Meet the Therapist: Mark Hoffman
What attracted you to become a therapist?
I have always been drawn to others. Previously working in hospitality, it seemed like a natural progression to use my caring and empathic qualities further and retrain in counselling.
I now find my work incredibly rewarding, working with clients in the therapeutic space, watching them change, grow, and evolve, and being a part of their journey to feel more positive and more able to find movement in their lives.
It is a privilege to be a part of my client's journeys to better mental health and greater wellbeing.
Where did you train?
I studied at London Southbank University, with a diverse group of students of different ages, genders, ethnicities, demographics, religions, and sexualities. Learning about diversity in such an in-depth manner has enhanced my ability to sit with different clients and really try to understand their worlds from their unique perspectives.
The counselling profession, in some places, can be predominantly white and middle-class. In not reflecting the diverse client base that may want to seek counselling, we are reducing our profession to a stereotype. With my diversity training, and my own differences, I hope that clients of all backgrounds and differences will feel safe and understood while with me.
The CPCAB (Counselling and Psychotherapy Central Awarding Body) diploma is well-recognised. It is the official educational body of the BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy), the biggest therapy and counselling body in the UK. The diploma has difference and diversity at its core, and I developed a vast understanding of working interculturally.
My tutor was a pioneer in the area and was an inspiration in this work. During my training, I also met other pioneers of intercultural counselling, such as Elaine Arnold, an associate of John Bowlby – she took his attachment model and applied it to the children of Caribbean immigrants.
Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?
I offer integrative therapy with both person-centred and psychodynamic theories within my model. These approaches are uniquely tailored to you by looking at the present and linking your history to current concerns. Every client I sit with is unique and requires something different from me as their therapist.
As well as online and telephone counselling, I offer walk and talk therapy, rather than being enclosed in a room with designated chairs, we meet outside in nature and the fresh air, allowing movement to come into the sessions. It can feel quite intense for some clients when a counsellor sits directly opposite them, people with shame or neurodiversity can find it gets in the way of therapy. Walking next to each other can feel equal and less formal for some, avoiding direct eye contact, but knowing someone is beside you listening. However, walking isn't a must; sitting somewhere in nature is also an option.
How does walk and talk therapy help with symptoms of anxiety?
Studies have shown that time in nature — if people feel safe — is an antidote for stress. It can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve mood. Attention Deficit Disorder and aggression lessen in natural environments, which also helps speed the healing rate.
Walking in nature promotes the release of dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, and oxytocin inside the body, creating a natural high — leaving you feeling happier. I sometimes use grounding techniques for those with high anxiety to bring them into their bodies with mindfulness practices.
What sort of people do you usually see?
I see individual adults of all ages and with a variety of issues. Clients present with anxiety and low moods, concerns with their lives, work, and relationships. I also work with people facing bereavement and loss, life transitions and those finding it difficult to know what they want and need in life.
Others come from dysfunctional families and live with the effects of shame, abandonment, neglect, and emotional abuse from difficult childhoods. Low self-esteem is a presentation I see pretty often in clients, working with those with a harsh inner critic.
I work with ADHD, and walking and talking might be a good option for those who don't want to sit in a chair and connect with nature instead.
Have you noticed any recent mental health trends or wider changes in attitude?
I think society has grown more accepting of mental health, and there is less stigma around it. People are more supportive of those with mental health concerns.
When I meet people and tell them about my profession, it often gives them permission to be more open about their own mental health. Some say they have had therapy and openly talk about their positive experiences.
Meeting younger adults, they seem to be in touch with their mental health by having therapy and see it as a holistic approach to living, eating well, exercising, and self-care. A trend I am now observing is for prophylactic therapy, seeking counselling as a way to look after themselves, not just because they have a current problem that they want to work through, a regular mental health MOT.
What do you like about being a therapist?
It is an honour and privilege to be part of someone's journey as they move forward with their lives, finding new paths through difficulties and challenges. I find it very rewarding to see their transformation as they overcome their anxieties, pains and struggles, emerging the other side with more balance and lightness. I like helping clients develop the tools that work for them, giving them the space to look at behaviours, thoughts, and emotions, and allowing growth through patterns they have been stuck in.
What is less pleasant?
It is hard to see the pain and grief that people go through when losing a loved one. I've been trained specifically to deal with loss and support them through that difficult time, yet I still find it challenging because no loss is ever easy.
How long have you been with Welldoing, and what you think of us?
I've been with Welldoing for a few months and have had a few clients from here. I like the platform, and it's straightforward to use.
The continued personal development has been excellent for counsellors, with some great topics and speakers.
Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?
Some clients have found the yoga Nidra mindfulness practice very helpful for anxiety. It doesn't require movement but lying down and listening to a guided body scan. It helps to stop overthinking, reduces cortisol, the stress hormone and increases serotonin. I send them links to media platforms such as Spotify etc.
What you do for your own mental health?
Most days I take an early morning walk through the local common and woods, connecting with nature, and doing my utmost to be present and in the moment.
I go two or three times a week to yoga classes at my local gym and then sit in the steam room to decompress.
Most days I meditate, clearing my mind to relax and reset. Getting sleep is also crucial for me, I find not getting enough is detrimental. I try to eat healthily and have a good diet.
I have a support network of friends, and we use each other to share openly and honestly about our lives.
You are a therapist in Clapham, Streatham and Tooting. What can you share with us about seeing clients in this area?
Lots of green spaces and connections to Central London with the Tube and train attract a wide variety of people from young professionals, to families and older working and retired people. There are many demographics, and it is such a diverse, creative and inspirational area of South London.
What's your consultation room like?
I work online or by telephone, with walk and talk therapy, Clapham Common, Tooting Bec common and Streatham common are in my catchment area. There are woods, ponds, wildlife, and a beautiful walled garden in Streatham. Places to stroll and benches to sit, talk, and absorb nature, light and its healing effects.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
Some might think therapy is for a select few with a huge or strange problem. Therapy is for everyone, and it's normal to be anxious, confused or have concerns about yourself, life, families, and relationships. To look at what overwhelms you and gain self-knowledge is moving forward. We are trained to listen, not to be surprised by your concerns, and won't judge you.
Therapists are interested in mental health and helping out, providing a safe space for you to talk and work on your concerns. Unlike talking with friends or acquaintances, therapy is strictly confidential. What you tell the therapist stays with them.
What did you learn about yourself in therapy?
I gained lots of self-awareness, and my therapist pointed out blind spots that I had never noticed before. I became more aware of my emotions and feelings and worked out solutions to my problems. I learned how to trust myself and my gut instinct and learnt how I could find a way through my issues.