Meet the Therapist: Paul Clark
What attracted you to become a therapist?
Long before I imagined becoming a therapist, I was a client myself in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. I know from experience when it is good, it is very good. On the other hand, it was not always; and then I thought I could do better. Life events brought me to a crossroads; I decided to do this.
Where did you train?
I did a Level 4 Diploma at the Mary Ward Centre. For six years I met clients each week as a voluntary counsellor at West London Centre for Counselling.
Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?
I practise a discursive, relational therapy, the kind where we build trust and rapport based on a solid contract and working alliance. Since both the client and I are thinking, feeling, (mis)behaving people, in relation to one another, that’s what we’re communicating - or in some cases avoiding - and wondering why.
I contain the relationship, I take it to supervision, I think about it and write notes. I mostly listen, because the other’s experience of hearing what they actually are saying may be very therapeutic. I do also speculate, wonder, hypothesise, cajole, challenge and so on. I want us to get value for money.
How does therapy help?
Symptoms can be manifestations of a disconnect between ourselves and our feelings. Feelings create ideas, ideas create feelings – a fearful self-narrative may prevent us recognising and satisfying our needs. Actually, a fearful narrative may protect us from what we want… Acknowledging and working with fear, we grow our capacity to survive and thrive and make use of it.
The therapy admits loving feelings, sadness, pain, frustration and hatred, boredom and anger, the better to understand them. We differentiate between those defensive strategies that are outmoded and obstructive and those which need to be maintained and strengthened in order for us to effectively meet the next challenge. Symptoms either subside or persist; in any case we’d like for them to become less worrying.
What sort of people do you usually see?
I work with individual adults of all ages experiencing anxiety, depression and relational problems – the triad of symptoms underpinning the broad spectrum of unhappiness.
Beneath anxiety, depression and relational problems is often the fear of being found-out, exposed and vulnerable, shamed and rejected. Most of us want things other than what we’ve got. But what exactly? If we can identify the qualities we desire, we might use courage and insight to make some necessary adjustments, or find alternative satisfactions.
Have you noticed any recent mental health trends or wider changes in attitude?
From my perspective we seem societally more anxious, distracted and depressed – with some objective good reason. But anxiety, distraction and depression are also addictive, and can become status symbols: ‘My suffering is greater because…’
I believe we’re more open to the idea of mental health and more accepting of the idea it’s OK to ask for help. We adopt ever more classifications and quantifications and designations for all kinds of ways of being, the better to limit them. There’s a tension always between the collective drive to subjugate human experience, in all its remarkable variety, within a dominant hierarchy, and playful curiosity for its own sake.
What do you like about being a therapist?
I like spending time with people talking about their experiences and lives. It can be stimulating and affirming and exciting and life-changing. In fact, it’s an enormous privilege. I like to put my feelings and intelligence to work, and I like to be useful.
What is less pleasant?
A lot of it is unpleasant, in the sense that we’re dealing with some difficult things and the way is not easy nor should it be.
How long have you been with welldoing.org and what you think of us?
I’ve been with Welldoing for a few weeks. It feels good, I’m enjoying meeting my peers and exploring the resources. I am not yet using the booking system but I think I soon will. It looks a convenient, integrated solution for the administrative side of our business.
Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?
Civilisation and its Discontents by Sigmund Freud; Home is Where We Start From by Donald Winnicott; Love’s Executioner by Irvin Yalom; The Games People Play by Eric Berne.
What you do for your own mental health?
I remind myself that ‘a little bit of what you like does you good’ and then I act on it.
You are a therapist in London and online. . What can you share with us about seeing clients in this area?
They’re a very mixed assortment. Cultural and socio-economic differences are in the room.
What’s your consultation room like?
I currently see clients face-to-face at StillPoint, Clerkenwell. It’s a pleasant room with big windows in a magic location. I fantasise about creating my ideal consulting room.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
It doesn’t ‘cure’ us, it deepens our experience.
What did you learn about yourself in therapy?
That I’m a worthwhile human being on my own terms - and I can be a difficult client!