towards solution resolution.

At a psychological level, the counselling techniques I use with clients usually involve working to recognise factors, both internal and external, that contribute to the situation in which they find themselves. Also, as I mentioned before, I help them to recognise and analyse emotions that they feel. Difficult, complex or dangerous emotional states are referred on to Western Medicine assessment for stronger interventions, but once the person’s mental state is stabilised I have found that he or she almost always benefits from conjunctive Chinese Medicine therapy.

I have rarely found difficulty in establishing trust with a client. I find that it is critical to be up front with them in what you are about and your system of ethics, as well as your qualifications and experience and limits of same.

I have found that clients very quickly make their own assessments of a practitioner’s integrity and capability as well as the capabilities of Chinese Medicine itself.

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Upasana: How are Australians going in our acceptance of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine? Are they still considered alternative therapies? Or is there more confidence in this field now?

John: I have never liked the connotations attached to the term ‘alternative therapy’.   Medicine and healing is what it is all about. To set up notions of mutual exclusivity amongst medical disciplines is, I believe, at best counterproductive, and at worst, highly unethical.   It seems to me that such notions have been fostered by the arrogance of western scientific thought. Nobody has all the answers but answers can be found anywhere.

People vote with their feet. They don’t need double blind placebo controlled tests to tell them that they feel better. Chinese Medicine is well established in the western world now.   Outside of Asia acupuncture is second only to orthodox Western Medicine as the most commonly used form of medical treatment. And I use the term ‘medical’ despite Western Medicine’s attempts to own it.

In my practice, the average age of my patients is 50.9 years. I see Mr and Mrs Average and I see their parents, children and grandchildren. Repeatedly.

In my thirteen years of practice I have had many clients, both in suburban Melbourne and rural Far North Queensland, who have trusted me to assist with their care and well-being even though their death was imminent. I think that says volumes for the acceptance and trust in Chinese Medicine that Australians now have.

Upasana: Do you find that in your role, you teach people a new way of understanding their health and well being?

John: As a health care practitioner I believe that it is essential that a person has as full an understanding as possible of their condition and the factors that contribute to, as well as heal, that condition. For most people the concepts of Chinese Medicine are initially a foreign language and have to be explained and unfolded by the practitioner.

But most people find the concepts to be common sense in harmony with the laws of nature. If I had a dollar for every time a client said to me, “That makes a lot of sense”, well…  I couldn’t retire, but I reckon I could take the family to Europe for a holiday.

As an example, take a man suffering migraine headaches and extreme stress as a result of hating his job. It is necessary for effective long term results that he understands how an overload of the emotion of anger/frustration has a deleterious effect on his liver system which then causes the migraines and sends him into a downward spiral of emotionally based depression. He also needs to understand how alcohol, fast food and lack of exercise negatively impact on the liver. When treatment and changes he makes start to have positive effects he is inspired to continue his positive path.

He is more inclined and more able to take responsibility for his own healing because he understands why and how it works.

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Upasana: Was the discovery of accupuncture a pivotal turning point in your own life? could you tell us a little about why it became your path?

John: I had been 16 years in the same career and I was bored. I had always wanted to be a doctor as a kid and so I naturally turned to medicine when I needed a career change.

Although I have always been a fan of Western Medicine I felt it was not the path for me for a number of reasons, so I decided I had to become a doctor (i.e. teacher and healer) in another medical modality.

The concepts of Chinese Medicine resonated with both my material and spiritual self and studying it just made me plain excited. I was also strongly drawn to the hands on and surgical nature of acupuncture needling.

I love what I do and I am both proud of and humbled by the medicine itself.

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John Mason can be contacted at:


Caring Enough to Talk Garbage: An Interview with Megan Bayliss, Eco Social Worker.

Megan wearing one of the Junk Wave jewels (made from recycled paper )

Megan –                                    wearing a Junk Wave jewel

Upasana: Where, when and what did you study at university?

Megan: I was a mature aged student. I didn’t get to uni until I was age 26. I turn 50 this year and it still seems like it was just yesterday. I originally intended to do Medicine but when I finished school, I got married and had babies instead. Eventually I was in the position to move to Cairns from Cooktown to study at the new James Cook University campus, or tafe college as it was at that time. I chose Social Work because it was the only degree I was remotely interested in that was available in Cairns.

Originally I wanted to do medicine and specialise in paediatrics so that I could work in third world countries for aid agencies. My care for helping children has always been an internal motivator – my empathy and passion are huge so everyone always knew that whatever I did it would involve helping kids. Apart from social work being an available course, I was at a loss to clearly articulate my reasons for choosing it until I watched The Power of One based on the book by Bryce Courtney. That was it!

Even as a little girl I instinctively knew that one person could make a difference. One person can change discrimination, oppression and abuse.

I was born and bred in Papua New Guinea. Juxtaposed with the beautiful natural environment were abuse, poverty and the patriarchal effect of colonial oppression…..and I hated it. In hindsight, either social work or a career in international relations was a foregone conclusion. I once told my Army Officer father that I wanted to join the diplomatic corp. He laughed and suggested that there wasn’t a diplomatic bone in my body. He was so right – I remain outspoken against injustice and critical of paternalistic policies that keep minorities oppressed.

Upasana:  Could you tell me something about the course you work has taken since graduating?

Megan: I specialised in sexual assault therapy for children. I have worked across all levels of government, in the non-government sector and in the private sector. I published on the topic, wrote, practiced and taught a model of protective behaviours. I worked in child protection in London, as a court counsellor for the Australian Federal Government and in the funding branch of our local department of child safety. I managed a therapeutic house and I worked as a curriculum writer and student counsellor at a training college. I also did sessional teaching at uni.

I LOVED working in that field. But after working with it for almost 20 years I was burnt out.The challenge and excitement of new jobs no longer fed my soul and I knew that I had to move away from child sexual assault work.

But, I procrastinated and the Universe forced my hand. My husband became ill; I quit my high stress professional job to look after us all and found myself with no money. It was a very black time for all of us.

Lucky I am a worker, an innovator and an entrepreneur, and I really like  working for me: no money? no problem! I decided to start a business from scratch. I just had to find potential stock that was easily accessible and cost next to nothing to turn into a saleable item.

One day, trancelike, I found myself staring at my rubbish bin (I know, sad really). The sight of the overflowing garbage had me thinking about the earth being clogged with rubbish. If you’ve ever seen pictures of the huge landfills in other parts of the world, the size of Texas (yes, really), you’ll follow my drift. Junk –  I hate it!  I hate landfill, I hate waste!

There, at that moment, a precariously balanced, colourful flyer flew out from the top of the pile of rubbish which was seeping out of the bin. It found me! – The idea I had been looking for! A recycled craft business.

With the help of a few friends, my recycling craft hobby developed into a sideline. That sideline developed into a program and the program developed into a business. And so my Junk Wave business was born! I now run three weaving teams and train in recycled craft across Australia.  How lucky am I to earn a living doing something so enjoyable – the kind of thing most people do for fun!

Upasana:  Your career has transitioned so much throughout the years. Which roles have resonated with you most?

Megan: Working as a therapist specialising in childhood sexual assault has long been my passion and reason for getting out of bed in the mornings. I felt driven to protect children against sexual assault and I strongly identified with that role. I still refer to myself as having been a child sexual assault therapist.

Writing has also been a strong pull for me. I am extremely creative and even my business writing has an element of magic and a good dose of fun in it. Publishing my children’s chapter-book was such a pinnacle point for me –it was the marriage of fiction with non-fiction, general reading with bibliotherapy.

It has taken me a while to call myself an Eco Social Worker but I absolutely identify with that role now. My people and training skills are excellent and my love of the environment makes it easy to encourage others to think about how they interact within their natural surrounds – and how the natural world is impacted when clogged and stuffed with rubbish.

Upasana: What have been the happiest memories of your working life?


Megan: This is a really hard question. There are so many highlights which I can’t share because of confidentiality reasons, however, two professional highlights sit high upon my career tree like bright shining stars. Firstly, the launch of my book Bitss of Caramel Marmalade on Toast. Against all advice, I got kids to organise the whole thing. I didn’t want boring adults and boring speeches. I wanted fun, I wanted child-focused, I wanted the kids to have a voice. So, kids were the guest speakers and the mc’s, they ran the event and organised the games and fancy dress parade. It was a BLAST!

The second highlight was working in Child Protection in London. It was a wonderful experience for me and I have nothing but encouragement for other social workers who wish to expand their practice into the international arena.

Upasana: You developed the BITSS model for use with young children of primary school age. Could you tell me about this program?


Megan: The BITSS model of Protective Behaviours took years for me to develop….and I loved doing it. It started because of a personal incident. My son was suspended from child care because he said the word “penis.”  The other boys who were saying, “cock”, “willy” and “doodle” were not suspended for their bad language.

I realised we were in great trouble if early childhood educators could not use correct body- part terminology. However, when you consider the prevalent statistics which tell us that one in three girls are sexually assaulted by the age of 18, it makes sense that perhaps one in three early educators have their own issues when it comes to addressing sexual topics.

My research discovered that most protective behaviour programs were delivered at school by external personnel rather than by their own teachers. And the information was being taught in such a way that apparently made it difficult for children to generalise the information they were given about protection to their lives at home, away from the school yard. Given that 85% of childhood sexual assault is perpetrated by a family member or somebody well known to the child, it became clear to me that the way protection was taught at schools was not working well enough to make a difference. Further, while some educators remain unable to say ”penis” or “vagina” there was no hope of having externally delivered programs reinforced by those teachers.

I designed the BITSS model to be taught to children by parents and carers as a set of games and activities to be played anytime, anywhere and from any age.

The program is now used around the world by parents and foster carers. Whereas once I used to sell the model as a tutorial for parents, it is now available free as a download to people who sign up for my recycled craft newsletter:

I still train in the area too. I can run a 4 hour BITSS workshop for teachers, parents, carers, or who ever wants to come, and they can walk away knowing exactly what they have to do to keep their kids as safe as possible from sexual predators.

Upasana: Is the Junk Wave project governed by any particular model or framework? How has it been informed by your social work background?

The development of The Junk Wave into a global project of individual empowerment is most definitely inspired from and encouraged by my social work training and work background. I LOVE working with women and I love frameworks of empowerment. Further, protecting the environment is another form of child protection….we protect it to make sure our kids have safe places to go – where they can interact with nature.

The Junk Wave’s business model is all about making the micro macro: mass action of individual home based effort. By working with passionate women crafters to help them reframe waste as art, I am on a sustainable journey that is good for people, good for the planet and good for profit (not just mine but all of the women I assist to start their own cottage industry).

I absolutely love what I do at The Junk Wave and I am very grateful to crafters the world over who share my mission, vision and aim: to make junk precious.

Through intentional teaching and ‘teachable moments’ -taking opportunities such as this one, to explain the project and vision, we spread our recycling passion to protect oceans and landfill from toxic household waste so that tomorrow’s children can experience a healthy and safe, animal rich, environment.

Upasana: what sorts of activities does the Junk Wave offer?

Megan: We create and sell fashion hand bags made from recycled food packets; we hold recycled craft workshops for both adults and kids and support recycled craft cottage industries and creative incomes for members of our global recycling craft communities.

We aim to raise awareness of landfill alternatives and encourage international momentum for people to turn household waste into craft treasures.

I am also motivated and influenced by the Fair Trade organisations around the world. Their models of turning nothing into something for the co-operative members makes good sense fo me. I am so interested in them that I am applying for a Churchill Fellowship to study them and to bring the model back to women in Australia as a way helping them find a way out of their  poverty.

Upasana:  Megan, you seem to put a great deal of time, energy and passion into the work you do. Through your experience, particularly in the difficult areas you have worked in, what have you learned about creating a life balance?

Work/life balance is something I have been very bad at. I used to be a workaholic and that behaviour helped to destroy one of my marriages. Once somebody pointed out to me that workaholism was nothing more than a respectable addiction, I dropped my madness. There was no way I wanted to be seen as an addictive personality or “holic” of any kind.

It has taken me years and a period of burn out to discover how very important work/life balance is. In retrospect, the blackness that I was always working with in the sexual assault field needed to be set against a palette of bright. For a long time I stopped doing craft – I did NOTHING but work. I dried up. The colour left my life and my eyes may as well have been blind.

But, my marriage break up, my burn out and my poverty, were blessings. They gave me a new path and I was forced to draw upon only that which was already inside me.

Through rest and introspection, I rediscovered the colour. I rediscovered my ability to create and I rediscovered my tenacity. I had stood at the edge of a black abyss and I didn’t like it……I backed away real quick.

I am reminded here that part of the definition of poverty is the inability to make choices. When I was working long hours in a dreadfully stressful area, I was impoverished. I couldn’t make nice choices. I had no time to. I just worked. Once I quit, I could make choices…..and my life has continued to get better and better.

These days I belong to a group of people all reading and growing in the personal development and leadership field. I read books that may once have been negatively referred to as pop psychology but which for me have become life blood. I discuss the books and their learnings with people who are neither client or professional – just real people wanting to make a real difference to the world by becoming the best they can become. It is this that keeps me grounded and in touch with my past education.

It is from this guided reading program that my most valuable quote came to my attention: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” (Orrin Woodward).

I care deeply about our environment and about our children. I care that my grandchildren have the opportunity to grow up to see birds, fish and trees…..and I will do everything I can to encourage other people to make their own changes for their own kids or grand kids.

Finally, I care enough to keep talking garbage. So I do.

creating useable art from recycled materials.

creating useable art from recycled materials.

The whole being: An interview with Michael Muir, somatic psychotherapist.


Upasana: How did you originally discover somatic psychotherapy in your own life?

Michael: My journey started in the mid-nineties with a personal development seminar called the Turning Point.  It was somatically based and centred on the work of Alexander Lowen.  I was fascinated by the idea that our bodies hold our history and our story.

My fascination led me to a diploma of Somatic Psychotherapy.  The diploma merged the somatic components with psychodynamic theories.  At first I studied the diploma for my own growth, but it soon became a passion – a passion that i wanted to share with the world as a somatic psychotherapist.

Upasana: What was it that helped you to know that this would be your chosen modality of work?

Michael: From a young age I would close myself in my room, put on an LP (record) and dance. Movement and moving my body have always been really important to me and have assisted me to feel good about being myself.  So the step from self-nurturing through movement to working in a modality in which the body is integral to the therapy was not a big one. Somatics is all about movement, breath and sound – not necessarily big movement (like dance), but also subtle ones, like a shiver, the pulsation of a heart, or the blink of an eye.

Upasana:  Who have your teachers and influences been?

Michael: Somatic Psychotherapy has a long lineage that goes all the way back to Freud and Reich (shhh don’t tell anyone!).  Contemporary Somatic Psychotherapy takes the best of the theorists and their theories and merges them in to a modern model that is relevant today.

Some of the recent teachers who have made the most impact on my life are Dr Tony Richardson and Julie Henderson – highly experienced somaticists.  There are a number of Tibetan Buddhist teachers who have also impacted in a big way on my life, in general and in my work.

Upasana: Could you tell us about Somatic Psychotherapy?

Michael: Psychotherapy provides a safe, non-judgmental space and relationship in which to explore difficulties in areas such as work, relationships, parenting, achieving one’s goals, addictions or repetitive painful states such as depression, anxiety, confusion, negative feelings or low self esteem.

Somatic is a Greek word meaning “of the body” and in this context means employing body-centred approaches to assist people in integrating and transforming.  The root of this word is ‘soma’ meaning the body of an organism.

Somatic psychotherapy is grounded in the belief that psyche and soma form a single holistic entity, the bodymind. Thought, emotion and bodily experience are understood as inter-functioning aspects of the person’s whole being.

As well as working verbally in the relationship with the client, somatic psychotherapists are trained to engage directly with the client’s dynamic bodily experience. This includes patterns of breathing, posture, sensation and movement, and also working with body image, metaphor and through touch when appropriate.

Upasana: Does ‘somatic’ refer to movement or to touch – or both?

Michael: Somatic refers to all that and more.  For some clients somatic may mean simply observing their body, maybe watching the way they breathe or the way their skin changes colour when they discuss a certain situation.  For other clients it may mean a hug, a reassuring hand or maybe providing a space to scream out some fear or throw a tantrum.  For others still it may mean a bio-dynamic massage where I work with their bodies to gently release some blockage or simply to provide relaxation.

Upasana: Are there many versions of this kind of therapy? And if so, which do you practice?

Michael: Within the field of Somatic Psychotherapy, like all modalities, practitioners tend to focus on some aspects more than others.  I’d have to say that the body is really important in my sessions – that doesn’t mean I force people to do anything – it just means that unlike some of my peers who are more psychodynamic, I definitely utilise both the somatic and psychodynamic aspects in each session.

Upasana: Could you describe one or two techniques you may use with clients?

Michael: Tracking is a technique i frequently employ to get people to become more aware of their bodies and their internal processes.  Very simply, the client follows sensation around their body, noticing, verbalising and following the sensation to the next part of their body – it’s very simple yet very powerful in building awareness.

Bio-dynamic massage is another technique I may employ (depending on the contract I have with the client) in order to create more flow within the body and assist in the movement (unblocking) of energetic holds.

Upasana: Why is this referred to as psychotherapy and not bodywork?

Michael: Somatic Psychotherapy is not just bodywork.  Psychodynamic theories are also key to informing the therapeutic process.  Attachment and inter-subjective theories are a really important parts of the work.  Sessions with me are psychological based but assisted by including the body’s process as well.

Upasana: Why are talking and cognitive type therapies not sufficient to address emotional and psychological well being?

Michael: Talking and cognitive therapies are great.  They assist us to bring more awareness to issues, and that can only be good. The thing is though that we are not just minds we are also bodies, and by including the cognitive and body processes in therapy there is greater likelihood of long term results and deeper understanding of ‘what we do’ and ‘why we do it’.  This means that we end up being able to notice what we are doing or about to do and then make a choice.  Great stuff for family get-togethers or Christmas lunch when family dynamics are generally at their most potent.

Upasana: Why is the somatic so vital to us?

Michael: Our bodies and our minds react to situations.  It’s like when we are angry and feel like punching the table – or feel scared and our breathing becomes shallow.  When we are in difficult situations our bodies as well as our minds react – they work together to help us cope.  The thing is though that these coping mechanisms don’t help us resolve the problem they just mask it – so the difficult situation repeats over and over.  The inclusion of the body in the therapy allows the client and me, as therapist, to explore feeling and sensation and their link to the cognitive process – leading to more significant and permanent change.

Upasana: How do your clients come to you?

Michael: It’s really a mix of ways.  Word of mouth, peer referral, my website and also social media.  I also run somatic groups and this too can lead to people wanting to come for one-on-one sessions with me.

Upasana:  I know that the two Australian training institutions the Somatics College and the Australian College of Contemporary Somatic Psychotherapy have closed down in recent years.

Do you think somatic psychotherapy has had more difficulty taking root in Australia than overseas?

Michael: The issue with the colleges closing is about government accreditation processes.  In order to be recognised there are a whole pile of regulations that need to be met as well as the associated costs.  It’s really sad, as modalities such as Somatic Psychotherapy just don’t have the same ground swell that counsellors or Reichian’s have so we can’t compete.  This is a key concern for our association Australian Somatic Psychotherapy Association and I know they are talking to places like the Jansen Newman Institute about getting Somatic modules as part of their training.

Upasana: Why do you feel there may be such resistance to an approach that acknowledges our physical experience?

Michael: When we are young we habitually learn to disconnect from the feelings in our bodies in order to fit in with family, friends and the community.  If we feel uncomfortable in a situation our mind helps us rationalise the fear so we can suppress it and function “normally”.

As adults, if we start to move beyond our brains and minds in to our bodies then fears often bubble up.This is because we are suddenly faced with the truth of how we feel and the reality of having to deal with it when most of our life has been spent on keeping this stuff inside and in our subconscious.

So society, in order to maintain the status quo, requires proof that the body’s process is important.  Since all of our upbringing and conditioning tells us that feelings and bodies are “irrational” and it’s our brain that provides the “truth”, society puts very little effort into gathering empirical data to prove the body is important – so the scientists say that the work can’t be proved.

In short, the resistance is a mix of fear of the unknown and the medical fraternity who require empirical data before they can accept the benefits.

Upasana: Are there many others practicing this form of psychotherapy in Australia? Is there still a community that you touch base with and gain support from?

Michael: There is a network of practicing Somatic Psychotherapists mainly on the east coast of Australia.  Many of us belong to the Australian Somatic Psychotherapy Association which is a member association of PACFA (Psychotherapist’s and Counsellor’s Federation of Australia).  As a member we come together for conferences, professional development and sometimes just for a coffee and chat.  Being part of the community is a really important resource for me.

Upasana: What do you see as the consequence of not acknowledging our bodies and our energy?

Michael: Not acknowledging our bodies and our energy means that we are not looking at the whole of our experience and being.  It means that we cannot become fully self aware and that we are disconnected from our natural vitality and our spirituality.

Upasana:  How do you retain your own sense of life/work balance? How do you care for yourself?

Michael: All of us – therapists included – need to make sure we have resources in order to maintain a sense of wellbeing.  For me I have a number of resources which include

being in nature like a park surrounded by grass and trees, or at the beach and taking in the beauty around me; my Buddhist practices; meditation practice and hanging out with my peers.


Upasana: Michael, thank you so much for participating in this project and for answering questions of particular interest to me.

If anyone would like to ask Michael anything further about Sydney Somatic Psychotherapy,

please contact him through his website:

Nestling into the subconscious: An Interview with Jane Nash

Image by Ian Hunter

Jane Nash is an Internationally qualified NLP Master Practitioner/Trainer and Clinical and Forensic Investigative Hypnotherapist/Trainer who moves and works between various locations within Australia and the UK. She is also an accomplished teacher and author and harbours a vast number of other talents and interests. She combines her training, life experience and insightful (and often playful) perspective into all of her work and into her connection with the people she works with. I’m very pleased that she took the time to answer some questions about an area of therapy that I have never really explored before.

Upasana: How did you happen upon hypnosis?

Jane: I knew about hypnosis as a party trick if you like, but I hadn’t really considered it in a serious way until I saw people experiencing trance as part of a therapy session on a TV program.

Upasana:  Did you have your own misconceptions about hypnosis?

Jane: I’m very aware of mind control from having had very dysfunctional relationships in my own life. Also, when I worked in schools I saw how possible it was to persuade and influence. I knew a fair bit about how advertising and subliminal messaging worked but I had no idea how hypnosis could be used in a therapeutic sense.

Upasana: What work did you do before pursuing hypnosis and NLP?

Jane: I was a teacher and a lecturer. I have worked in all sectors – primary, secondary and tertiary. I ended up teaching teachers how to teach. I have always written poetry and short stories but the money-work was in education. I did work for a short while as an academic therapist – I was the teacher of last option for kids who were school refusers, many of them either autistic, or with learning impairments such as ADHD or dyspraxia.  Now that I know more about it, I can see that I was using NLP and hypnosis then but I didn’t know enough to see how it was working.

Upasana: How did you know that you wanted to pursue this work in your own career? What attracted you to it?

Jane: One summer, as I spiraled into depression: over 100 kgs, drinking, smoking, self medicating, sinking in a history of years of unhappiness and internal unquiet, I saw a program that changed my life. Now, I had known something of Neuro Linguistic Programming in its early stages and had read some papers on it years before when I was a young teacher, but one night, from the bottom of a bottle of port and after a whole packet of cigarettes, I saw a program called ‘I can change your life‘ featuring Paul McKenna. He was known as a hypnotist and used to be considered a bit of a joke, but here he was changing people’s perceptions of themselves within hours. He was releasing phobias and helping people see strategies for an improved life.

I was in such emotional pain – and just getting worse. I had an amazing chap in my life and I thought to myself: ‘if I don’t fix me, I will not only destroy myself, but I will destroy this relationship too’, and for the first time in my life I wanted something different. I learned the skills that I had seen on that tv program and got some NLP and Trance guidance to facilitate my own work on myself – and I got better quickly. I really did let go of so many awful things that I had been carrying around.  And as soon as I had a handle on myself, a light-bulb went on in my head and I wanted to help others reach their potential and be brave enough to move forward as fast as I had. I got better, I started retraining and I never looked back. And by the way, that ‘chap’ and I are now married and he’s an amazing man and I feel loved, valued and at liberty to be myself.

I do my best to walk the walk – not just talk the talk. I went from size 20/22 to size 8/10, I have become a vegan and a committed fitness enthusiast, I have used my own techniques to give up drinking, binge eating and smoking. Life is just too bloody gorgeous to damage myself any more – and that’s part of what i want to demonstrate to my clients .

Upasana: How does hypnosis work on the mind and body?

Jane: It works by getting message-units to bi-pass the critical/analytical part of the brain and finally nestle into the subconscious. I can’t make you do something you don’t want to do but hypnosis can enhance desires.

Upasana: What kinds of desires?

Jane: The desire to be able to sleep with a spider in the room, fly in an aeroplane, reach orgasm, lose weight, give up smoking and so on. If the brain controls it, hypnosis can affect it. There are lots of really groovy studies about the psychobiology of Hypnosis and Trance and we can now prove how Trance affects the limbic system, the nervous system, the digestive system – it’s just amazing.  Once we have this kind of control, we can be more responsible for our own holistic health. I’m all about educating my clients about how they can take control using these skills.

Upasana: Is there a theory of mind that hypnosis is guided by?

Jane: I am an Emotional & Physical Behaviourist. Which means I believe in the theories of John Kappas. So I am a ‘Kappasinian Hypnotist’.  Although I have trained with different organisations, the primary and best hypnosis education I have received is through the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in Tarzana, USA.  There they teach the ‘Theory of Mind’. I generally teach my clients this theory in a condensed version before I hypnotise them. I am also proficient in Eriksonian and Elman hypnosis but those styles are not suitable for everyone all the time.

Kappasinian Hypnosis and its ‘theory of mind’ is a great way to make sure that no matter how deep or light the trance, the hypnotist talks to the 88% of the brain that is subconscious. (For more information on this, watch a video made by one of the college lecturers here)

Upasana: What is the process of hypnosis like for the client?

Jane: The feeling is different for everyone – but it’s not like meditation in which you quieten the inner voices. In hypnosis it’s like an overload of information that forces a trance state.  Their eyelids flicker a bit like they are in REM but they can hear everything. Ultimately it’s very relaxing and you’re quite safe, you can’t spill all your secrets for example – unless you want to! It’s fun and not spooky – but I will leave the description for each individual to experience.

Upasana: What issues do clients bring into your sessions?

Jane: That’s a great question but I don’t have enough space here to answer it! After all these years it would be difficult to list every ailment or issue I have dealt with. Weight loss and smoking are popular, but so are sleep issues, fears and phobias (they are really different by the way). I have done a lot of work, in tandem with other therapists, with war veterans  suffering from post traumatic stress. I have helped many people to get over abuse, let go of the past, build confidence… My favourite has to be encopresis and enuresis: helping kids to stop pooping and peeing at the wrong time is amazingly satisfying. It’s great when kids learn that they have control in their own lives. I do a lot of work with generalized anxiety and I have a great 10 week program for people diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (using NLP not hypnosis) they need longer because they like to repeat things!  Recently I trained a consultant anesthetist in hypnosis not only to train his own brain but also to use with his patients so that they need less medication…

Upasana: I have heard that hypnosis can be of benefit to control addictive behaviours and tendencies. What have you learnt about addiction through this work? Will we always replace one addiction with another?

Jane: There are so many different ideas and therapies for addiction – how to manage addictions depends largely on the value set of the client.  If the client believes that they can get rid of it and be free of it – then it’s possible.  If a client believes that they will be addicted to something regardless of what it is – then I work with them to create a behavior that replaces the problem. To be addicted to healthy food, yoga and a balance in life is a possible scenario. It begins with how the clients see themselves. It also depends upon the addiction.

No Hypnotherapist or NLP Master Practitioner should work with an addict without being part of a larger support network. I always tell my clients that I need them to be part of a support group like AA or NA and to liaise with some form of medical support such as a gp before beginning hypnosis. Addiction is often linked to other problems – and going cold- turkey, for everything except cigarettes and sugar, can be really damaging and in some cases fatal. Hypnosis and NLP are a great key to aid concentration and self control and can be very useful in detox. They work well in assisting people to get through and out of the addictive patterns.

Upasana: Has your way of working evolved through time and experience?

Jane: Of course it has. I have gone from a very awkward and formulaic (but still effective) approach, to more subtle approaches and I’m better at it – I can hypnotize now without words. I’m a bit sneaky. My NLP has morphed into the Design Human Engineering Branch of neuro-persuasion and I am steeped in Logo-therapeutic concepts that help me bring  a sense of purpose to my work.  Perhaps I end up being more of an existential therapist at the end of the day – but it’s worth it – I’m here to aid passage for whomsoever asks.

Upasana: What strengths do you bring to this work?

Jane: I’m a bit obsessive myself, so when I start something I like to finish it. So there aren’t many stones left unturned. I guess the old protestant work ethic doesn’t do me any harm either – I’ll always go the extra mile. And I’m not afraid to find the best person to train me. I have travelled all over the world to train: the USA, to the UK and here in Australia.  I believe everyone has the ability to change and I will always do my best.

Upasana: Why are you suited to this work?

Jane: I see myself as an educator and a story teller – and both skills are essential not only to do this type of work but to help my clients acquire the skills they need to realize their own strengths and capabilities.

Upasana: Has this role changed how you are in other areas of your life?

Jane: Yes, I think so – partially because it led me to study micro expressions, more of the forensic side of the brain.  I’m interested in the study of deception. I feel like a bullshit meter and I am calibrating everyone I meet for truth or deception – self deception mainly. My friendship groups have changed as I have become more proficient in NLP. As the changes in my own perception have become more radical, the way I deal with everyone else has changed. I’m also much more confident and as I’m no longer playing the victim card – those rescuers and oppressors that were part of my circle, no longer have any impact on my life.

Upasana: What has been the greatest joy of this work for you?

Jane: Of course it’s great to see old clients who have permanently changed their lives for the better. However, I live much more in the present to be honest with you.  Every time the light- bulb goes on in the eyes of a client and they get that ‘aha!’ moment – that’s a good moment for me.

Upasana: Has this work opened up new doors for you?

Jane: My writing is better and I’ve been published more (in both fiction and in the self help area) since my language skills changed. That’s a bonus. I was really keen to study psychology but I don’t fancy going back to university to start again from the beginning so I’m working my way through university book lists right now. I’m fascinated by Paul Ekman’s work as well as neurology and forensic psychology so if anything, the doors are in personal learning.

I’m nearly 44, I’m always excited with what life brings. Do I see new doors opening? Every day.  Luckily I’ve also got a huge bunch of keys so I’m busy working through those too!

self portrait by Jane Nash

self portrait by Jane Nash

Find out more about Jane’s work here.

Self Disclosure


I have consulted counsellors at different stages of my adult life and one or two in my school years. I consider myself quite an empowered client and I think I am probably a little challenging to work with. My own work as a client has given me rise to ponder the role of self-disclosure in sessions.

Self Disclosure is when the counsellor raises their own opinions or even examples from their own experiences as part of the therapeutic intervention.

In my own training as a psychologist I was taught not to disclose, or if I do, to keep it brief and to minimise my emotional attachment to my own perspective. The idea is that the counsellor, in this model of counselling, is a blank canvas and the client is free to splash their colours and create their own images to ponder and reflect on without the intervention and judgements of another person. We keep our agendas out of the session, or at least try not to diminish the client’s right to determine their own opinions, perspectives, values.

So many clients come to counselling in the first place because they have been trying so hard to fulfil the expectations of parents, teachers, bosses, peers, partners …. the last thing they need is a new domineering presence taking them further from their own highest truths.

It is generally agreed that counsellors are an authoritative figure; that in sessions there is the potential of exercising influence and power. Keeping self disclosure to a minimum is a way of acknowledging the potential harm that that power can create and to offer an environment that is reasonably free of external expectations.

As a counsellor I know that I like to create a situation in which my client does not have to attend to my needs. I am not their friend or their work mate, their sister, lover or their child; they needn’t consider my feelings before attending to their own. They needn’t feel selfish if the conversation and focus is on them for a full 40-60 minutes per session. Counselling is not a round table discussion – it is THEIR space and THEIR time. That alone is a balm that heals. To be listened to and interrupted only by a new question or insight which opens another opportunity to explore a new thought or feeling is liberating.

For this to be an effective part of the counselling process, the client does need to know that it is true. They need to know that the counsellor is ok and looking after themselves; isn’t secretly taking on their trauma or hurt. This is again why counsellors’ self care is so important. It is important to the client to know that they are doing no harm in the process of seeking help.

I recently sought counselling for a problem I was dealing with and during the second session my therapist told me about her personal experience of the issue I was discussing with her. She seemed to feel that her experience and mine were similar and that I would learn from hearing what she had to say. It didn’t. I could actually feel myself taking in a breath and preparing myself to attend to her and her story. I felt that my time to explore was over and that someone had just told me what they thought the outcome of my own, precious story would be.

On another occasion, with another therapist, I was receiving some supervision. We had been discussing my career path and exploring possible options for the future. She made it clear, or I felt she made it clear, that I needed to leave my job and pursue another one elsewhere. On this occasion I ‘knew’ she was right but was not ready to take that enormous step. I felt so keenly that I was letting her down and felt that I was not accomplishing the task she was presenting me. I did not return to sessions and felt I had let her down.

But the third instance makes me laugh. I have a new supervisor. I took a long time to make my decision about who I wanted to work with. And in the first meeting we discussed our expectations for the sessions. I told him about the instances of self-disclosure which had upset and silenced me so much. I have now spoken to him for about three sessions and I feel so frustrated. I so want to hear what he has to say about my work and life and where I should go from here! I have come to respect him so much that I would love to hear some words of wisdom from him rather than my own opinions on my life. But true to form and true to my request – he is keeping my life well and truly in my hands.

A very funny dilemma for me to ponder and to perhaps share with him in the next session.

In truth, I am not a blank canvas and my attempts to be so often fall short. Denying my own humanity and my own presence in the counselling room are probably not conducive to true healing. I am beginning to learn this. I would love to hear any feedback or insights on this – so please feel free to comment…

Yours, from the other side of the couch,


The resistance: An interview with Sally


Upasana: Sally, I know you as a counsellor and community worker, but today you have offered to reflect on your experience as a client.

There’s a perception that counsellors make the most difficult clients. Do you think that that is true? Did you feel a resistance to the process for that reason?

Sally: No I don’t think its true, I think it’s the opposite. I think it helped me. Counselling was my career choice, so it is only natural that I also see its utility in my personal life.  I’m naturally  drawn to (a therapeutic) way of thinking about myself and my relationships. I had resistance to the process as just a normal part of the process and the work. The resistance was the work for me for a period of time, a rich part of the work.

Upasana: How did you make the decision about which counsellor to consult?

Sally: I wanted to see someone who had done their own psychotherapy as part of their training, for me this is non negotiable. I had known my therapist from my early 20’s and had such a positive experience with her that I returned in my 30’s to go deeper.

I was drawn to Jungian therapy and her relational style of working. I was confident of her integrity and her ability to be conscious and working with her own process and to work with the transference.

Upasana: What did you like most about how your counsellor worked with you?

Sally: The description that most powerfully sits with me is one of a baby bird and the mother. When the baby is young it needs the mother to eat the food and digest it, then the mother feeds the baby the digested food. I believe that this is what children need with their emotional experiences. I did not have this as a child, no one was there to help me digest my experiences. My therapist was able to take my undigested and raw emotions/feelings and to digest them for me and give them back to me in this digested form. I could then integrate these digested experiences into my life

Upasana: Can you describe her way of working with you?

Sally: We worked a lot with what was happening in the room between us, ie feelings that came up towards her, my reactions and responses to what she did and said. This was like a microcosm of my relationships in the outside world as well as a re enactment of what had happened in my primary relationships. Our relationship was the work and the canvas. She worked with the counter-transference and transference that came up in the room and would name what came up in a way that would make use of this raw material.

Upasana: What are the things you have learnt most from being in therapy?

Sally: I learnt to put words to my feelings and bodily experiences. I learnt a language in which to speak and relate to myself and another person.  I learnt to trust processes and to love them. I learnt to feel much more safe inside of me. I developed a compassionate observers position in my mind. I learnt how patterns of relating run through families. I learnt how these were set up in my family or origin. I learnt to trust myself and my feelings and intuitions much more. I learnt what it feels like to be held with love, respect and compassion. I learnt what it feels like to be heard deeply. I learnt that Im not bad. I learnt that things are personal and they are not personal. I could just go on and on.

Upasana: How would you describe your relationship with your counsellor?

Sally: I feel so much gratitude towards her. I’ve not seen her for many years, but we still have some contact via email. I am eternally grateful for all that she offered to me, the safe container.

Upasana: Do you think that therapy creates a dependency on therapy?

Sally: I think this is an interesting question. I think it is a fear that people have of their own vulnerability and shame of their child needs, including dependancy. When I hear people say this it feels like it is said in a way that dependancy is a bad thing, something you don’t want. Was I dependant on my therapist? I hope that I was for a time, yes I was, in the way that I could surrender to my own child needs of feeling vulnerable and being in contact with my feelings of dependancy. I was dependant on her to hold emotions that I was not able to hold for a period of time and then slowly I could take them and hold them myself. The period of dependancy was an important developmental task for me. I think the question to ask if one is looking for a therapist is whether the therapist is able to allow and tolerate that dependancy for the time it is needed and to see it as part of a process and that they have a healthy relationship with their own and their clients dependancy. I think what would scare me more is being with a therapist that doesn’t see that dependancy exists for a period of time in the relationship. To have wisdom and be process orientated and to work with client to not shame them around their needs and to allow the client to grow up and to let go of this dependancy period.

Upasana: What other sources of healing have you found in life? What has been or have been the things that have led you to feeling at peace, joyful or in less pain?

Sally: Meditation, singing, breathing, energy work, yoga, writing, talking, drawing, art therapy, working with alternative healers and plant medicines.


Upasana: Again, I can’t thank you enough for helping me with this project.

The Imposter Syndrome

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There is a syndrome called the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ or ‘Fraud Syndrome’ which is suffered by many a professional. It has been noted in the arts, in the legal profession, in the sciences, in the academic world, in the corporate environment and so on. First thought to be the domain of women or minority groups, there is now suggestion of the same phenomenon in the wider population.

It is characterised by the feeling that, although people appear to think you are doing well in your work and you may even be receiving rewards or recognition for what you are doing, deep down inside you “know” that you have no idea what you are doing, any success is a fluke and in any moment people will see you for what you really are and strip you of your professional registration, expose your ignorance and put you back in the employment you truly deserve (squeezing orange juice or something).

It is kind of a professional version of niggling low self esteem. It tends to come and go.

I have noticed it rearing its head on several occasions in my own work, and it is often a discourse I detect in my peers.

I remember my relief when I found a name for it somewhere. It helped me to identify my moments of vulnerability and to find my own way to deal with it.

Counselling, particularly in the humanistic traditions of therapy is a field which teaches therapists to encourage the self-determinism and the dignity of the clients we work with. Rather than presenting ourselves as the expert, we encourage and support clients to discover their own authority and to place credence on their own understanding of healing and engage their own natural manner of moving forward in their lives.

It has often been said that if we do our jobs right, any positive changes in the life of the client will be understood by them to be their own doing – not the counsellor’s.

I feel in synch with this understanding, but still every now and then I find myself raising the issue of validation in sessions with my supervisor. Where does the validation for my work best come from?

I work for an organisation, so often I will look to my work community for some kind of sign that I am doing well. Sometimes a client will express gratitude or even joy at having found a counsellor they feel compatible with. Sometimes I can kind of be gliding along, feeling balanced and in touch with what I am doing. At such times, the validation comes mostly from within myself. But on the days where the work is challenging for the client and therefore not inspiring any feedback; if the workplace does not value its counsellors; if just one more person says that “anyone could do that work”; if you are tired or stressed or not taking good care of yourself – then the feeling of being a fraud can sneak in again. Just to kick you when you’re down. I have noticed that when there are sudden changes in administrative requirements and I get knotted up in the confusion of keeping statistics in some new computer program, or meeting some health organisation requirements, feelings of incompetence sneak into other aspects of my work too.

There is always a way forward. In fact maybe this is just a negative spin on the more  positive zen buddhist notion of ‘beginners mind’. For me, if I find myself in the ‘fraudian’ state of mind, it is often nothing more than a sign that I am tired and in need of some good old fashioned self care. I have my ways to get back to the gliding feeling.

What is your way I wonder?