Meet the Therapist: Ondine Smulders
What attracted you to become a therapist?
I am fascinated by people’s stories; each one is unique, each journey different. It felt only natural to me that following my own challenging life experiences, I returned to university to retrain as a psychotherapist and help others, as once I was helped.
Where did you train?
I trained at Regent University where I first obtained a PgDip in Integrative Psychotherapy followed by an Advanced Diploma in Existential Psychotherapy.
Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?
I practise existential psychotherapy because it rhymes so closely with my views on life and my own experiences in therapy. Not knowing what tomorrow will bring, realising that we have no control over anything except ourselves, and recognising that life is essentially without meaning, is a tricky pill to swallow.
Harder still, is learning that we alone are responsible for our choices, and that we only have a relatively short life to create our purpose and meaning. By helping you consider these questions and many more, and finding your own answers, existential psychotherapy can help you live a more meaningful and satisfying life.
How does existential therapy help with symptoms of transition, loss and depression?
For me, depression is about loss in the broadest sense, ranging from the loss of a loved-one, to the loss of a dream and a future, or the loss of contact with ourselves. Bereavement describes our reaction to the loss and grieving is what we do when we suffer a loss. This can be a turbulent and intense process during which we work out our changing relationship with what was lost, with ourselves, and with death (even when no death is involved).
Life is in perpetual motion, always moving forward, always shifting, sunrise to sunset and birth to death. We cannot control it, let alone stop it. We are all changed as a result of this process, sometimes in very subtle ways. If you are stressed about change and transitions, talking to someone like a psychotherapist, a bystander who effectively has no vested interest, can be very helpful. It can shed new light on your understanding of yourself, others and the world we all live in.
What sort of people do you usually see?
I will see any individual client aged 18 and up. Most of my clients are young and in transition—moving from school to university, from university to work, moving jobs, arriving from another country, coping with relationship and family issues, or a bereavement. This does not always proceed as smoothly as they wish and feelings of depression, anxiety, sadness, worthlessness, un-belonging and rootlessness are not uncommon.
Every client is different, each problem is the unique expression of a person’s particular suffering. No person or problem is ever alike.
What do you like about being a therapist?
I like meeting people and listening to their story. Each story is unique and offers a different perspective. Every experience offers me a chance to learn from the client: “so that is how I could deal with such and such an issue” regularly crosses my mind.
What is less pleasant?
Working as a therapist can be lonely, especially during the past year when a lot of work moved online, and I could not see my colleagues at work.
How long have you been with welldoing.org and what you think of us?
I have been in welldoing.org since 2016, and over the past five years I have received a steady flow of interesting clients through the website. I also like reading the articles on the site, especially those written by non-therapists which often offer a new insight.
Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?
I do not give my clients homework but sometimes they ask me for book suggestions. I recently read and would recommend Eva Meijer’s The Limitations of My Language, a touching and reflective meditation on her experience of depression and anxiety as a young girl/woman and her subsequent journey.
What do you do for your own mental health?
I consider myself a visual person, so in my free time, I read endlessly, like to view art, theatre and film. I also travel as much as I can to discover new places, and I find real pleasure in taking photographs.
Professionally, it helps me to have a part-time position as a non-executive director. It keeps me grounded in business and combines my knowledge of business and economics with my interest in and understanding of people. Witnessing management in action is like watching live-life theatre where every kind of human behaviour is on display.
You are a therapist in Central London and online. What can you tell us about seeing clients in these areas?
I am a therapist in Central London, which is a magnet for people from all over the world who work in a wide variety of industries and services. It allows me to work in the different languages I speak—I work in English, Dutch, Spanish and French. Since 2020, I also offer sessions online.
What is your consultation room like?
My rooms are easily accessible by public transport or car. They are comfortable and overlook the rooftops of London.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
It is important to work with a registered therapist (UKCP, BACP, BPS) who are all properly trained, but other than that I would like you to remember that no specific school of thought or method is anymore successful than another. It is the quality of the rapport/relationship that you form with your therapist that lies at the basis of a successful outcome—over decades many studies have corroborated this. So, take your time to find a therapist who is right for you. I always suggest a call first (you can pick up a lot during a short call), followed by a no-strings-attached session. I also recommend you contact more than one therapist to find the ‘right’ person for you.
Once you have decided to see someone, remember that he or she does not have a magic wand—there is no quick fix to problems that have taken years, sometimes decades, to develop. Be patient with yourself and your therapist, take it one step at the time.
What did you learn about yourself in therapy?
I learned the most in those rare ‘aha’ moments when something suddenly clicked, and the veil was lifted on an obscure aspect of myself that I had not been able to perceive until then.
I learned that everything passes, the bad days, and the good days (so enjoy them). This gives me the confidence to sit out bad weather days, as I like to call them. They cannot be avoided, so I try to accept them, just like I try to tolerate the rain and the occasional bad storm.