Meet the Therapist: Lee Bernard
What attracted you to become a therapist?
As a young chap in my early teens I had a highly muddled mind and I was fortunate enough to see a social worker; Kay Fleetwood was her name. I would go to see Kay for an hour every week and that time became precious to me; it taught me about the power of reflection of introspection, to make sense of the world, my world.
That understanding gave me a sense of self-confidence and a sense of self-assurance that was priceless. I have tried to locate Kay a few times, unsuccessfully, to thank her and let her know what a profound impact her work had on me.
Secondly, I witnessed my first wife, a young, vibrant, happy, outgoing intelligent young lady descend into bleak psychotic episodes when confronted with parenthood. The strength of feeling that can be unwittingly bound up in the mind and body with the power to cause utter devastation, also affected me profoundly and greatly fuelled my interest in the human mind.
Where did you train?
I trained with the highly reputable WPF Therapy in London who combine and facilitate both theoretical and clinical study. Most of the work was conducted in their basement rooms; so a constant physical descent (as well as psychological one), into the inner workings of the mind, over a five-year period.
A challenging, often gruelling journey, and also a highly rewarding one (as is the therapy journey, we as therapists facilitate those who come to see us), and whomever has been through this will understand what I mean. I shall never forget it!
Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?
I practice psychodynamic psychotherapy. The conviction I hold is that even before birth, in the womb, we have the capacity to hold memory of experience in the body; experiences that influence us, our thoughts, our actions, our behaviours, all that we say and all that we do.
Our rational mind becomes fully formed at about the age of four, the time we dream of monsters under the bed or in wardrobes; it is at this age that we can rationalise and remember experiences which can help to give understanding to the people we become, why we do the things that we do.
However, even with the rational mind in operation any difficult and painful experience can easily bypass this wonderful filter that we have and proceed as if it never happened. It is the way the human mind defends us from confronting the pain, however it also means we become full of experiences that inform our actions and behaviours though we never quite understand why we do what we do and say what we say.
This can leave us feeling at odds with ourselves in various ways. The mode of training that I practice supports those who come to see me to make sense of those painful experiences that lay beyond conscious awareness without disturbing the defence mechanism we employ to keep them locked away and hidden.
How does psychodynamic psychotherapy help with symptoms of anxiety and depression?
Anxiety is fundamentally the rational mind working in overdrive to subdue overwhelming and difficult to understand feeling.
Depression on the other hand occurs due to a build up of repeated experiences that leave us feeling frustrated and angry yet we do not quite know how to express it.
Understanding the volume of feeling and experience that is trapped behind the conscious filter reduces the pressure on the rational mind that causes anxiety. Equally, it processes and makes sense of the deep feelings of frustration and anger and releases the build up of pressure that can grind us to halt and steel away all our energy.
What sort of people do you usually see?
I work with youths and adults. Common symptoms are over-worrying, finding things to worry about with an inability to sit quietly; a need to be permanently busy and sometimes the worry is to the point of feeling incredibly numb and losing hours of time.
Equally, symptoms are a lack of energy: some days are great, yet others it’s almost impossible to find the motivation to get out of bed in the morning for no apparent reason at all. Or, a complete loss of energy can occur where even the simple task of eating can become too much of an effort.
I am also trained as a couples counsellor which is very different work and my welldoing profile describes how this is different to individual work and also points to the common issues I work with.
Have you noticed any recent mental health trends or wider changes in attitude?
Yes, it seems that the more society moves away from a healthy respect of authority, the diminishing power of institutions such as the police and schools and even family systems makes for only a growing culture of young people who are left undisciplined, unmotivated and highly confused, increasingly so even with fundamental issues. As a result we are living in a society embracing counselling and psychotherapy intervention, as a necessity with not enough supply to cope with the demand.
Equally, and coupled with the accessibility of information and self-diagnoses, I find the people I see coming along quite informed about psychotherapy dynamics and concepts which at times can be helpful and others also a hindrance.
What do you like about being a therapist?
That it can be transformational. That pain and suffering, ill health and unhappiness can be replaced, with joy, happiness, inner peace and contentment. That a strong confident individual can emerge from the process and live with a significantly improved quality of life. This to me is priceless, just as it was for me.
What is less pleasant?
When deep trauma cannot be worked through with one intervention, went a patient needs to break away from the work, it can leave you the therapist carrying quite a lot of unprocessed feelings that are not your own and that are left unresolved.
Whilst as a therapist you hold strong boundary, you never stop being a human being with feelings and the work can be as painful sometimes as much as it can be rewarding.
How long have you been with welldoing.org and what you think of us?
I have been with welldoing.org a relatively short time, two months. It was incredibly easy to set up my profile and already you are reaching out to me inviting me to contribute to the community which is refreshing and encouraging.
Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?
I never do.
What you do for your own mental health?
I have a disciplined approach to maintaining good physical health and meeting my nutritional needs; I train five times per week, mainly strength exercise. I keep to a highly consistent schedule ensuring I gain sufficient rest and sleep. These elements I believe are essential to maintaining good mental health.
You are a therapist in Thaxted, in Essex. What can you share with us about seeing clients in this area?
I really do not see anything about the area that defines my client base; my clients are human beings that for one reason or another need some support to make sense of how they think and how they feel.
What’s your consultation room like?
My consulting room is in a home practice, a peaceful private setting. The room itself is a serene shade of green which I find soothes and calms a muddled mind. The room is uncluttered and the atmosphere relaxed.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
That it is an intervention that absolutely every single human being can benefit from. Everybody has a lived life made up of a multitude of experiences that have left a multitude of scars and memories, and knowing and learning about them makes for a more informed version of you; a more informed version of you that will live the rest of your life that more assured, that more confident and therefore that more decisive and contented.
What did you learn about yourself in therapy?
That I am highly imperfect. That the odd ways I think, the odd things I do and say, the reasons why I run away from things and the reasons why I obsess over certain things all have good reason.
Once I knew what they were, once I processed all the toxicity held within, that imperfect chap underneath is quite a good guy, he just needed to be understood, by me.