Meet the Therapist: Paul Garden
What attracted you to become a therapist?
I’ve always been interested in how the mind works, and why we feel the way we feel and do the things we do. Before training as a psychologist, I spent over a decade in Asia studying and practicing Eastern psychology.
That led me to return home to the UK to study neuroscience and Western psychology because I wanted to understand and compare what I discovered in the East through a Western scientific lens.
While doing that, I worked alongside many psychologists and became increasingly impressed by the wide range of skills they had when it came to working with people who were struggling psychologically and emotionally.
Where did you train?
I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the beginning of ten years of full-time training and study to qualify as a psychologist, which involved completing a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree, working as an Assistant Psychologist, and then training in the NHS while working towards a professional Doctorate degree.
All three of my degrees were in London Universities: Westminster, King’s College London, and City, University of London.
My clinical training was mainly gained through working in NHS complex-care psychology services working with people with a wide variety of mental health presentations. I also worked as an assistant psychologist in the charity sector for five years while a Bachelor and Master’s student.
Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?
As a psychologist, I am trained and experienced to work integratively, which means I can blend a range of psychological models that I have expertise in. This allows me to personally tailor the therapy to suit the changing needs of the particular client I am working with.
I mainly use psychodynamic/analytic approaches because they allow investigation and identification of the underlying, emotional and psychological influences that impact people’s everyday experience in the here and now.
A typical example of this is the way that we might notice that we keep finding ourselves in the same difficult situations over and over again, repeating patterns without understanding why, and feeling powerless to change things. Gently bringing awareness to the parts of our mind that we not quite conscious of allows us to work with what’s underneath and make helpful changes.
My approach to therapy is underpinned by my compassion-focused, non-judgemental attitude which is rich in mindful-awareness. I support my clients to develop more insight into their situation, and to use fresh perspectives to be more able to tolerate the difficulties that life inevitably presents.
How does therapy help?
Whatever people are struggling with, whether it is self-criticism, shame, anxiety, worry, depression/low mood, relationships with others, abuse, stress, childhood trauma or any other emotional struggle, therapy that develops a better understanding of who you are, and why you experience things the way you do, will equip you to deal with difficulties and your life in general much more helpfully.
No matter what the original issue that brings people to therapy, my approach is wholistic and addresses the complete person. This results in an improved sense of wellbeing and empowerment: feeling better in your own skin.
What sort of people do you usually see?
Clients often begin therapy with some idea of what they came for. Sometimes there is an obvious crisis or emotional trauma that feels immediate and therefore there is a clear focus for the therapy from the start.
Often people tell me that they have a sense that things are just not okay, but they can’t quite put their finger on it. This then becomes our starting point.
People from a various cultural backgrounds come to me for therapy. In this context, I draw from my experiences of living in a rich variety of countries immersed among various cultures around the world. That period of my life and the cultural contexts I lived in were a wonderful education.
I work across the age spectrum, from adolescents and young people, though to adults and older adults.
Have you noticed any recent mental health trends or wider changes in attitude?
Starting therapy is much more normalised nowadays. In my experience, society has progressed to valuing self-awareness and emotional wellbeing, where feeling OK with yourself and being relatively at ease with life is valued as much as enjoying good physical health.
Therapy is the perfect context to deepen our understanding of who we are and why we experience ourselves and other people the way we do. Quite often people come to my practice for this very reason: to know and understand themselves better, and to try to make sense of their lives and the situations they find themselves in. I think this reflects the trend towards valuing self-awareness and investing in emotional wellbeing.
The recent contexts of Brexit, the pandemic, and now the war in Ukraine, have brought a lot of people closer to their internal struggles. Many of our usual distractions have been removed, making the deeper personal issues slightly more conscious, and creating a sense of inner discomfort. People are understandably feeling less control over their lives.
What do you like about being a therapist?
Being a therapist means developing and having genuine and meaningful relationships with people who can trust the therapeutic space I provide where they can share painful and difficult things about their lives, often discussing experiences that they have kept to themselves for many years. Sometimes things they were never consciously aware of themselves.
We build an authentic, healing relationship together that becomes a context from which my clients are able to make sense of things, and have a different experience of themselves and the world they live in, including the people in it.
Although the therapeutic process can be challenging for clients, when the understanding and insight emerge, it is rewarding for us both.
What is less pleasant?
I’m not a huge fan of admin!
How long have you been with welldoing.org and what you think of us?
I originally joined Welldoing in 2017.
The team at Welldoing have always been super supportive, and the site is always wonderfully innovative. There’s also a great sense of community from the organisation with some fantastic opportunities to attend and become involved with public talks and events. Great to see these are now back in action again following the pandemic restrictions.
On a practical note, I find the online payments and booking system makes things very straightforward for Welldoing clients and for me as a therapist.
Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?
In our sessions, my clients sometimes talk to me about a book or an article that they are reading and what it means to them, which is usually related to the issues we are thinking about together.
I have occasionally recommended books to clients, but usually only if I’ve been asked something specific in terms of a recommendation.
I have sometimes suggested the book Siddhartha by Herman Hesse to clients who are on a journey of self-discovery. It’s a wonderful fable about finding meaning and purpose in unexpected places and situations and highlights the human capacity for change and adaptability in the face of challenge.
What you do for your own mental health?
I practice yoga and meditation regularly, and also enjoy swimming and running. I have a life-long connection with nature and also enjoy socialising at the weekend.
You are a therapist in W1 and EC2, London. What can you share with us about seeing clients in these areas?
I think that people choose the area mainly for practical reasons, mainly around convenience. Pre-pandemic, people came to W1 for therapy because the area has such a rich history of health treatments of all kinds. It’s also easily accessible. This is still the case to some degree, although I am finding that many of my clients prefer to continue their sessions online despite me being available for face-to-face sessions. At the end of the day, it’s a personal choice.
Similarly with my EC2 address, many professionals working in the area choose to have their weekly session close to the office for convenience.
What’s your consultation room like?
There’s a hint of my time in Asia in the room.
It’s quite large and bright, with high ceilings, white walls, dark wooden floors, thick rugs, big windows with venetian blinds, and lots of bookshelves, which are a great source of personal pleasure. People sometimes comment that the room feels calm and still.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
Ultimately, therapy is aimed at improving our sense of wellbeing, but it can be a demanding process that brings us up close to the reasons and experiences behind why we feel the way we feel, do the things we do, and experience things in the way that we experience them. Therapy aims to explore and find other ways of understanding and experiencing things, which, initially at least, can be emotionally challenging, and even painful.
This means that therapy is not a space that people come to that’s just about feeling good in every session. There’s a process that needs to be meaningfully worked through. That’s why the therapeutic relationship between the two of us, and the regular therapeutic space is so vital; you’re not alone in the journey.
What did you learn about yourself in therapy?
To begin with, I found that there was a whole other side to my mind that I hadn’t realised. Given my interest in the mind in general, I was gripped by the process of unpacking and understanding how my thought and behaviour patterns had developed and formed from childhood, and how they still had important influences over my experiences in the present.
I found that by identifying and acknowledging these deeper parts of my mind, I could make sense of things in a way that I hadn’t considered before and develop useful new perspectives on things. I found it very empowering.