Meet the Therapist: Christina Moutsou
What attracted you to become a therapist?
My adolescence was a highly emotional and turbulent period in my life. In the midst of it, when I was fourteen, I discovered Freud and I read all his work that I could get my hands on. Even though a lot of what he said, especially about women, raised my back, reading his essays was like a form of self-therapy. It was then, that I developed a strong sense that I wanted to train as a therapist. I don’t know if I ‘forgot’ that wish for some years, but it was ten years later, when I was doing fieldwork in social anthropology that the desire to train came back even stronger, and I was then able to explore it and to begin the process. I think behind that desire was the discovery I made at fourteen that it can be deeply transformative and healing to understand oneself and the patterns that link the past with the present.
Where did you train?
I trained at the Philadelphia Association, founded by R.D. Laing. My social anthropology background made me sceptical about some of the reductionist and rigid aspects of psychoanalytic theory, and I needed to train somewhere where I was able to debate concepts and have a conversation about ideas rather than take them for granted. I was also interested in the PA tradition of working with more extreme mental distress in its therapeutic community houses. For many years, the PA provided a professional home for me.
What sort of people do you usually see?
Like the tradition where I trained, I work with an eclectic mix of people including people who experience more severe mental distress and sometimes, having received the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. I am particularly interested in cultural diversity and context, and how this impacts on the form emotional suffering may take. I am interested in difference and diversity of all sorts and how to make space for it in clinical practice, which has not always been easy within psychoanalysis. Also, I run a bilingual practice in English and in Greek and about 25-30% of my clients are Greek speaking.
What do you like about being a therapist?
I see therapy as a form of intimate relationship. The therapy space is in my view a space where one can begin to think more freely about their lives and to start articulating the thoughts that felt unacceptable to themselves and others before. It takes a lot of trust and courage to begin this dialogue with a therapist, and in this sense, I feel very privileged to accompany my clients to their journeys.
What is less pleasant?
I sometimes feel anxious about the discipline it takes to contain oneself and whatever is going on in one’s life in order to be there and to give space to clients. This containment varies from managing physical aches and pains, outside intrusions such as noise, and the awareness of personal or family issues that need to be attended to. I also find that if I spend a long day listening intensely to my clients, I may have less patience with making space to listen to family and friends, which sometimes, leaves me with a sense of guilt.
How long you’ve been with welldoing.org and what you think of us?
I believe I was one of the very early welldoing members. I found the project interesting and exciting, as it attempted to ‘match’ clients with suitable therapists. Overall, the referrals I have had from welldoing were clients who had a good sense of the way I work and who had chosen to work with me, which provides a much more solid base from which to begin therapy work.
Have you used the booking and payment system? And how do you find that?
Initially, I had some reservations about that, as I felt that payment is an important part of the therapy relationship and needs to be negotiated with the therapist. However, I have recently joined the booking and payment system and I have found that actually, it can be used very constructively in the therapy relationship, and protect the therapist from unpaid cancellations.
Have you joined the welldoing.org Therapist Community on Facebook? If so, how did you find it?
I do receive some interesting articles from welldoing.org on my FB page feed.
Have you tried the Calm mindfulness app offered to all our therapists?
Not yet. Meditation is something I feel some resistance to. I suppose I am not entirely in agreement with the idea of attempting to empty one’s mind. I have a busy mind, and part of my attraction to becoming a therapist has been about the discipline of processing what is on one’s mind rather than trying to empty oneself from thoughts and feelings. I do feel though that some grounding techniques can be useful in order to deal with everyday anxieties.
Have your clients tried it?
I have not recommended it personally.
Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?
Yes, sometimes I recommend books to clients. Most often, I recommend fiction books such as novels. I believe there are some very interesting and vital links between literature and psychotherapy, as they both offer an in depth understanding of subjective experience and inner emotional reality.
What you do for your own mental health?
One of the main things I do is that I write fiction. I find it very creative and healing to create stories and characters and a unique way to process my own feelings comparable to having therapy. I have recently published a novel in Greek with the title, Black Cake, which is a complex family story asking questions about the entanglement of the past and the present and the mother-daughter relationship as well as the nature of intimate relationships. A collection of fictional short stories in adolescence and in the consulting room that I have written will also be published by Routledge in September. I found it particularly therapeutic to write about teenage trauma and experience in the first person.
Other than that, I go running three times a week. This has felt like an achievement, as I am double jointed and I did not think that I could run. I am very slow, but I find it is a great mood lifter and now that I am more used to it, I tend to process many thoughts and come up with new ideas during a run. I also have a brief energy yoga routine every day and try to do two short pilates sequences twice a week, which keeps muscular pain under control. Sometimes, the body is forgotten in psychotherapy, yet, it is where we all begin from. Freud suggested that therapists go back into analysis every five years, and I have found that I have followed more or less this pattern, as I have gone through various life transitions.
You see clients in London, in NW6 and EC1. What can you share about seeing clients in those areas?
I mostly see clients in NW6. These are not always local clients, but the area [Queens Park, Kilburn] is very well connected with transport. I think that I see a wide range of people in terms of geographical location, ethnic and cultural background, class and age, though the majority of my clients are relatively young 20s to 40s and from a middle class background. Working with local clients presents a particular kind of difficulty, as it is not uncommon to meet them in the street. I feel the therapy space is internal and context specific, so seeing one’s therapist in a more social context can feel awkward. For this reason, I never take the initiative to greet my clients in the street, but of course, I will say hello, if they greet me first. This is also to protect their confidentiality in a social context.
My work in EC1 is more recent. It tends to be more with people who work in the City, though I do some online work there as well through their own referral system. I find the environment where I work, hosted by a relatively new project called Stillpoint Spaces, very hospitable and calm and at the same time, a place that links well with the diversity and creative spirit of contemporary London.
What’s your consultation room like?
It is a ground floor, front room in a Victorian house. I like the fact that it is high ceilinged with many book shelves, and my collection of books in the walls feels like company. I like the space to be bright and airy, but also contemplative, and I feel that I have been successful in creating this. There are also some works of art in the room that mean a lot to me.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
I find it is a sad fact that often people who may need therapy the most, will not allow themselves to access it. Surely, there are many ways of dealing with one’s distress, especially in contemporary London, but I think that therapy is a particular kind of conversation that is both valuable and irreplaceable. It is a conversation about emotional reality, which can actually make a difference very quickly, especially when people are locked into destructive patterns of behaviour and doomed relationships.
What did you learn about yourself in therapy?
This is an interesting question! I would say that like most of us, I went to therapy with a falsely constructed sense of self which was the outcome of roles I was given within my family and by society. Therapy was a process of starting to articulate my true feelings and finding a more authentic sense of myself which has had an enormous impact on how I relate to others, and how I live my life in general.