Meet the Therapist: Matt Wotton
What attracted you to become a therapist?
When I first had therapy in my 20s, it really felt like it saved my life. I always knew I wanted to train to be a psychotherapist, but I didn’t feel ready until my 40s. It was a tough decision to step back from a well-paid job, but I’ve never regretted it.
Where did you train?
I trained at the oldest provider of therapy in the UK, the Highgate Counselling Centre. It’s in that bit of North London where Freud and Klein lived – not far from the Tavistock. I did some training at the Tavistock too, in couples and family therapy. And I spent some of the summer before my final clinical training at the Jung Institute in Zurich.
I work as an executive coach too, so I draw on training from the London Business School and I have an MBA from Warwick Business School.
Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?
It’s really important to me that clients know their time and money is being well spent, so I practice types of therapy that have a strong evidence-base. I try to base my approach around doing a few things well, rather than trying to be expert in everything.
There is virtually no couples counselling offered via the NHS, so I see quite a lot of couples. It suits my style – a bit more active and directive than most therapists, and with a focus on trying to find solutions.
How does couples therapy help?
Noticing the patterns that play out in a relationship is often the most useful thing a therapist can do. Couples often can’t see the wood for the trees. Knowing each person’s attachment style and the way they respond, makes a real difference, especially if the couple can begin to see that in the heat of an argument. Reframing requests in a clear way, with consideration for the other person, is an elite skill, which is nowhere near as easy as it sounds. But it’s life changing if you can master it.
What sort of people do you usually see?
I live and work in an affluent area, so tend to see professionals. Some are at the start of their career and beginning to rub up against how to manage their work-life balance. Others are well-established, often hugely successful, but now wondering whether there is more to life.
I am also co-Director of the London Centre for Applied Psychology which provides training to mental health professionals and offers coaching and consultation to businesses on wellbeing and mental health at work.
What do you like about being a therapist?
I love working with people who are motivated to make positive changes in their life. I know therapists are typically very modest, but rather immodestly, I think I am quite good at what I do, and I love helping people change. Having a therapist is a bit like having a personal trainer; in theory you could do it on your own, but you probably wouldn’t. I take a bit of credit for what goes on, but the bulk of the work is done by the client.
What is less pleasant?
Therapy is expensive and not everyone can afford it. Where I grew up, household budgets were stretched and therapy was out of the question. The answer to that is more therapy available via the NHS. But in the meantime, my own response is via the work I do as Chair of The Bowlby Centre, which offers low cost therapy to those who couldn’t otherwise afford it.
How long have you been with welldoing.org and what you think of us?
I’ve been registered with welldoing.org for a year or so now. I was recommended the site by a colleague and I now recommend it to anyone looking for a therapist.
Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?
It’s pretty rare for me to recommend anything to read. I prefer to focus clients on really noticing how their patterns play out. If they can spot their entrenched patterns and they’re willing to try to do things differently – that’s where the magic is.
I’ve read a lot over the years, but it wasn't that which helped me make changes in my own life. If I recommend anything it might be Jon Kabat-Zinn on mindfulness, Seth Gilligan has written the best introduction CBT, and the Gottmans are generally pretty good on relationships.
What do you do for your own mental health?
I think every psychotherapist probably says they do yoga, and/or walk and swim, but I genuinely do the first two daily and I swim once or twice a week at an open air pool. I’ve recently had some spinal surgery, so it’s doctor's orders, at the moment. I have a lovely family too, so just spending time with them recharges me (most of the time).
You are a therapist in Muswell Hill. Is there anything about the area you work that defines your client base?
Muswell Hill is a wealthy area, and I see lots of clients who work in finance or the media – well-paid, but highly pressured jobs, which I know a bit about. It’s also a family area, so as well as couples, I see older adolescent children, themselves often experiencing the pressure for academic success.
What’s your consultation room like?
No technology. Lots of books. Many of them have nothing to do with therapy. I hope it’s reassuring – I’ve read some stuff, you’re in safe hands, and I also know a bit about the world in general too - I am not obsessed with therapy as the answer to everything.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
It almost always works. 75% of people who come to therapy are better off than those who don’t. Across thousands of studies, over multiple decades, therapy consistently shows an effect size larger than almost all interventions in cardiology, and greater than the success rate of flu vaccinations. Although it’s expensive, almost no one regrets it and three-quarters of people who’ve had therapy say they would recommend it to a friend or family member.
What did you learn about yourself in therapy?
Like Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting, it turned out that my start in life and my parents' unhappiness really wasn't my fault. There wasn't much wrong with me. I was OK, in fact. We’re all OK. Sometimes we just need a bit of help.