Meet the Therapist: Esther Walker
What attracted you to become a therapist?
I like asking questions like “What’s happening here?”, “What am I/you feeling?”, “What’s making me/you feel like that?”, “I know what I want to say, how come I don’t say it?”
In most social groups (including friendships, families, workplaces) there’s not much tolerance for questions like these that explore what’s going on in relationships. But when you’re a therapy client, or you’re in any kind of personal growth environment or you’re a therapist – well that’s just the place to find others interested in such conversations.
That’s what attracted me to become a therapist.
Where did you train?
My initial training was at the Edinburgh Gestalt Institute which provides a four-year diploma course in Gestalt therapy. I’ve followed that up with further courses to develop my knowledge and skills around Gestalt, body process and Family Constellations.
Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?
When I explored therapy for myself, I tried different approaches like CBT, person-centred, Primal Integration, humanist and solution-focused. I’ve taken something from all those experiences, but what I really liked about Gestalt was its focus on:
- actively trying things out so I could become more aware of how I think, feel and respond
- using the relationship between me and my therapist to help me learn about myself
- identifying what’s going on in the wider environment that might impact on my experience – things I’d never imagined or thought about before.
I remember once commenting to my therapist that my feet were cold. I didn’t think anything much of it. But he looked at me and said “oh cold feet! I wonder what you’re scared of?” I enjoyed that level of attention – having someone take notice, listen and offer ways of seeing things I hadn’t thought of.
How does Gestalt help with symptoms of anxiety and depression?
Anxiety: When we're afraid we prepare for fight or flight by holding our breath, breathing shallowly, tensing our muscles, staying still – we're 'on guard' ready for action. This is a natural response to danger and when danger passes we can 'stand down' and our system calms. Living with stress and anxiety means that there is no standing down, the system is perpetually 'on guard'. Then we get chronic symptoms of anxiety which affect how we breathe, our posture, muscle tension and responses. In Gestalt we address these physical symptoms, improving the client's ability (and confidence) to calm themselves and develop good habits of self-support. Alongside that we explore the root causes of anxiety and help the client identify healthier responses to what's going on around them.
Depression: Often with depression, people experience a lack of motivation, feeling and energy. One way of understanding what's happening is to see depression as a consequence of a breakdown in a person's coping strategies. These coping strategies are learnt in response to the challenges faced in childhood. In adulthood, some of these ways of behaving don't serve us well, they end up creating problems and we grind to a halt. In Gestalt we help the client understand these patterns of thinking, responding and managing so they can identify new, better alternatives which in turn reconnect the client with their emotional, energetic self.
What sort of people do you usually see?
I see individuals aged 18 and over. They’ll usually describe their problem in terms of depression, difficulties managing anger or anxiety, or relationship issues at home or work. The underlying causes often relate to past trauma, loss (bereavement) and matters to do with their family of origin.
I see a lot of clients in their own home and for them there can be the added complication of being a new parent, caring for family members or personal illness.
What do you like about being a therapist?
Listening to the news can leave me feeling overwhelmed with how destructive and cruel people can be. My clients remind me of the warmth, optimism and creative potential of human beings. That’s what I like most about being a therapist.
What is less pleasant?
One way of being clear about what a client needs from you as a therapist, is to think about it in terms of glue and solvent. Clients are either stuck too tight and need you to provide solvent to help them loosen up, or they are too loose and need you to provide glue to help them hold together.
For me, the most challenging part of being a therapist is when I’m working with someone who is at either end of this continuum: i.e. when a person is so stuck, they can barely speak, or when they are so loose, they can barely focus. These can be the most difficult parts of a person’s therapeutic journey.
How long you’ve been with welldoing.org and what you think of us?
I’ve been with welldoing.org for a couple of months now. I find the website easy to use, clients seem to like it and I’m looking forward to making the most of the booking system. Now there are only a small number of therapists listed in Edinburgh, but I expect that to change and I’m certainly encouraging colleagues to explore it.
Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?
Yes, I’ll suggest books, websites or workshops if I think they might support a client or if a client asks me directly for a recommendation.
What you do for your own mental health?
Having experienced high levels of stress in the past, I’m careful to go slow, notice what’s around me, prioritise friends and family, have making projects, cycle and walk, laugh and dance. Also, I go back to therapy when I need to.
You are a therapist in Edinburgh. What can you share with us about seeing clients in that area?
I can't identify any particular characteristic of the kind of people seeking counselling here in Edinburgh.
What’s your consultation room like?
The room I use is part of a counselling consultancy in the East of the city. It’s a basement room with a window looking out at people’s legs walking on the pavement above. It gives the feeling of privacy even though we’re right on the main street.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
The term ‘talking therapy’ gives the impression that ‘talking’ is the important thing. But this isn’t true. What’s important about therapy is the relationship you develop with your therapist. It’s through that relationship that the work is done. I’ve heard clients say that therapy saved their life. That was certainly the case for me. It can be the best thing you ever do for yourself, your loved ones and especially your children.
What did you learn about yourself in therapy?
My childhood experience taught me to harden and defend myself with my anger. This left me feeling disconnected and isolated. I was one of those clients who needed some solvent. Through therapy I learnt to feel compassion for myself and to soften, be gentle and take risks in relationships. I learnt to trust people, ask for support and not feel so afraid of my own vulnerability. I still really value my anger, but it’s now just one of many emotions I experience.