Meet the Therapist: Alexander Gray
What attracted you to become a therapist?
I’ve always been interested in how people think and the feelings underneath. My experience of boarding school taught me that what’s on the surface does not always match the internal world. I studied psychology and sport science at University with a view to going into coaching but on graduation I ended up joining the world of travel and tourism through a family business. Over the next 15 years I didn’t feel I was flourishing personally or professionally and decided to go back to my roots to give therapy a go. The climate around Covid-19 this last year or so has forced my hand and I’ve now pushed myself into psychotherapy full-time.
Where did you train?
I’ve been training at the Centre for Counselling and Psychotherapy Education (CCPE) in Paddington since 2016. Having done their foundation course, I moved onto a diploma to work with adults before switching to their MA in Transpersonal Child, Adolescent and Family Therapy. The plan is to become a UKCP-accredited therapist working with both children and adults.
Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?
As an integrative therapist I work with the mind, body and soul. I believe that our soul nature can often be buried within our bodies, restricted by our minds and expectations around society and culture. For my clients this means that we look at their nature or genetic make-up, their nurture or environmental experience and the part of us that is harder to pinpoint – the soul. Practically this means exploring who they really are, where they came from and who or how they actually want to be, right now.
How does integrative/transpersonal therapy help with symptoms of anxiety?
I rarely deal with a fast heartbeat, sweating, chest pain or coronary events. My experience of anxiety in the room is nervousness, worry and fear. I use some simple breathing exercises to help with the physical symptoms and also create some clarity to explore what’s actually causing the anxiety.
With reflection in a non-judgemental, safe space, my clients can unravel hidden trauma in their body or unhealthy patterns of behaviour. This awareness helps them to spot signs of anxiety coming through and also recognise the differences between anxiety, stress, nerves and excitement.
What sort of people do you usually see?
My clients have ranged from mid 20s to mid 50s. Anxiety and depression are common themes as well as looking at self-esteem, relationship issues, sex, divorce, alcoholism, loss, grief and bereavement.
What do you like about being a therapist?
I get a great sense of achievement working through material with my clients. I’m not a guide or advisor but aim to facilitate the exploration of the issues my clients bring into the room. We can both generally feel when there has been a shift and being witness to that is a great honour.
What is less pleasant?
From a purely human, relational aspect, it can be hard to hear what some clients are struggling with. However, our training and supervision prepares us as therapists so that we can be the ones to hold this discomfort and help our clients reflect, recognise and release whatever is not serving them.
How long you’ve been with welldoing.org and what you think of us?
I’ve been on welldoing.org since September last year and was attracted to the easy navigation of the website and matching service available. I really like the content being produced on different topics around mental health and being able to read about other therapists and how they work.
Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?
I often include some psychoeducation in my sessions as a way of encouraging further exploration of the material the clients and I are looking at.
I regularly recommend Awakening Through Through Dreams: The Journey Through the Inner Landscape as a great resource around dreams, alchemy and self-realisation. Trauma and the Soul by Donald Kalsched is a classic.
Mind The Gap: The Truth about Desire and How to Futureproof Your Sex Life is an illuminating book aimed at women but I would say useful for men too.
What you do for your own mental health?
I have regular therapy and supervision as well as peer support. Switching off the digital world concentrating on me for a while helps – walks in nature, swimming and to be by myself and recharge in my own time.
You are a therapist in Balham, South West London. What can you share with us about seeing clients in this area?
My practice is based at reCentre Health, which is an award-winning wellbeing clinic in Balham. We recently set up a low-cost clinic there to open up the opportunity for people in the area not coming through the door with private medical insurance or the means to pay full rate a chance to access therapy. I can do this as I’m a psychotherapist-in-training with the UKCP so although I have close to 400 hours experience working 1-2-1 with clients, I’m not fully qualified and therefore limited in what I can charge. We are currently recruiting for further therapists in a similar position so that the low-cost clinic can expand and help more people on a lower income.
What’s your consultation room like?
At the moment it’s pretty barren! We’re very careful to have appointments that don't overlap so clients aren’t mixing in the hallway, we thoroughly clean between clients and don’t even allow them in until their session time. However, once in the room I like to think I create a warm, safe place to explore whatever is going on for my clients – it’s a bit of a bubble once we get started.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
It can be quite hard to get started, perhaps there is some fear about sharing what’s going on for you as a client or worry that you won’t be able to be ‘fixed’. Most clients that present with initial scepticism usually come out of the first few sessions with relief they have started their journey but also some mild anxiety that the sessions will make their situation worse before it gets better. For those not so comfortable this can also be a helpful step to take because it may be the timing isn’t right or the therapeutic relationship hasn’t formed but it will point you in the right direction going forward.
What did you learn about yourself in therapy?
I think the knowledge is always there but it’s having a therapist reflect it back to me that I find useful. Also being in long-term therapy I’m aware that situations and people change around me, which I adapt to but I’m still me…so I’m always learning.