What I have learnt about being sad

watercolour byAbhilasha Singh

watercolour by
Abhilasha Singh

I was speaking to myself in my car today.

I usually process in written form, but I was driving and didn’t have my journal handy.

I was thinking about what I have learnt about being sad.

Now that I am 47, I have been reflecting quite a bit on what I have learnt in the journey so far and this question of what I have found about being sad feels important to me. I spent way too long as a girl being sad. I consider it one of my greatest achievements that I am not any where near as sad any more.

Here are the five things about being sad, or more specifically, what helps me not to be.

1. That the things I think I know about other people are so very often not true at all.

The brush off; the short reply; the lack of eye contact; the unanswered text; the forgetting of dates that matter to me; the far too hasty interaction in the street; the tone of a facebook comment; the strained trace of a smile when I try to be witty and light hearted in my repartee…

I used to think I was good at reading people and reading their intent. But I’m not. I’m sometimes emotionally illiterate in the non verbal language of others.

I get it wrong. Getting it wrong has made me sad many times in my life. Now that I have finally- FINALLY understood that my guesses are often the most pessimistic interpretations, I guess less often. I let myself expect the best rather than the worst when I try to imagine how others see or judge me.

It has been a daring step but it has made me happier.

2. Sadness is a feeling that I experience in my body and if I let myself feel it as a physical sensation, I can then watch it pass through and away.

I can wait for the peak of the pain and then I can watch the pain ebb away. Then I can experience the return of the lightness. Just like hitting my thumb with a hammer, or hitting my funny bone, or having one of those calf muscle cramps. It passes and there is very little that I have to do but let it.

If I don’t let myself experience sadness in my body, then I tend to look for it in my mind. Then I create stories and interpretations; conversations and replies. I begin fighting the other person and looking for allies and enemies.

I like to leave it to my body to process as much as I am able to. My body seems to process things more efficiently, without taking hostages.

I tend not to get so scared of emotional pain any more. I don’t fall for the fear in me that says that it will never pass. I tend to look for ways to open up the channels and let it go.

Image frompinestreetartworks.com

Image from

3. My beautiful blue bowl.

I have a lovely blue bowl that my friend Forbes made for me and I decided to turn it into a worry bowl. So I have little cut up bits of paper at the ready and if I have a worry, I write it down and ask the bowl to hold the worry for me. That way, I can forget about the worry and let some other vessel carry it. I have often had a falling out with someone and written down the wish that one day the trouble between us would be resolved. Or I feel remorse for something and wish that one day I will feel forgiven.

All of the wishes I have put in that bowl have come true. Some sooner than others.

And when they have, I have simply taken that wish out of the bowl and made the bowl a little lighter.

Most of my problems get resolved sooner or later –  and that never ceases to amaze me. It is often really just a matter of time.

4. Asking for help can be a challenge.

I do feel the need to talk things over when my mind is overloaded with feelings and thoughts. I hate the idea of being alone in it sometimes.

However, I also know that when I am overwrought, I am impossible to deal with and usually inconsolable.

How often have I called someone to arrange to speak things through, only to feel frustrated that they could not possibly understand the intricacies of what I am feeling.

Or else, I will feel them pull away or try to change the subject or obviously feel burdened by what they see as negativity.

Nothing anyone ever says when I’m in that state seems to really hit the spot for me. I always wish I could just morph into two people and counsel myself.

This need to be comforted by others, coupled with a tendency to push the others away is the paradox of sadness for me.

I think the one who addresses this paradox better than any other therapist I have encountered so far is David Schnarch. You may have read his book ‘Passionate Marriage’, or if not, you may like to. It really is a wonderful book. What I love most about it is what Schnarch writes about leaning on other people. He says that in life, we tend to all lean on one another so much that the responsibility for holding ourselves up is almost always given to someone else. The someone else we entrust our care to also looks elsewhere to be held. He writes:

“The ability to self-soothe and to hold onto yourself, and the willingness to self-confront, are important to increasing your differentiation. These involve calming yourself down, not taking your partner’s behavior personally, maintaining a clear sense of yourself, and facing your own unresolved personal issues.” (Schnarch, 1998)

He teaches that if we could learn to hold ourselves emotionally first and then ask for help, then we have some chance of getting what we really need. We steady and ready ourselves to be able to receive the answers and inspiration we most need.

Learning to ‘hold myself’ is no longer something I do in loneliness or in a spirit of resignation, it has actually become a joy and an honour.

5. The inner child.

The inner child model of therapy is the one I keep looking back to. It’s the one that makes sense to me in my own life and experience.

So many therapists have used and developed this model of understanding: Jung; Berne; Bradshaw…

To explain this in my own words I would say that the child that we once were does not disappear. The girl that I was still exists in me in the form of what I would call ‘my heart’.

When I am sad, it is usually she who is feeling it and trying to communicate it to me. The adult part of me wants to soldier on and look brave, clever and sophisticated. She, like any child in the world is not good at faking things. She is too true for that.

All of the things that used to hurt me as a little 7 year old girl are still the same things that hurt me now: rejection, abandonment, insensitivity, confusion, change, loss, fear.

I can not travel back to the 1970s to protect the little one I was then, but I can care for my heart now. I can love myself, listen to myself, trust the things she is trying to communicate to me. I can be parent to her. I can say all the things to myself that I would want to say to my own daughter. Or that I wish had been said to me. I can stop calling myself a liar; I can stop taking the side of the other. I can tell her that all will be ok. I can even rock her to sleep if I want to.

That for me is my lesson in self love. The promise that I will never abandon her again. Never abandon myself again to fit in, to seem cool, to be tough, for whatever reason.

It’s not an end to sadness, but it is a taste of the kind of love that is its salve.

It may not be true in a scientific sense, but by taking the time to hold myself as I would a treasured little daughter, I have learned something about how to be kind to myself.

Image from: life.paperblog.com

Image from: life.paperblog.com

These are some of the things I have learnt. There are actually many more. Many of these tricks and understandings and sleights of hand I have learnt from others – including my clients.

I would love to hear what you have learnt.


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 www.michaelmuir.com.au 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: www.michaelmuir.com.au

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

Image: spookyisles.com

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

Image: news.softpedia.com

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.

Image: blog.nwf.org

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?

Stepping out of autopilot. An interview with Tim.

Image chosen by Tim.

Upasana:  You have been participating in tantra group work for the past year in both sydney and brisbane. What is it that drew you to working with Martina Hughes and her ‘Tantric Blossoming’ workshops?

Tim: I had heard about Martina’s work through friends and was intrigued, I had been interested in tantra for a while.  I attended a mens retreat in March this year held in Sydney, that was co-facilitated by Martina and David Anderson. It was such a great weekend and opened my eyes to a different way of being & living, a much more beautiful way of relating to people, and a way of generating more energy & vitality, this experience touched me deeply and ignited a spark inside that has been smouldering ever since.

Upasana: As you have attended more groups, has your understanding of what motivates you changed?

Tim: Yes,  have much more understanding about my patterns of behaviour, and what triggers them, just becoming more conscious of this instead of just running on autopilot allows me to make more sense of things and take some action around making some changes.

Upasana:  What misconceptions did you walk into tantra with? and in what ways has your understanding deepened?

Tim: I guess I was a little nervous about attending a retreat or group as I wasn’t sure what was involved, whether or not I would fit in, and what sort of people would be involved, how sexual it would be, in all I found it a very heart opening experience, a little confronting at times but I guess from my past beliefs had limited views about expressing my sexuality or feeling comfortable with that, to be around open, heart centred people in a safe nurturing environment is extremely liberating to the soul, the deeper I go into tantra the more I get an  understanding of how beneficial it is to all areas of my life.

Upasana:  Is tantra just about sex, or does it extend to other parts of human experience?

Tim: Tantra is not just about sex, or sexuality, it’s a way of living, a different way of relating to this world of ours, an exploration of getting to know your body from the inside, feeling into yourself and becoming more conscious around your body and pleasure, exploring masculine & feminine dynamics, and importantly for me about our relationship with ourselves.

Upasana: Is sex ‘just sex’? or is it something more?

Tim: For me sex was  never just sex, there were so many different dynamics involved , depending on my partner, mood at the time, how I was feeling about myself, I was always so in my head, through tantra I’ve learned to relax into my body more, to go with the flow, to be more present, to breathe into the moment and connect more with my partner, and I believe sex can become so much more, a melting into each other, a timeless experience, not so much doing sex or having sex, but being sex, if that makes any sense.

Upasana: Why is this work so important to you? You have shown such commitment…

Tim: I feel so drawn to it now I understand more about Tantra, it is helping me in so many areas of my life.

Upasana: How do you feel you have you grown through this process?

Tim: One area of my life I struggled with was relating to other people, I have been a shy person for most of my life, I have gained an understanding of how my relationship with myself has  been affecting this, for if we do not love ourselves fully and be comfortable with who we are it affects all areas of our life, through this work I am learning to show more vulnerability, to take off my mask and let people see who I really am, stop trying to be how I perceive other people want me to be. The breath work practice has been a real eye opener, I’m constantly amazed at how correct breathing and feeling into my body can free up so much energy and help to relax more and free up emotions to come into consciousness.

Upasana:  Have you attended other groups or trainings of other kinds in the past?

Tim: I have attended meditation groups.

Upasana: What does working in a group context do that can’t occur elsewhere?

Tim: I think working in a group has many benefits, you get to know that other people have the same concerns and worries about life that you do, and helps you to feel more involved and less isolated, to be in a group environment where there is a high level of trust, intimacy, love and acceptance is a very opening experience, why I have been drawn to Martina’s groups in particular is I feel she has a unique skill in creating this environment or group space, it is so much easier to open up, to show people more of yourself, to release past conditionings and unhelpful beliefs, a very life expanding, cathartic  & beautiful experience.