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Joanne Gilhooly - Psychotherapist & Counsellor - Dublin City

B.A. (Hons) Counselling & Psychotherapy, Dip. Gestalt, MIACP

Dublin Counselling and Psychotherapy Blog


What Does it Mean to be a Humanistic Counsellor?

Posted on October 2, 2013 at 11:29 AM Comments comments (935)
Humanistic Integrative Counselling in Dublin
There are two main types of humanistic psychotherapies that I draw on and they are Gestalt therapy and Person-centred psychotherapy. The main tenet of these therapies is that the counselling or psychotherapy client knows best what is right for them. My job is help you get in touch with your ‘inner expert’.
They are respectful therapies in that they take quite an egalitarian approach, believing that the best way to support the client is to be a fellow traveller, a fellow human being (as though that can be avoided!),and they are less about wearing the ‘professional hat’ than they are about‘being there’, and accompanying another person while they navigate their way through their personal journey.
It might sound a bit like something you could get from a good friend (and you may well get solid support from a friend), but there are differences. The main one that comes to mind is that the psychotherapist who is trained in a humanistic way is skilled in listening at a deep level. In practice that means that I am aware of communication on different levels in the counselling room. While I am listening to the content of what you are saying, I am also listening for patterns, for what is not said, and for any shifts or changes that seem to occur in you as you tell me about what is going on for you.
These patterns and shifts can help me to help you get in touch with what may be happening for you at a deeper level. Very often when people come for counselling or psychotherapy they are very much in contact with what is happening in the ‘head’ (their thinking) but less in contact with what is happening at a deeper ‘feeling’ level. This is so common, and is very similar to my own experience when I started psychotherapy during my training. It took quite a while for me to get the hang of listening to my body and to my feelings and it is still a work in progress, as I suspect it will remain.
Feelings can be scary to get in touch with mainly because they are unknown territory, and we may not yet know how to regulate them. That is, we have not yet had enough experience with feelings to know that they cannot harm us – quite the opposite, they can take us on a journey into ourselves and can be very instrumental in helping us to find our voice and put words on our unique experience. Just like getting to know anything new, it takes time to become accustomed to our feelings as they arise, for them to become less the scary monster and more a great source of information about ourselves. This is a natural process that occurs over time with support from an experienced listener.
Why we didn’t get this experience with our feelings may or may not become apparent, but either way, we can do the work of getting to know  our feelings and learning to voice them in a way that feels ok to us.  That can help us to communicate with others more clearly and more authentically about what we feel and what we want. The effect of this is that we may feel more satisfied and engaged in life as we speak out, get involved, and more confidently take our place in our lives and our relationships.

Beginner's Mind...

Posted on June 19, 2013 at 9:13 AM Comments comments (1959)
Buttercup on a Bray walk
Many mindfulness practitioners talk about a concept called 'beginner's mind', but what is it?
Beginner's mind is all about looking at or experiencing something, anything, as though we have never seen it before.
Whether it is this buttercup, your morning coffee, the street you live on, your work environment, or your partner, it is all about paying attention anew.
I took this picture of the buttercup while on a walk recently. Many of us will remember holding buttercups under our chins as kids. Our fascination with nature was almost brand new then, but I realised when I looked at this flower, that somewhere along the way I stopped looking at this simple thing, had stopped feeling fascinated, and thought I knew enough about them already. Looking at this picture I realised how much I had never noticed before.
Beginners mind asks us to challenge this resignation in ourselves. It asks us to look again, to challenge our assumptions, to keep looking afresh. It is about wondering, questioning, and staying curious.
Even about the people, places, and things, we have known our whole lives...even about ourselves.

Attachment in Counselling Part 1 - Secure Attachment...

Posted on February 7, 2013 at 2:22 PM Comments comments (3192)
Attachment, relationships and counsellingWhen counsellors talk about ‘attachment’, we are talking about the bond a baby forms with their first caregiver early in life. You may be quite familiar with the term, as it is one of the wider known psychological theories, and its importance is often spoken about. The attachment phase, the period during which the relationship between baby and caregiver is particularly important, begins at birth and continues until a child is about three years of age. During this time, the child is dependent on a ‘good enough’ environment to ensure that they develop what is known as a secure attachment to their caregiver. This means beginning their growth as a baby with enough care, warmth, affection, food, sleep etc. that they need to thrive.
The securely attached child learns, through the care, comfort and attention provided by their caregivers, to pay attention to themselves, to self-soothe, and to begin to regulate their own emotions. As their sense of security in their (then very small) world starts to grow, they begin to feel a bit more confident in their abilities to explore, to cope with new experiences, and they gradually start to move away from the caregiver,using them as a secure base that they can return to when needed. In short, they are ready to begin exploring a bit more of their world, safe in the knowledge that if it all gets a bit too much theirparent figure will be there to mind them again. As these children explore, they continue to grow in confidence, and provided they can continue on this course fairly unimpeded, they will become securely attached adults.
The securely attached adult might be said to have a good enough template for relationships. They have experienced, and therefore may expect, that relationships will be mutually respectful, emotionally regulating,and empathically attuned experiences. They tend to have realistic expectations of relationships, to expect difficulty and disagreement, but also to be able to navigate these differences in ways that helps them to grow. While affection and intimacy come quite naturally to them, at the same time they will experience inevitable anxiety and uncertainty at times in their relationships. However, the securely attached adult seems able to sit with and process these natural reactions without major difficulty. They know that these obstacles are par for the course.
It is easy of course, to fall under the impression that the securely attached person has it ‘all sorted’, that ‘negative’ emotions are short-lived for them or that they do not experience these much at all. It would be very easy to imagine that emotional health means feeling content or happy all the time, to imagine that the securely attached person does not suffer. The reality, though, is really quite different. The nature of attachment is such that the securely attached person certainly does feel negative emotion, but as they are aware and connected to this feeling they are able to process and move through it, integrating their painful experiences to create a fuller, more robust, sense of self. The securely attached person, by definition, suffers in the loss of relationship – because they are attached to the person they have lost. The key though, is that this suffering may not prevent them from grieving, adjusting to, and integrating the loss, so that they may move on to experience new relationships in the future. Avoidance of intimacy in relationship is not necessary because the threat of loss is not experienced as a threat to one’s being or sense of self. There is a (maybe unconscious) ‘knowing’ that loss can be experienced, can be felt, that it is painful but survivable.
It is because of this relationship between attachment and emotional health that psychotherapists and counsellors pay so much attention to attachment. I have often been asked, as a therapist who puts great emphasis on the importance of the therapeutic relationship, what talking about this relationship in counselling and psychotherapy has to do with people’s problems. The answer to this is simpler that it may seem at first glance – our ability to sort our own problems, to trust in and challenge ourselves, to regulate our emotions so that we can relate healthily (and establish relationships that help to get us our needs met outside the therapy), is so intertwined with attachment that to not pay attention to the relationship would be to ignore the client’s most potent potential source of self-agency - their ability to relate.
In part 2 on Attachment I will be looking more at insecure styles, their impact on relationship, and how therapy aims to work with these difficulties.

The Whole Person in Counselling

Posted on October 15, 2012 at 1:46 PM Comments comments (1233)
Counselling the Whole Person
What does it mean for a humanistic or existential therapist to ‘see the whole person’? When we are in the midst of our suffering, it can be difficult to see beyond the symptom, or the wish for a ‘prescription’ that will heal it. We may want to be rid of it, see it as alien to us, or outside of us. Many therapies work solely with the symptom and work to reduce its impact, which is an important part of the work, but the humanistic therapies also recognise that the meaning of the symptom differs from one person to the next.  To the humanistic therapist, the symptom (e.g. depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties) is a part of the whole, and it exists within a specific and unique context, your life context. And because everyone is different, everyone will have a different process.
To give you an idea of what this view of therapy is like,you might think about a chess game. There is a story about a chess champion being asked “what is the best chess move?”. Of course, this makes no sense, because there is only the best move in a given situation. What other pieces are on the board? Where is each one situated? What is the objective in this move? How does the position of one effect another? We need to consider all of these things before we know what the best move is.  Likewise, with the therapeutic process, we need to understand the various ‘pieces’ of our lives, and how we postion ourselves in relation to them right now, before we can understand what changes need to be made so that we might feel better. That is why the therapeutic process focuses so much on you being the expert on yourself. Humanistic therapy holds that developing self-awareness (‘self expert-ness’) is essential to knowing what is right for us, it empowers us to make the best decisions for ourselves, to determine our own path, equipped with the self-knowledge required to make the ‘best move’.
This can be a difficult idea sometimes. When our suffering is all consuming, the idea of exploring our self can seem too lengthy, not enough, and dealing with the symptom can feel all important, which of course is understandable. Therapy can work with you to manage the difficulties and also, in time, to deepen your understanding of yourself with the intention of empowering you to make the best moves for you in the future. While we work, we might keep in mind that the better we know ourselves, the stronger we can become, and the better equipped we can become, to steer our lives in the direction of a personal, unique, and individual fulfilment.