Psychotherapy and counselling in Hackney, East London and online
I am a psychotherapist working in Hackney, East London. I offer therapy sessions in person, and online or on the telephone when necessary.
If you are experiencing difficulties in your family, friendship or romantic relationships or at work, if you are suffering from anxiety or depression or feeling frustrated and stuck, friends and colleagues will often advise you to open up.
'Opening up' sounds like a good thing; it certainly slips easily off the tongue. But if we don’t know what to say, or to whom, if we worry that the very person we could speak to might misunderstand, if we fear that they could be hurt by our words or could hurt us, if we think we are not entitled to a fair hearing anyway, then it’s not so simple.
In fact, the feeling that we don't know quite what it is that's troubling us, or what it is that it is we need to say, is far more common than advice to relax and confide in friends suggests, because one of the things we learn very early in our lives is to forget and scramble things that unsettle us. This is necessary, in a way, because the world is a very confusing place for us all, especially when we are tiny children and very new to it, but we can overdo it, for all kinds of reasons, some to do with our environment at the time. What starts as helpful editing can become more problematic. You might call this an unconscious censorship, by analogy with the secret suppression by newspapers, websites or books. If we realise that what we read and hear is being censored then we can begin to do something about it, so the censor's first care will be to make sure that what you see on the surface looks and feels like the whole story. When we are confused by our feelings there can be something like this going on for and in us; we hide and disguise what it is that we find hard to look at face on, and this repression works best when we don't know we are doing it. Normative behaviour patterns and attitudes are very good disguises, whether they help or harm us, and they can be hard-wired into our emotions.
In psychotherapy we tackle this difficulty; the therapist listens and, over time, in the safety of the consulting room, the patient finds ways to speak about what is going on for them. The network of relationships we have with others and with ourselves is the most complex part of our lives, so in therapy we cooperate with each other to explore how it has led you to feel and behave as you do; the creative process of analysing it can allow both an appreciation of what is positive and enjoyable, and a change in what is unhelpful.
When people approach a therapist they are sometimes confused or even apologetic; why, they ask, do they feel so desperately unhappy, or anxious, or blank, when there seems to be nothing unusually wrong, or when they can identify a trauma in their past but feel that by now they should have moved on, got over it, forgiven and forgotten. Perhaps the trauma has happened to other members of a family who are - apparently - fine and getting on with life. Maybe an accident or attack continues to affect us, but we don't feel it should when we were not the person who was injured.
Sometimes people will come to therapy when they feel overwhelmed by circumstances that merit it; the climate emergency, for example. What are they to do with their feelings? Where can they put them, and how can they live with them?
What is more, there are many unrelated situations in life in which we appear to have been given a solution in the shape an issue-specific counsellor - in grief counselling, genetic counselling and so on that we can feel that we have been offered the opportunity to 'be fixed'. You may also have had CBT with a therapist or counsellor which 'worked' at first, but somehow now feels less relevant.
The truth is that there is no template for how to respond to events, and no scale for how long or intensely a person 'deserves' to feel about them. The reasons for how differently people react to the same experience comes from our particular histories. There could indeed have been remembered trauma including abuse, the prejudices of others, abandonment or bereavement, extreme stress, difficult early relationships or issues with sexuality. Sometimes what the child genuinely experienced as a serious trauma is something an adult may not take so seriously, but it has left a wound because of what was going on in or around the family. Often, the factors that contribute have been forgotten entirely, or leave only hazy traces in the memory. Some, such as the accumulation of intergenerational trauma of racism or sexual abuse, may never have been spoken aloud. And of course what causes no problem to one person can, entirely legitimately, distress another deeply, and vice versa.
As a lawyer I was often struck by how similar experiences - an industrial accident, domestic violence, a military firefight, dealing with the aftermath of an improvised explosive device - could land very differently with those involved, even those who had played more-or-less identical roles, at the same time, in the same event. The bare facts of what happened on the day are important, but so too is the person who is trying to make sense of them.
Take, for example, the enormous range of reactions people have had to the Covid19 pandemic and its consequences. Some of us might have been anxious, others angry, or disgusted, bored, lonely, even delighted to be spared social or family obligations, or all of those in succession or at once. It sometimes seemed that there was a 'correct' way to be and that others somehow knew what it was, but in reality no two people were having the same experience. Depending on our past, this disconnect is any apparently common event can give rise to a range of feelings such as depression, guilt, anger or anxiety that we sometimes don't even recognise for what they are, much less know how to deal with by ourselves. In fact, trying to think it out alone can deepen the mystery.
The climate emergency is another circumstance that can be unimaginable and paralysing to one person and a spur to optimistic action for the next. Which of those is the 'correct' way of dealing with the catastrophe has very little to do with what we each make of it, but it's important to take our distress seriously.
In psychoanalytic psychotherapy sessions we take the time to unravel what you are feeling and what you want to do with that knowledge. How circumstances affect us is not right or wrong, but painful or not, and always complex. It may be that the pain or confusion you are feeling turn out, when they are explored, to point to a hidden part of you that is rich if we only listen to it. I will work with you carefully, constructively, imaginatively and without judging to help you to find what is there; it's important for you to feel you can trust your psychotherapist.
One question I am often asked is what, actually, the 'psychoanalytic' part of my practice adds to the psychotherapy. There are many possible answers to that. One would be that I agree with a range of theorists, beginning - but not ending - with Sigmund Freud, who believed that how we deal with and feel in the world is influenced in essential ways not only by things we remember consciously, but also by what we may not remember, including the thoughts and experiences of people who have influenced us both directly and indirectly. It will come together in a way that is individual to each of us, probably - I'm afraid - not tidy. As Hilary Mantel writes in A Memoir of My Former Self; 'If I were to be granted a coat of arms my motto would be "It's not that simple"'.
You may well want to know what psychotherapy can give you. I cannot answer that precisely, because you yourself will find the answers in the work we will do together. What I can say is you are likely to find yourself exploring a new way of experiencing yourself in the world, and to be more aware of yourself doing that. Donalt Winnicott, a theorist of the 1960's and 70's, was clear that it was above all not about the therapist being 'clever'. A deliberately low-key quotation from Sandor Ferenczi, a perceptive and humane theorist, suggests that no analyst should ever promise more to a patient than that 'he will end by knowing more about himself, and that, if he persists to the end, he will be able to adapt himself to the inevitable difficulties of life more successfully'.
It's worth stressing that therapy is about you and what you make of yourself, not what any psychoanalytic theory, however much it might make sense to the therapist, might make of you. As Donald Winnicott said, 'What patient wants to be someone else's poem or picture?' . You might say that psychoanalytic therapy helps you to write, or even read, your own poem.
Language often can feel, when we use it alone, that it isn't helping. We can try to work out what we are feeling, but words like 'sad', or 'frustrated', or 'angry', 'cross' or 'happy' often seem to be missing something, and it's exactly those undefined areas that we work with in psychoanalytic psychotherapy. For me as a therapist it's actually a good thing that we don't all mean exactlythe same thinkg by the word 'sad', for example; it's in the spaces around the words that we can find the possibility for movement out of the stuck places; but because we are social beings we can only do it by speaking, in a particular way, with another person.
If you are wondering about psychotherapy and counselling in Hackney, East London contact me using the link opposite to discuss an exploratory session. I will be happy to talk to you about your hopes - and hesitations - about psychotherapy and what it might be like to work with a psychotherapist.
We can work on our therapy in Clapton, and also online. What form the therapy or counselling takes, and whether we decide to work exclusively in person, online or with a variety of media will depend on your circumstances, including what makes most practical sense.
My consulting room is in Clapton, within easy reach of Homerton, Hackney Central and Hackney Downs stations and walkable from Dalston Kingsland, Hackney Wick and Stoke Newington. There are also many bus connections nearby.