Meet the Therapist: Claire de la Varre
What attracted you to become a therapist?
My dad was a psychiatrist and my mum was a marriage counsellor so I grew up in a household of books about therapy, psychology and psychiatry. As a teenager I saw a programme on TV where a paediatrician was using hypnosis to help children with asthma manage their anxiety – I thought ‘I can do that!’ and immediately started hypnotising the children I was babysitting at the time. I used to hypnotise my flatmates at uni as well. But then I put it away for a long time before eventually decided I wanted to train formally in hypnotherapy in 2008.
Where did you train?
I did two years of undergraduate psychology at St Andrews University (Scotland) although I was a terrible student so they wouldn’t let me do any more than that. I got my PhD in Educational Psychology at the University of North Carolina with a dual focus on child/adolescent development and disability, and online learning.
I trained in hypnotherapy in Tennessee in 2008, did my Transactional Analysis practitioner certificate in 2009-2010 in North Carolina, and started training in AIT (advanced integrative therapy) around that time.
I did my Human Givens therapy training in Bristol (2017-2020). I am also a hypnotherapy trainer (2011) and supervisor (2021).
Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?
I practise two types of therapy that would seem at first glance diametrically opposite approaches. The first – Human Givens therapy – is a solution-focused brief therapy based on the premise that humans are born with a set of physical and psychological needs. We also have a set of innate resources to help us get our needs met. If any of these needs are not being met in balance, or if we are misusing our innate resources, then stress and even mental illness can occur.
Human Givens therapy draws from the best practices of many therapies, including cognitive therapy, behavioural therapy, interpersonal therapy, solution-focused approaches, Ericksonian hypnotherapy and storytelling, NLP, motivational interviewing, and reflective listening. The intention is to get the client up and functioning again in as few sessions as possible.
The second, Advanced Integrative Therapy, is a Jungian psychodynamic depth psychology that incorporates energy psychology and applied kinesiology (muscle testing). AIT looks at transpersonal mind/body/spirit elements of ‘dis-ease’. This includes the psychogenic roots of illness and takes a holistic and ecological approach. As well as exploring a client’s individual traumatic experiences, I look at what traumas they may have ‘inherited’ or be carrying from family and ancestors, whether genetically, epigenetically, culturally, historically or by other means.
There is some overlap in these modalities as both are mind-body therapies and use visualisation. People often come to me having been dismissed by doctors as ‘somatisers’ where medically unexplained symptoms arise from emotional or psychological distress, and want to try a different approach.
How do AIT and Human Givens therapy help with unexplained physical or psychosomatic symptoms?
Both of these go beyond traditional talking therapies and engage the body and the subconscious. The use of hypnotherapy and guided imagery using story and metaphor allows for changes that are mediated beyond the use of language, by visualisation, felt sense, and transformation of physical symptoms.
What sort of people do you usually see?
I work with several distinct client populations and have a practice in the United States, where I lived for a long time, as well as in Scotland.
I see children and teens with functional gastrointestinal disorders like IBS where there is a significant emotional component. I work with young people (teens and 20s) who have anxiety or depression. I work with musicians at a local private music academy. I work with older people with chronic/terminal illness or ageing issues. And I do relationship counselling with couples.
At the moment my clients range in age from 5 to 90.
Have you noticed any recent mental health trends or wider changes in attitude?
I am seeing more people who have been misdiagnosed or given a catch-all diagnosis of depression when what they are actually experiencing is dissociation as a response to unresolved trauma or PTSD.
What do you like about being a therapist?
I love the variety of the work, the challenge of figuring out the symbolic or metaphorical meanings of physical symptoms, and as an extravert I love meeting and getting to know people.
I aim to teach practical tools and skills to my clients, and it is always gratifying when someone reports that they are experiencing success through using these tools at home.
What is less pleasant?
Hearing the terribly traumatic circumstances of some people’s lives.
How long have you been with welldoing.org and what you think of us?
I am new to welldoing.org and excited to be part of the community. I love the resource section with recommended books and apps. I have just joined the Facebook therapist community.
Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?
Yes, here are some of the books I recommend: Will I Ever Be Good Enough by Karyl McBride, The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van de Kolk, Good Busy by Julia Scatliff O’Grady, Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés.
I like the Aura Health app (full disclosure… I’m a content provider with them as a hypnotherapist).
What you do for your own mental health?
Float tank sensory deprivation therapy, massage therapy, writing poetry, reading, tarot, walking with my dog, going to see live music, yoga, travel, motorcycle riding with my partner, hanging out with friends and family, cooking.
You are a therapist in Stirling and Edinburgh. What can you share with us about seeing clients in this area?
Stirling and Edinburgh, as university towns, attract a very diverse group of people so the clients I see in my office are from all over the place. With online clients even more so – from the UK, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, as well as the US.
What’s your consultation room like?
Comfortable, bright and sunny, furnished with armchairs, antique tables, plants and original art by a local artist on the walls.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
It doesn’t have to be big commitment and you don’t have to have a huge life-threatening issue to benefit from it. Therapy is for everyone, and even a single session can be very helpful.
What did you learn about yourself in therapy?
I was astounded at how little self-awareness I had as a younger person. Doing therapy has been truly transformative and has changed not only my view of myself but my world view and how I relate to others.