Brendan Barnes is a counsellor in Central London and online

What attracted you to become a therapist?

From my own experience, therapy works! Training as a counsellor came after a long career in the private sector. Gradually, I saw that the work I did was not addressing what I found most interesting in the people and situations around me, or where I could really contribute. Being able to help people to make connections that enable them to move, grow and accept themselves required a shift in my life direction.

Where did you train? 

My first degree was in psychology. More recently, I trained at the Minster Centre in London, finishing after five years with a Diploma in Psychotherapeutic Counselling. 

Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?

An integrative training exposes you to a range of different ways of working with people. I value the resources the different approaches provide to understand my client’s experience of the world. 

My own orientation is based on the humanistic tradition, which emphasises the importance of respect and authenticity in the relationship between counsellor and client and is underpinned by a belief in the human desire to grow and self-heal. My work is also informed by existentialism which focuses on the meaning that we attach to our lives and also our responsibility for the life choices we make in the face of anxiety and uncertainty. It’s an approach that seems particularly relevant in today’s world. 

I regularly undertake further professional training, with a current focus on understanding more about trauma and childhood attachment. 

What does integrative therapy help with?

People experience difficulties in living. As a result, for example, they may experience anger, anxiety, depressive thoughts and feelings or compulsions. The common thread to all these experiences relates to our values and way of being and particularly when these things are brought into question. The work that I do with clients explores that experience. 

As well as being a dialogue between the two of us, the process is also an interaction between our thinking and feeling selves. Often it is our feelings and bodily sensations that signal whether we are on-track or not, whatever the rational mind is saying. Healing needs to engage holistically both mind and body.

What sort of people do you usually see? 

I work individually with a diverse range of clients from young adults upwards. My main focus has been on anger, anxiety, shame and depression. Sometimes people come with a generalised sense of loss of meaning or purpose and that’s also fine as a point to start from.

Have you noticed any recent mental health trends or wider changes in attitude?

On a positive note, mental health is talked about more openly, as is difference. I don’t think we have got to the point where these are “ordinary” conversations, but perhaps we are getting there. 

Also, we have moved away from a hierarchical model of counselling towards a more egalitarian and relational approach. This is part of a wider social trend. Greater equality (generally) is associated with less deference to authority. One result of the questioning of authority is that we all live in a world that feels less safe. I see us as living with greater freedom and greater existential uncertainty, with all the challenges to mental health that brings.

In terms of how we support people, there are more and more alternatives to talking to another human being in a room. There are tens of thousands of mental health apps and the impact of AI is only just being felt. I think digital culture has had other effects as well. I see a shift towards shorter and more flexible durations of therapy and of course greater ease of access, via online work.

What do you like about being a therapist?

The biggest satisfaction is when you help someone connect the dots about their lived experience or contribute to them coming to greater self-acceptance. The other pleasure is in the diversity of people that you meet.

What is less pleasant?

The admin! But aside from that….It’s always difficult if you feel that you have not been able to support someone. In the course of the work, missed connections happen. The work is like a series of peaks and troughs that we have to negotiate together.

How long have you been with Welldoing and what you think of us?

I joined Welldoing because I thought the site was well thought-through and would actually help people find the support they need. I’m still learning how to use the resources available, but I’m pleased with the staff support to date.

What books have been important to you in terms of your professional and personal development? Do you ever recommend books to clients?

Pivotal books can be very important. I read Breaking the Bonds by Dorothy Rowe many years ago and that was the start of a journey for me. 

Several years back, I experienced burnout and I found The Joy of Burnout by Dina Glouberman invaluable in my recovery. Both of these are accessible reads and that is probably key to what I would recommend to a client. I remember suggesting a very practical book on cognitive behavioural therapy to a client. It was a “how to” book, not academic, but it seemed to fit with how the client wanted to work. 

As part of my professional training, books by Mick Cooper, Ernesto Spinelli and Nick Totton have been particularly influential. 

What you do for your own mental health? 

I keep a journal. I try to stay physically active though yoga, walking and swimming. The relationship between mind and body is important and can’t be reduced to hard exercise being good for you. It’s about attunement to what your body needs. I find regularity in these activities very important. 

You are a therapist in London. What can you share with us about seeing clients in this area?

I work mainly online. I am developing a face to face practice in central London (Barbican/Farringdon area)

What’s your consultation room like?

For face-to-face work, it’s a ground floor room in small Victorian building, in a small quiet street in an area that has a mix of businesses and housing. For online work, it is my home office.

What do you wish people knew about therapy?

There are a vast number of psychotherapeutic methodologies available for clients to choose from. However, research suggests that the key determinant of a positive outcome from therapy is not the methodology but the relationship with the therapist. I offer an initial free session so that the client and I have a chance to assess whether we can work together.

What did you learn about yourself in therapy?

In therapy, I learnt about the roles I had adopted in life. I also learnt to see myself more clearly in relation to others and to hold and accept my difference, including where this involved ambivalence and uncertainty. An area that is of ongoing interest to me is what we inherit and how that process works.


Contact Brendan here

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