Meet the Therapist: Oliver O'Donohoe
What attracted you to become a therapist?
Naturally introspective, I was initially drawn to how the training could offer me a deeper understanding of myself. Perhaps a curious starting point for a career that’s about service to the other. However, I can only ever take my clients as far as I have been willing to go myself.
Where did you train?
The Minster Centre in Queen's Park, London. I knew very little about their training model, I just walked into the building and knew I was home.
Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?
I’m trained in embodied-relational, integrative psychotherapy. I focus on client’s past and present relationships, be that with themselves, family, friends, lovers or others. I find patterns or themes in these relationships, while simultaneously clocking these patterns between me and the client. The therapeutic relationship then becomes a ‘testing ground’ for new, healthier ways of relating.
During this exploration I may invite clients to breathe, because when we breathe, we feel (Totton and Edmonson, 2009). Due to trauma, understandably, not everyone wants to feel or try new ways of relating; painful patterns have familiarity and once served and perhaps even saved the individual.
Clients carry deeply held stories about whether they are worth the change they seek, so I offer compassion, slowness, grounding and presence as these experiences unfold. There is an opportunity for clients to give all parts of their current and historical pain – good, bad, and ugly – the validation and attention they could not or did not receive in childhood.
How does your therapy help with compulsive behaviour and substance use?
Compulsive use of drugs, alcohol, sex or even relationships, are well-polished defences, often symptomatic of historic wounds that have unconsciously sought healing through repetitive behaviours. Embodied-relational therapy reveals the paradox of healing: that many of our difficulties stem not from negative feelings themselves, but rather our resistance to allowing or accepting our embodied experiences of these feelings.
The resistance is often rooted in the fear that we may be rejected or abandoned by those we love if they knew our true feelings – our true selves. Our nervous system, using compulsive behaviours and negative thought patterns as a way of anaesthetic, works very hard to keep those parts hidden, even in the therapy room.
I gently invite my clients out of hiding; suggesting that it may finally be a safe thing for them to do. If these fractured parts can become known, integrated and whole, compulsive behaviours can consequently temper or disappear.
What sort of people do you usually see?
I only see individuals. I am also an experienced youth worker, so clients can range from 16-60 years old. However, typically, as young adults move into their late 20’s/early 30’s, they reach the point of independently seeking help and will knock on my door.
The presentations range widely and often transform as the therapy unfolds. I have experience working with addictions, relationships, sex, sexual trauma, sexuality and gender identity, to name a few.
Have you noticed any recent mental health trends or wider changes in attitude?
I notice more young adult cis, white, straight men seeking therapy, while struggling to remain in it for very long. If therapeutic endings happen at all, they are often fractured and murky. I don’t believe this contingent of clients are any more vulnerable than anyone else. However, I believe our patriarchal culture tacitly emboldens the embodied male defence more so than any other.
When they tell me they’ve had enough and why, I notice a part of me that sees no reason to challenge their reasoning. It somehow all sounds very ‘reasonable’, contextualising what they had brought to my consulting room thus far as ‘no big deal’. I’m easily sold by the shoulder-shrug of it all, while being left bemused. I ask myself: “How did he just vanish and how did I ‘participate’ in that?”
While knowing that all clients need the autonomy to leave therapy at any time, if young men are changing their minds about coming to therapy, how can we change our minds about how best to be with them in it?
What do you like about being a therapist?
Being in vivid, present and embodied contact with another person. It energises me, is a gateway to healing, and can even transcend the boundaries of the therapy room, putting flow back into the stream of society.
What is less pleasant?
The hard part about training was the constant assessment and observation of my skills. It’s funny how I now miss that mix of scrutiny and validation. Being enough to witness my own work, including the impact my work has upon my clients, are still shoes I’m wearing-in.
How long have you been with Welldoing and what do you think of us?
I’ve been with Welldoing for two years. I have had inquiries through them that have led to rich work with a variety of clients.
Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?
Yes, when working with relationship patterns, codependency is a very common theme. A book I therefore might recommend is Pia Mellody’s Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes From, How It Sabotages Our Lives.
What do you do for your own mental health?
Daily, I meditate for 20 minutes, practise Wim Hof breathing exercises and cold showers, and swim or run.
I am a provisional member of the Diamond Approach, which is a spiritual community and practice that combines Sufism with psychodynamics; it doubles as very rich CPD.
I continue to attend personal therapy and I have supervision. I attend other support groups of various guises, which, for me, is about connection, identification and a sense of belonging. While London is full of people, it can feel elusively lonely. It’s also full of fun, and I enjoy attending concerts, the theatre and art galleries. I sometimes play my drum kit and go hiking. Music and nature are powerful lubricants for the soul. Spending time with my family is also very important to me.
You are a therapist in South East London. What can you share with us about seeing clients in this area?
Brockley and the surrounding area has changed a lot in the last few years, with a diverse community in terms of race, gender, sexuality, age, ability etc. I’m not sure if the ‘typical South East London client’ exists. The community, generally, has a liberal and creative feel, which seems to encourage a culture of wellbeing; having a therapy practice seems to fit well with other businesses’ on offer here.
What’s your consultation room like?
Cosy and bright with room to breathe. It’s the open-plan lounge/kitchen area of a one bedroom flat in a contemporary development used for commercial purposes. This means it’s spacious and homely, yet professional without feeling too clinical.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
Healing can sometimes feel a bit upside-down. For example, if you describe yourself as ‘not an angry person’, connecting with your anger may be a core component to your therapeutic journey. This can understandably feel scary when anger is so closely associated with violence. However, anger as an energy, when engaged mindfully, can be used as a force for change. Generally, whatever you think you ‘are not’, could be a clue to becoming whole again.
What did you learn about yourself in therapy?
That my stubbornness has been an immovable force for change. And that I couldn’t begin to practise self-love until I got to know, intimately, the voice that tries to tell me otherwise.
Totton, N. and Edmonson, E. (2009). Reichian Growth Work: Melting the Blocks to Life and Love, Second Edition. Monmouth: PCCS Books.