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I hope you find some of my posts interesting, please feel free to leave any comments.

By Teri Watkin, Aug 25 2016 12:25PM

This may seem like a strange question – of course we expect our therapist to be an expert – why else would we pay to meet up with them? However, it’s not as daft a question as it may seem.

All therapists learn about theory – they learn about child development; they learn about what motivates us as human beings to do the things that we do and make the choices that we make; they learn about how to engage with a client in a therapeutic way; they learn about how the systems we all belong to (family, culture, work, religion, ethnicity etc) shape us, and many other things. These theories provide a framework within which to work – a structure which helps us to understand the client, and without that framework we’d just be hazarding a guess as to what is going on with the client. So of course we expect the therapist to have a level of expertise in the theories that inform psychotherapy practice.

However, it’s possible for a framework to become a cage. If we slot all of our clients into a nice neat ‘theory box’ we are unlikely to be doing our best for the client.

Every human being is different and whilst we might use our understanding of theory to gain a ‘broad brush picture’ of the client, the only way we can put detail into this picture is to acknowledge that there is much that we don’t know and to open ourselves up to learning about this particular client at this particular moment in their life. For me, that’s the joy of this job – I’m always adding to my understanding of what it means to be human and to struggle with the problems of living.

In March 2015 I submitted a 3,500 word document to BACP for assessment for senior accreditation. To become senior accredited I had to show how I had developed as a therapist from the time when I was first accredited. In other words, I had to demonstrate what have I learned in that time and how this learning has that influenced the way that I practice. I was delighted to be awarded senior accreditation – but that doesn’t mean that I can now stop learning. Fortunately, I love learning and know that I will continue to develop my skills for as long as I practice as a therapist.

So to answer the question that I posed at the beginning – a therapist should be both an expert and a learner. We can expect that a therapist will have a sound framework within which to work safely, but we should also expect that the therapist will be comfortable with ‘not knowing’ and be willing to learn.

By Teri Watkin, Aug 25 2016 12:24PM

I talked a bit about beliefs in my last blog and you might have concluded from the examples given that beliefs and behaviour are strongly linked. Beliefs and behaviour together with feelings all interact together so that what we believe will not only affect the way we behave but will also affect the way we feel.

The trouble is that our behaviour and our feelings may be influenced by a belief that is either irrational or is no longer needed. Let’s take the example I used in the last posting ‘eat up all the food on your plate, think of all the starving children’ – we’ve probably all heard that said to someone, if not ourselves and of course, whether or not we leave something on our plate will make no difference to starving children. However, to a person who has heard that as a child it may seem perfectly rational to believe that it’s wrong to leave any food on the plate and they may well be unable to consider a different belief such as ‘I’m full now and finishing what’s on my plate will make me feel unwell’.

We don’t really know whether our beliefs are irrational or not until we begin to think about them and even then, they may be so much part of our sense of the ‘all being right with the world’ that it may be very hard to let go of them. Here are some irrational beliefs that may be held by someone with an eating disorder: food is the enemy; food takes care of me; food should never, ever be wasted; eating will make me fat; eating is a painful process I wish I didn’t have to eat; hunger is scary; denying myself food means I’m in control and that equals emotional strength; thin equals a perfect life; eating fills the emptiness inside of me; it’s too scary to gain weight; thin is more lovable than fat etc etc. It’s important to note that if you hold some of those beliefs, it doesn’t automatically mean that you have an eating disorder. For example, I hate to waste food but I don’t have an eating disorder.

So in order to either lose weight (in the case of someone who is a compulsive eater), or to start eating normally (in the case of someone with anorexia) it’s important to look at the irrational beliefs that are held and to begin to change them for more rational beliefs. However, that sounds really simple and it isn’t at all simple because our beliefs are so much part of who we are. If we are going to change our beliefs then we have to be prepared to go on a journey of changing who we are and that’s a very delicate process – and a process that requires a lot of courage on the part of the person who is changing.

By Teri Watkin, Aug 25 2016 12:24PM

Well, so much for blogging more often once the studio/therapy room was finished – the sun came out and the garden started to grow and demand attention – and anyway, who wants to sit in front of a computer when you can be out in the garden. But over the last couple of months whilst the garden has been claiming my attention I’ve been thinking about writing about eating disorders.

Eating disorders are a mystery to people who don’t have any problem with eating but our relationship with food is more complex than we imagine, so before we look at the issue of food, let’s look at belief systems.

We all have belief systems even if we don’t realise it, and these belief systems provide a framework for our lives – they help us to predict what will happen and adjust our behaviour accordingly. Examples of beliefs about life might be; show respect for others, don’t walk down dark alleys at night, don’t tell lies, live with integrity, don’t rely on anyone else, don’t expect too much then you won’t be disappointed etc. The particular set of beliefs that we hold about life are our belief system. Even those who go against the social norms have a belief system – theirs might be something like – be unconventional, kick over the traces, don’t obey rules etc.

We might not realise it but we all have beliefs about food too. Some of the more common beliefs are: don’t talk with your mouth full, use your knife and fork in this way, always have a milky drink before going to bed, never eat cheese last thing at night. Now imagine what your beliefs might be if you had been told as a child “finish everything on your plate – think of all the starving children in Africa” (you may have a belief that it’s wrong to waste food and find that you eat more than you need in order not to waste it), or if you’ve always been given a chocolate bar when you hurt yourself (you’re likely to comfort eat), or supposing when you said you were hungry you were told you couldn’t possibly be hungry (you may find that you don’t trust the feeling of hunger and so can’t respond to it), or supposing you’re a stunning looking girl and your peers are jealous so they tell you that you look fat (you’re likely not to trust your own judgement about how you look).

Of course, that’s a very simplistic way of looking at things and many people have experienced some of the examples above and not ended up with an eating disorder. However, I’m sure that you can relate to one or two of the examples of belief systems that I’ve given and wonder if you can imagine thinking the opposite way? Our belief systems are very powerful and are deeply ingrained in the ways that we interact in the world. I’ll talk a bit more about the belief systems that someone with an eating disorder has in the next blog.

By Teri Watkin, Aug 25 2016 12:23PM

At last I have moved into the new therapy room and it’s more than lived up to my hopes and expectations. It’s so light and airy as it has windows on three sides but at the same time it is private and not overlooked. There is a comfortable sitting area and an art-making area with lots of art materials as well as a sink for water and cleaning up needs and of course, lots of books. I love to have interesting things around, so as well as accessible shelves for art materials, there are high up shelves on which are displayed some of the things that I’ve gathered on my travels – shells, pine cones, interesting pieces of wood, seeds, bits of rock, fossils etc., as well as particularly favourite pieces of three-dimensional art made from some of the materials that are available for clients to use, and occasional client-made pieces that they have wanted me to keep.

The under floor heating is fab. It takes a while to heat the room up but once it is warm it keeps it’s heat for hours as it’s so well insulated. So I just have to make sure that I put the heating on as soon as I get up so that it’s snug and warm once I start working.

Now that I’ve finished the room (apart from a few finishing touches) I’ll at last have time to post on this blog more regularly.

By Teri Watkin, Aug 25 2016 12:23PM

Many years ago I started seeing a counsellor – I didn’t stay for long because I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t know anything about therapeutic boundaries at the time but my instinct told me that something wasn’t right. I later saw a therapist who kept secure but not rigid boundaries and there I was able to feel safe enough to engage with the issues that I needed to deal with. These two experiences taught me a lot and I came to believe that a counsellor who doesn’t keep careful boundaries is being abusive to the client.

When I worked in the NHS it was easy to provide secure boundaries as the setting of the GP surgery was well boundaried in itself. In private practice there are no inbuilt boundaries and I found myself becoming aware of how much closer I had to attend to them. When you invite someone into your home you act in a certain way which isn’t appropriate when meeting a client and I had to think carefully about the difference and how I needed to welcome them in a different way.

The feeling that the room provides has always been very important to me. I want it to be both calm (to give a sense of stepping out of normal life and into a special space) and interesting (so that it isn’t too intimidating). For me, calm is provided by a peaceful colour scheme, comfortable chairs with colourful cushions and warmth. Interest can be a bit difficult as it could easily detract from the calm but as an art therapist this is a bit easier as there are lots of art materials around which provide the interest. A good view out of the window is also an asset, but not so easily changed as the inside of a room.

Up until now I have had to adapt a space in my home but since moving to Norfolk I have been fortunate enough to be able to design a specific therapy space. I have a brick build Victorian wash house (it used to be part of the Rectory at a time when Rectors were rich enough to have servants) in the garden which was in dire need of repair. I felt that it would be a great shame to let it fall down and thought it would make a lovely therapy space. It has now been re-roofed and insulated, has new doors and windows and underfloor heating and is now almost finished.

I’ve painted the walls in a soft white and the window boards and skirting boards are about to receive a coat of paint in a muted blue colour. There are beams in the roof space and a low mezzanine area under the eaves which will make useful storage. I’m just waiting for the plumber to come and install the loo and some shelves to be put up and I’ll be ready to move in. Even though it isn’t quite finished yet I am excited that it’s going to be a really lovely space in which to work.

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