Meet the Therapist: Laura Duester
What attracted you to become a therapist?
I’ve always been interested in psychology and mental health but decided to have a career in dance (my other passion!) first. Whilst I was a student at dance college, I had counselling and found it really useful. Since then, it’s always been at the back of my mind that I wanted to become a counsellor and give other people the support and insights that I’d found so helpful. So, after many years working in dance, I decided to train as a psychotherapist. I love being able to do something so meaningful that makes a real difference in people’s lives.
Where did you train?
I trained at quite a few different places, including the Open University, Roehampton, Birkbeck and Tavistock Relationships. I think it’s really helpful to see things in different ways, and every organisation brings a fresh and different perspective.
Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?
I mainly practise psychodynamic psychotherapy/counselling, which focuses on how early experiences shape the way a person thinks and behaves. It means we create ‘blueprints’ in childhood which affect how we experience ourselves, others and the world from then on. I also work with the unconscious – ideas, feelings and memories which are stored outside of conscious awareness and often cause us to do or feel things that don’t make logical sense. I help clients identify and challenge their ‘blueprints’ and unconscious patterns, so they gain greater self-awareness and conscious control.
I chose the psychodynamic approach because I think it’s important to help people understand where and how their difficulties and ways of behaving originated. It’s a brilliant therapy as it gives really deep insight and enables people to make lasting changes. However, I also draw on a few other approaches, including CBT, creative techniques and positive psychology. It means I can be flexible with the way I work; I adapt depending on what a client is struggling with and what support they need at any particular time. I try to find a balance between working on managing any current problems or symptoms, and exploring the causes and unconscious thinking going on underneath.
What sort of people do you usually see?
I see people with all kinds of issues, including depression, anxiety, stress, family problems, trauma, low self-esteem and anger. I have clients from lots of different backgrounds, but I particularly enjoy working with students and dancers.
Studying is often a difficult time, with the transition from living at home to living independently, new relationships, study pressure and important career decisions – and sometimes buried things from childhood or adolescence can come up too. I love helping students navigate these challenges and develop their individual, adult identity. With dancers, because of my background in dance, I understand the unique pressures they face. Many dancers find that really helpful when they come to counselling, even when their problems aren’t specifically dance-related.
What do you like about being a therapist?
I love collaborating with a client to understand their feelings and work out what’s really going on. It’s great when we uncover something important that was previously unconscious, as finding the root of a problem often makes a huge difference. I also feel so privileged that people trust me with their most intimate and difficult thoughts, and that I can support them through life’s challenges.
What is less pleasant?
I often feel frustrated that counsellors and counselling services aren’t better valued and better funded. Many organisations expect counsellors to work for free, even when they charge clients and/or pay other staff (such as administrators). People also often have to wait a long time for counselling and can then only access four or six sessions. I offer concessions to make it easier for students and people on low incomes to attend counselling with me. But it would be great if there were more paid counsellors in places like schools and GP surgeries, so everyone could access therapy when they need it.
How long you’ve been with welldoing.org and what you think of us?
I only joined welldoing.org recently but I like how simple it is for people to find the right therapist for them. It’s also great that clients can book and pay for sessions online, and I can manage my appointment diary online too.
Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?
My favourite app to recommend to clients is Woebot. It’s an AI chatbot that helps to reframe thoughts, overcome anxiety and improve self-esteem using CBT – it even includes amusing little gifs and videos when you complete tasks!
Another great app for anyone feeling suicidal is Stay Alive, which has lots of tools to help keep you safe and allows you to add reasons for living and a personalised crisis plan.
What you do for your own mental health?
I do lots! I try to eat well, exercise and get enough rest – all the usual, sensible things. I make sure to prioritise time for family, friends and fun, as these things really boost my mood. I also recently started using a great tool called ‘worry time’, which involves writing down anything that’s bothering me and then coming back to it at a scheduled time. It’s really helped me let go of worries.
I think good mental health is always a work in progress. So I try to give myself regular opportunities to reflect, consider what is and isn’t working, and make changes. A bubble bath and a good chat with a friend is also a must after a bad day!
You’re a therapist in Oxfordshire and online. What can you share with us about seeing clients in those areas?
I see the majority of my clients online, which is wonderful as it means there’s no geographical restrictions on who can come to therapy with me. I see a lot of young people because of my specialism in student counselling, but probably also because they’re so comfortable with technology. However, as the pandemic has gone on, I’ve been seeing an increasingly wide range of people for online therapy, which is great. I love working online because it makes counselling much more accessible.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
I wish people knew that they don’t have to be in crisis or struggling with mental health in order to have therapy. It can be such a beneficial thing for personal development and to improve self-awareness and happiness, as well as to resolve difficulties.