Meet the Therapist: Alan Archibald
What attracted you to become a therapist?
The journey for me to become a psychotherapist wasn’t a straightforward one. I was originally a mental health nurse working in the NHS. I started my training as a nurse in 1996 qualifying in 2000 and worked in inpatient, community, secure, A&E, crisis services and was a Matron in Hammersmith and Fulham over the course of the next 24 years.
While working in the NHS I found myself thinking that patients with mental health problems and challenges needed more than just medication or quick fix treatments. I began to feel frustrated that I could not help the patient really get to the core of what was going on and how they felt about it. I felt that I could sit with my patients and try to help them get some understanding of what might be going on for them. I always felt that the connection between two people and the importance of being able to really listen and understand while being with that person in their toughest time was where I wanted to expand my training and provide treatment.
Where did you train?
In 2012 I decided to pay privately for a foundation in psychodynamic psychotherapy post grad diploma and trained in my own time. I trained at the Tavistock and Portman Foundation NHS Trust in London. This was a challenging and difficult journey but did allow me to develop an ability to hold in mind various aspects of mental health approaches to better serve the patients I saw.
After two years and qualifying from the course I decided to continue as I felt that my future lay in a deeper understanding of people’s mental health and wellbeing. I felt determined to continue and worked extra hours to be able to pay for and attend a two year qualifying course intercultural psychodynamic psychotherapy. This would allow me to practice as a psychodynamic psychotherapist which is where I felt I wanted to be. I completed this course, again at the Tavistock, while working as a Matron in a busy mental health unit in London. This then became a turning point for me. I had the choice of three different jobs with two taking me more into management and one more into psychotherapy. I decided that my heart was quite firmly placed in helping people to achieve some peace in their lives and freedom from mental distress and so chose to work for the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust as a Nurse Specialist in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. This was an immense challenge working in a busy adult psychotherapy unit in such an institution. It did allow me to gain a vast sway of knowledge and experience in psychotherapy from trauma cases, group psychotherapy work, longer term once weekly, short term treatments, risk management, and expanded my knowledge of psychotherapeutic technique and theory immensely.
I completed my four year contract there in July this year and decided to make the move into private work. I felt that I wanted to be able to provide the care I thought important, at the time I felt it was needed to the population that needed it most.
Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?
I chose psychodynamic psychotherapy because of the potential for a depth of understanding for people of their problems and what might be going on. It allows also for creativity and a sense of a journey travelled with the individual in a safe and secure environment that allows them to truly reach into themselves knowing there is someone with them and that they will be kept safe.
Psychodynamic psychotherapy also looks into people’s past in an often dynamic way that allows for real time history to play out in the room with the therapist and I found this way of working provided a more meaningful understanding for the patient. I have always felt that human connection is important but not always available for everyone for a lot of complicated reasons whereas this therapy provides that opportunity for it to develop and to bear fruit.
How does psychodynamic therapy help?
I always felt that a quick fix wasn’t the answer. I would question myself and colleagues around the depth of experience that a patient had and that what was expected was a short intervention that just got rid of symptoms for a while and not looked at what the actual problem was. Like a car with an engine that knocks, adding oil will only resolve the problem for so long before it shakes itself apart. Psychodynamic psychotherapy allows the unhurried space to really see the issues and to work through them together.
The type of therapy I provide can produce life-changing experiences for people and allow them to really start living their lives again. It can help them to have the ability to move on to a more healthy relationship with themselves and others. It allows you to find peace.
What sort of people do you usually see?
I usually see people aged 18 and upwards. I enjoy working with any age in this range but don’t see children or teenagers as my training doesn’t stretch to this or my experience. I work with all sorts of mental health issues or concerns from anxiety, depression, childhood trauma, trauma, relational issues, confusion, low self-esteem, anger, to more abstract issues of just finding life joyless or feeling that something just isn’t right but not knowing what that might be. I enjoy the variety of the issues that come up and my main aim being able to think with the person about what all these things mean for them and where the problems might have originated so we can work through them.
What do you like about being a therapist?
I really enjoy working with people and feeling that they have got something out of the work we have done. I enjoy the sense that the person has came to me with a problem that is often not clear cut and we have worked together to find some understanding of what is going on.
What is less pleasant?
I don’t enjoy the fact that people have limited access to this type of therapy. That the NHS unfortunately does not have the resources to provide this treatment as often as needed or as long as needed.
How long have you been with welldoing.org and what do you think of us?
I have only recently joined welldoing.org but find there platform clear, straight forward and thoughtful. One of the important factors in therapy is keeping the patient in mind and this is what they do. The fact that they have an online community helps and makes me feel less isolated as a private practitioner.
Do you ever suggest books or apps?
I don’t normally make suggestions of books or apps specifically because I believe in the uniqueness of individuals and in turn their needs are unique. I would help patients to be able to reach out and find something that connects with them.
What do you do for your own mental health?
I normally have regular walks and read for my mental health. I find that it clears my mind and allows for space for things that truly matter to me.
You are a therapist in London and online. What can you tell us about clients in your area?
I work in London although online at the moment due to the pandemic. I find that the intercultural elements of my training and interest help with this. There is such a wide variety of culture and experience in London, and in the rest of the country, that I do have to keep on top of my knowledge and experience and constantly develop. I find people from all walks of life who need something to change in their life.
What's your consultation room like?
I have a consultation room in central London which is convenient for travel and not too far from Cavendish Gardens. Due to the pandemic this may change but I will always have a room in central London, one in north London and my online work.
I try to keep a pretty sparse but warm environment. It is somewhere that I can provide a safe and secure space for my patients. I try to make it warm and inviting but also a place that can provide a sense of security and containment. In my online work I try to not distract to much from what the patient may need and be thinking so provide a space that is consistent and the same each time.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
I wish that people knew how valuable therapy was. I wish that they were able to look past the quick fix fashion of our time and focus instead on what really matters to them. To invest in them and get the nourishment their mental health needs.
What have you learnt about yourself in therapy?
As a psychotherapist I have been in therapy as part of my continued development and practice. I have continued this for the past eight years. I find that it helps me understand myself better and therefore it helps me not confuse my thoughts and feelings with the patients. It helps me understand more my reactions and feelings so I can better serve the person Im there to treat. I also find that therapy has given me strength in my decisions and the ability to find more peace in this often hectic and difficult world.