Meet the Therapist: Alex Brown
What attracted you to become a therapist?
I’m motivated by a desire to help others first and foremost. I think my desire to help others was born very early in life as a response to my environment – I wonder if this is true of a lot of therapists?
Life is challenging and people need safe spaces to talk and to be heard – this seemed clear to me throughout my early adulthood. I often considered training as a therapist. I eventually found myself on a therapy training course at the age of 27.
I’m also fascinated by ideas of the ‘psyche’, of who we are at our depths. The idea of helping people to explore this in a safe, therapeutic environment made a lot of sense to me.
Where did you train?
After completing an Mmus in Creative Practice at Goldsmiths (University of London), I decided my vocation was to work therapeutically with people. I went on to study an MA in Music Therapy at the University of Roehampton, and have since gone on to qualify in the Supportive Music & Imagery technique through the Integrative GIM Training Programme.
Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?
Supportive Music & Imagery is a very interesting technique. I think it’s true to say that most psychotherapeutic models have their origins in Freud and other early pioneers of psychoanalysis, refined and developed over time. However, Supportive Music & Imagery (SMI) owes a particular debt to the LSD psychotherapy of the 70’s.
When LSD became prohibited, therapists were looking for a way to continue allowing clients to connect imaginatively with deep, important and healing parts of themselves without the use of drugs. They found that if they were able to help people to relax and feel safe, they could use pre-recorded music and image-making with profound effects.
In SMI sessions, clients are helped to identify supportive moments – ideally from recent memory. These can be as commonplace as the sigh of relief after a cup of tea! The important thing is that the client connects the experience with a positive feeling. Next, the client and therapist spend some time re-connecting with this feeling in a mindful way.
Following this, a piece of music is sought. The idea is that the music holds some quality of the positive feeling. The client is then invited to create an image. In the final part of the session, the therapist and client spend some time reflecting on the image, and what it means to the client.
How does Supportive Music & Imagery help with mental health issues and challenging life events?
Though Supportive Music & Imagery can be profound and moving, it is a relatively gentle form of therapy which focuses on finding and connecting with positive moments and feelings. In this way, it is an excellent technique for helping people to find and connect with inner resources as they move through challenging times in their lives, such as relationship breakdown, loss of work, periods of low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.
The positive feelings people choose to work with often connect to deep and profound parts of themselves. Sometimes this is called the ‘true self’. Fostering a connection with the ‘true self’ is immensely beneficial for people; it grounds, it guides and it supports growth. It helps people to live a fuller life.
What sort of people do you usually see?
I work with adults. I’ve worked with adults across all the phases of life; young adults, new parents, elderly people coping with the loss of a loved one.
I’ve mostly specialised in adults with mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and low self-esteem. I’ve also worked with people suffering from psychotic-related conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I’ve often worked with people coping with addiction and substance abuse issues. I’ve worked with trauma – difficult experiences that have left marks on people – of all kinds.
I’m more interested in the person than any diagnosis they may have: who they are, their experiences and what they hope to get from therapy.
I offer 1:1 sessions rather than couple sessions.
What do you like about being a therapist?
The therapy process is a journey for the client – often deep and mysterious, and sometimes it goes right into the heart of what it means to be human. It is a real privilege to be able to share in it as a therapist. I have seen such strength and resilience in the face of adversity. This is always a humbling experience.
Another key aspect of therapy is the relationship between the client and therapist, which is one founded on trust and respect. I enjoy building these relationships with people.
What is less pleasant?
To be a therapist means to be committed to a constant process of self-reflection. This is a hugely important part of the work. It helps to ensure we are always acting in the best interest of the client, with an awareness of ourselves and our own role in the unfolding therapy process.
Sometimes this can lead us into an encounter with our shortcomings, our blind spots, the painful memories and experiences that we carry with us as therapists. It can be hard! But it also presents an opportunity for growth and a fuller life.
How long have you been with Welldoing and what you think of us?
I have recently joined Welldoing, with this Q&A being something of an introduction.
It’s exciting to be joining such a varied group of therapists – so many modalities and practices, much to learn from others. I’m looking forward to joining the peer support sessions and meeting other users of the site.
Finding a therapist that works for you can be tricky! I remember this from the early days of my therapy training, when I was required to seek out my own therapist. There are so many different approaches, and it was difficult to know where to start, where to look, and how to approach therapy organisations. I think Welldoing has done an excellent job of making the process of finding a therapist clear for the client.
Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?
I often suggest the psychologist Chris Germer’s Compassion-Based Mindfulness meditations. These are free to access on his site – I'd urge anyone (therapist or client) to check them out. They are a fantastic resource for cultivating self-compassion, and for helping people to experience those feelings that can seem spiky and difficult, but really just need a soft pair of hands.
Here is a link to the free, guided meditations:
What do you do for your own mental health?
I am a meditator myself. I practise several different forms, normally getting in at least one session per day.
I’m also lucky to live in a beautiful area, the Outer Hebrides. Having nature on my doorstep is fantastic, and I'm frequently out running or hiking in the hills. I’ve also been known to have a dip in the sea as early in the year as January! I think the cold water has many benefits.
I also practise the Supportive Music & Imagery technique myself as self-care. Sometimes I find that I need to let my imagination do the talking, and it reveals things to me that may have remained elusive otherwise.
You are a therapist in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland and online. What can you share with us about seeing clients in this area?
As a music therapist, it is amazing to work in a place with such strong musical traditions. The traditional Gaelic music expresses the heart of the people and place – beautiful melodies that bring people together, make them move and dance. And everyone knows a tune or two! The music opens your heart, just like the open vistas, the mountains and skies, the beaches, the banks and braes.
Of course, there are difficulties too. Gaelic culture has been under threat for a long time. Schools and community organisations are fighting hard to keep the language alive, but older generations will tell you that some of the cultural traditions have already disappeared, along with the old ways of life. This loss of identity is hard for people. People are driven away from the islands in search of work – this means fragmented families. There are lots of challenges faced by the community up here.
Working in such a small community does impact the usual therapeutic boundaries. Bumping into clients outside of the therapy room is always a possibility; sharing a ferry journey with them, playing music with them at the local ceilidh; beating them to the last chicken curry pie at the local bakery. Working with the psychodynamic ‘blank canvas’ is not an option! No sitting behind the client with a clipboard, stroking a beard in the style of Sigmund Freud! It requires us to be more human with our clients, which I like.
What’s your consultation room like?
For Welldoing, I work online, and so all I ask of the client is that they are able to find somewhere they won’t be interrupted, where they feel comfortable. With a good enough Wifi connection.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
I like what Jung said: the process of self-discovery is one of life’s greatest treasures (he didn’t quite put it like that, but it was something along those lines!)
What did you learn about yourself in therapy?
I used to think I was the intellectual type – turns out I'm all about feelings! Therapy helped me to accept myself for who I am.