Ksenia Belash is a counsellor in Clapham and online

What attracted you to become a therapist?

For a very long time, I kept being told by people that I had a gift of being present to others in a particular, emotionally healing way. However, being absorbed in my creative career, I did not pay much attention and only realised my passion for therapy once I had gone through a major personal crisis myself and was pushed to seek professional support.

One day, sitting in a chair opposite my therapist, I had an insight that I would love to do for others what this woman was doing for me – creating a warm, loving, cozy space, where I felt understood, welcome and could explore and express the nuances of my experiences and feelings, without a fear of being judged and blamed for them. 

This way of being with others felt deeply meaningful and fulfilling on all levels – I felt like I finally found what I had been seeking for a while, my passion and purpose. A month after that session, I enrolled for the counselling training and that’s how my professional journey began.

Where did you train?

I got my counselling qualification with the Gestalt Centre in London. I also did a number of trainings with other organisations, like the London School of Systemic and Family Constellations (family and hypno-costellations), the Royal Trinity Hospice (bereavement support training), Circling Europe (relational mindfulness).

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

My approach is holistic, intuitive, somatically oriented, trauma-informed and relational. It is rooted in Gestalt philosophy, but is also influenced by my love for IFS (Internal Family Systems), constellations and my personal self-compassion and somatic practices. 

No two sessions and therapeutic journeys are ever the same – what happens very much depends on the person, their particular needs and also what unfolds between us in the space. Sometimes there will be more talking and processing things cognitively, other times, we may engage in visualisation or gentle mindfulness practices, yet other times we might be doing embodied movement or emotionally expressive work. Often, a session can look like a combination of different things.

What is consistent though, is that throughout the process we will gently be coming back to focus on their experience in the present moment and how it is expressed in the feeling body – the key aspect of our being that is still very often overlooked (yet holds all the essential keys to our healing and thriving).

What initially drew me to gestalt and then eventually to other embodied modalities, was its explicit focus on the 'here and now', coupled with a creative, experimental, radically curious and empowering approach to the human experience. What I myself practise and invite my clients to do is to become explorers, brave connoisseurs of their inner world, coming from a place that 'everything is valuable information and everything is welcome here'.

Once people start recognising and understanding the information that their body constantly delivers through subtle sensations, feelings and thoughts, they can process and integrate past experiences and start exploring new, creative ways of being and meeting their deep needs that could have been hidden and unmet for a long time.

How does holistic therapy help with symptoms of anxiety?

Anxiety is very often a symptom of a deeper underlying issue – most often, some repressed feelings, memories or needs that currently don’t have space to be processed. In therapy, we focus on cultivating emotional and somatic (embodied) resources that make it possible for us to create a safe and supported space for the feelings and past experiences to become fully known, loved and integrated, at which point the symptom (anxiety) usually significantly softens or retreats.

What sort of people do you usually see?

I am used to seeing adults from all walks of life and enjoy working with both men and women. Throughout my practice, I have worked with older and younger people who have come to me for various reasons – some of them were seeking support with their complex and confusing emotional experiences (grief, anxiety, shame, depression), others wanted to experience more aliveness, freedom, clarity and purpose and needed guidance. 

I particularly love supporting people in the realms of relationships, parenting, grief and self-acceptance/self-worth.

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

Overall, I would say that there seems to be a lot more curiosity about and awareness around the importance of mental health and one’s inner world. I hear a lot more people talking about self-compassion and self-acceptance than ever before. 

I also think there is a lot more awareness of how early childhood trauma influences our adult experiences and the role that the body plays in healing and thriving. There has been so much research done on it over the past years, and this knowledge is gradually spreading and reaching a wider audience.

On the other hand, I think that the pandemic has facilitated a pause that has allowed many people to slow down, look within (or at least notice the discomfort which it might have been more difficult to notice in the usual busy day-to-day life) and reflect upon their lives and experiences.

What do you like about being a therapist?

I cherish being with people in their lived experience, it is such an honour and privilege getting to witness them exploring and getting intimate with their unique precious worlds and histories. 

I learn so much from and grow alongside my clients, so although it is often believed that therapy is a giving profession, I most often feel that I receive from it just as much as I give. And of course, it is a delight to see my clients grow, become more resilient, empowered, more at peace with themselves and with life.

What is less pleasant?

Because of the intimate nature of this work, I do sometimes get confronted with my own pain points and unhealed parts. This is not exactly pleasant, but it is extremely valuable and propels me to do my own healing work and through that, grow, mature and deepen.

How long have you been with welldoing.org and what you think of us? 

I am very new to welldoing.org, have only been part of it for the past month and so far, I am really enjoying my experience. It is well structured and makes it easy for me to orient. 

Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?

Yes, I sometimes do – if the client is open and interested, I am happy to offer books that have contributed to my own wellbeing.

Some of the books I have recently recommended are The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk (I honestly wish everyone could read this book, it provides some essential information about how early trauma works); Pete Walker’s Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving; The Power of Attachment by Diane Poole Heller; No Bad Parts by Richard Schwartz; and Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach (this book changed my world view once upon a time).

What you do for your own mental health?

I aspire to treat my mental (and body) health as a priority, so I have my own therapeutic support, regularly practice yoga, meditation and deep relaxation and make time for being with my loved ones and friends (we cannot underestimate the importance of that!)

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

I don’t have much experience of practising elsewhere, so this is hard for me to comment upon. I imagine, a big city life entails quite a few particular challenges – life can be quite fast, there are a lot more stimuli and stressors around and I have heard clients expressing a sense of anxiety and pressure to keep up with the pace of things; it can also be more difficult to create space for oneself and one’s inner world.

What’s your consultation room like?

I work from home and usually see clients on the couch in my living room, which is spacious, has a lot of light and a beautiful view upon London. Having said that, during the pandemic, most of my work has been online – I usually practice on Zoom.

What do you wish people knew about therapy?

I wish people knew that proper therapy is a long-term process that takes commitment and courage. Nowadays, there are a lot of approaches that create a false perception that therapy is something brief and its goal is to provide a fix to a particular problem. However, therapy is a deep relational process that has its own logic and timing and is not to be pushed and forced.

The results of this process, if it is allowed to take place, go far beyond any particular condition or problem. Therapy fundamentally changes the way how a person relates to the world, which will look and feel different in each particular case, but will be an undeniable inner experience.

Another super important thing I would love for everyone to know is that therapy is not only for people who have a problem or need healing – it is an amazing ongoing support, something that keeps enhancing the quality of life and helps us grow, deepen and expand beyond what our mind knows is possible for us.

What did you learn about yourself in therapy?

So many things, I’ve lost count! Most importantly, I’ve learnt that I exist, I matter and my needs and perspective are valid and important – not as a concept in my head, but as a felt sense from which I can set compassionate boundaries and reach out to others.

I’ve got a very clear understanding of my direction in life and an ability to discern what is good and what is not so good for me – something I struggled with for a long time. 

I have also learnt that I am resilient and strong, just like all of us humans – something you would have never heard me say just a few years ago.

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