Meet the Therapist: Irene Stoppoloni
What attracted you to become a therapist?
This might sound a bit bizarre, but ever since I was little, I was attracted to dreams. I remember every morning, as a family, we used to sit around the breakfast table (in Italy is common to sit down together for every meal) and tell each other what we’d dreamt the night before, and I loved to try and figure out what each dream meant. This is not something I do anymore, as I believe that the dreamer is the only one who can interpret their dreams, but that’s when my fascination with meanings and understanding the workings of our minds started.
Where did you train?
I train at Regent’s University in London. I have achieved my Masters and I am currently about to start my postgraduate diploma in existential psychotherapy.
Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?
I practice existential therapy, which is inspired by the philosophers of the the 20th century like Heidegger, Sartre and De Beauvoir. Since then, existentialism has been picked up by more recent thinkers and has been translated into psychotherapy work, for example by Yalom in the US or Van Deurzen and Spinelli in the UK.
Although it might sound very lofty, existential therapy is actually really down to earth. The focus of the sessions are on where and how you find meaning in life, what values you hold and how they help you make decisions. It’s a great approach for those who find themselves at a crossroads in life or who want a greater sense of authenticity in their relationships.
How does existential therapy help with symptoms of anxiety?
One of the key tenets of existentialism is that anxiety is part of being alive and that actually a life without anxiety is inauthentic. This approach helps normalise anxiety, not as a disorder but as something with meaning.
In my sessions, we explore what anxiety points to for each clients, as we uncover the meaning of it. This could be big life changes, fear of isolation or death, or the weight responsibility which comes with the freedom to choose for ourselves – no one else can choose for us!
What sort of people do you usually see?
I see a lot of young adults – I believe that existential therapy is very relevant for today’s world. We face an ongoing climate crisis, and our young people are more politically active than ever. At the basis of this is a real sense that there is more to life than the rat race.
What do you like about being a therapist?
I love going on the journey of self-discovery with each one of my clients. There is nothing more satisfying and fulfilling that having the privilege of being let into so many people’s lives.
What is less pleasant?
What is less known, is that therapists hold a lot for their clients and that we do not just ‘switch off’ after the session – we hold our clients in our minds. This can sometimes be taxing and there is a lot of self-care involved in being a good therapist.
How long you’ve been with welldoing.org and what you think of us?
I have recently joined welldoing.org after one of my colleagues recommended it to me. So far, I have experienced a sense of welcoming and care like nowhere else. I appreciate the thoroughness of the screening process and also the openness and kindness of the staff. I think welldoing.org as a directory is really user-friendly, which is great for those looking for a therapist without the faff of a complicated system.
Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?
I love recommending books to my clients – knowledge is power! My favourite book to recommend is anything by Yalom as he is really accessible as an author and also De Beauvoir – she is my hero and she has shaped today’s feminist thought.
My favourite app to use is Clue as it helps to mindfully track my cycle, and an app called #selfcare, which has helped me to rethink what it means to take care of myself.
What you do for your own mental health?
I do yoga every day because it helps me to ground myself in my body and give my thinking mind a break. I try to be out in the sun every day (when it’s sunny) and if I can’t do that, then I make sure to take some vitamin D3 – it really makes a difference!
You are a therapist in London. What can you share with us about seeing clients in that area?
I think London is absolutely the greatest place for people looking for therapy – you really are spoiled for choice. You won’t need to travel far for a good therapist and it’s so easy to search by location on welldoing.org.
My office is in Clapham junction which is easy to reach from South London and West London too, via the overground. I think people sometimes underestimate the role of commuting – it can be a transitional moment to reflect on the session you’ve just had and prepare yourself to go back into the world.
What’s your consultation room like?
Our rooms are really bright and spacious, but also cozy. We have AC which is a plus in the summer. Our seats are comfy and I think that gives prospective clients a real sense of ease.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
I wish people knew that therapy is not a last resort or something for those who have ‘something wrong with them’. Therapy is for anyone who wishes to know themselves and live a more authentic life and it does not equate being ‘weak’ or ‘crazy’ – it actually is a real sign of strength to me.
What did you learn about yourself in therapy?
I have learned that there are no scary monsters once you look ‘underneath the bed’. When I first started therapy, I was terrified at the idea of what I might find and that if I’d open the Pandora’s box I would never be able to close it. Nothing like that ever happened. My therapist held for me a safe space where I could go in and out of the dark places and always felt in control. She held for me a relational space where I knew I was setting the pace of our exploration. I am still in therapy and can happily report there are no monsters so far!