Meet the Therapist: Anna Koolen
What attracted you to become a therapist?
First and foremost, I am hugely fascinated by people and very curious – what makes us who we are, what has shaped us and wounded us, how we experience the world and relate to it, ourselves and each other. I was a devourer of stories from when I was little and have always had an interest in observing and listening and trying to understand how it all fits together. It was always my nature – never centre stage, much rather an observer.
I originally trained to be a translator, and whilst this may seem like a wildly different profession to being a therapist, the two actually have a lot in common – the client is the author and my job is to understand their story without allowing my own perspective to cloud my view.
Lived experience lead to developing an interest in addiction and for a while I worked at a residential addiction treatment facility. It was there that I discovered that the route I wanted to take was to train to become a therapist – it highlighted to me how it’s by uncovering our stories, discovering and learning about ourselves in a safe, warm and non-judgemental space that we can grow and fulfil our true potential. I truly believe we all have that potential and therapy is a powerful way of doing this work.
This Rumi quote sums it up for me: “We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are”. This, I see as my goal with each client – to understand how the world looks through their eyes and explore it together.
Where did you train?
I trained for three years to Diploma level at Richmond & Hillcroft Adult Community Centre, which included a placement with a counselling organisation where I accumulated over 300 clinical hours by the time I qualified.
I am by no means done with training and have a keen interest in existentialism and phenomenology, so we shall see where my curiosity next takes me.
Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?
I trained to be an integrative therapist, which means I adapt how I work according to each client’s needs. For me, this made sense as it provided me with a broad foundation of understanding several modalities rather than narrowing in on one.
Of course along the way I have discovered I am more drawn and inclined to work in a person-centred way and also very attracted to existentialism, but I’m very grateful for this broader base. Each person is an individual and so what works well for one client might not be the right approach for another.
How does integrative therapy help with symptoms of addiction?
I feel addiction is just like anything else – anxiety, trauma, whatever it might be that we struggle with – in that each individual’s experience is their own. We may share an experience but no two people will have experienced it in the exact same way.
I truly believe that addiction is a symptom rather than the problem in itself, and so understanding the bigger picture means exploring with each client what lead them to where they find themselves, and this will be unique for each individual. Of course working integratively, I draw upon several modalities and adapt to the client’s needs.
What sort of people do you usually see?
The most commonly presenting issues for the clients I see tend to be anxiety, stress and depression, but – and I feel like I’m parroting myself over and over, but it’s true! – it’s all and any of the things that we may struggle with, experience and go through.
Addiction problems feature naturally as this is one of my key areas, but I also work with bereavement and identity issues, and really the multitude of things people may struggle with. Sometimes we may just feel a little lost.
Have you noticed any recent mental health trends or wider changes in attitude?
I think with the dawn of remote therapy, it has become much more accessible and I find many clients actually prefer remote to face-to-face. It is time efficient and easier to fit in for clients when they don’t have to travel to see a therapist and are in the comfort of their own home.
I think generally we’re also moving towards a space where men feel less hesitant to seek help, as opposed to the old “boys don’t cry” nonsense, and I think that’s a very positive thing.
I believe generally the stigma of seeing a therapist has shifted and we talk more openly about mental health now.
What do you like about being a therapist?
First of all, I truly believe in the power of therapy because I have experienced it myself. Secondly, I feel it’s a healthy and really beneficial thing we can do to promote our mental health to explore things with a therapist even if we don’t face a struggle or a specific problem just then.
As for being a therapist, how | feel about therapy translates to a genuine belief in what I do and that’s incredibly fulfilling.
What is less pleasant?
I suppose sometimes I can feel powerless, but this is at the very core of it all: as a therapist, it’s not MY role to fix or heal what ails, I am simply there to explore the client’s experience with them and support them in effecting the changes they seek to make.
Safeguarding is also a factor that can at times feel daunting, but I ensure I am always clear on my role and responsibilities and what routes I need to take to ensure my clients are safe.
How long have you been with Welldoing and what you think of us?
I was recommended Welldoing by colleagues and am fairly new to it, but have felt very welcome and I think it is set up really well.
Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?
Sometimes it has felt right and appropriate to do so, depending on the material presented. There are sobriety apps I have recommended where it has been appropriate and helpful to the client to do so, and I have on a number of occasions recommended an app called Headspace which offers guided meditations.
Books I have recommended include The Choice by Edith Eger, Untamed by Glennon Doyle and The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk. If and when I do, it’s because it’s been relevant to something we have explored.
What you do for your own mental health?
My self-care kit contains reading, running, long walks with my dog, spending time with family and good friends. I want to like yoga and meditation because I know it’s so good for you, but for whatever reason neither seems to be something I take to, so my go-to self care measure is pulling on my running shoes and off I go.
You are a therapist in Thames Ditton. What can you share with us about seeing clients in this area?
Hard question, but I suppose it’s like any area – some areas are popular with young families, some areas have higher rates of poverty, some areas are “trendy” and so on. Thames Ditton is a fairly affluent area and popular with families.
The majority of my clients are female and in their 30/40/50s, often have careers and children. As for what challenges people face I don’t know if I can point to anything that’d be specific to Thames Ditton…!
What’s your consultation room like?
I work via a practice and the rooms are wonderful with inviting décor and comfortable sofas. It’s very well set up and I have a lovely team around me.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
That it’s a really healthy and wonderful thing to do for yourself, even if you don’t have a specific 'thing' you want to work on or improve. I think in general it’s useful to get to know ourselves and have space to process whatever it is that we’re going through, good or bad or anything in between.
Another thing is something I learned myself, that I didn’t quite understand before I had therapy myself, is that the therapist isn’t there to tell you want to do! I think that’s what I had hoped, that they’d somehow present solutions to whatever I was struggling with. But that’s the best thing of all and what’s so powerful about it, how you are supported and helped to find the answers that can only come from you.
What did you learn about yourself in therapy?
This is an on-going journey, but I think one of the most important and life-changing things I discovered about myself was how hard I was on myself and as a result I’m much kinder to myself these days.