Paula Bowen-Scott is a counsellor in Exeter and online

What attracted you to become a therapist?

I came from a very diverse background having worked in The Rocky Horror Show in London for four years in the mid seventies, then ended up married to a Methodist Minister for 20 years, whom I met in a pub in Fulham!

I became acutely aware that people were drawn to our home, and to me, because they felt safe and knew they would be listened to. I wanted to help people feel that they were not alone with their struggles and that change was possible.

However, there were times when I felt that I wasn't well enough equipped to help and I began to feel somewhat overwhelmed by the expectations of my role. So, I decided to explore my options and found the beginning of my journey through a counselling course. I immediately felt a strong synergy with the work and study, and it felt like a very organic, natural path to pursue.

Where did you train?

I initially started my training by completing a course in basic counselling skills. This was followed by a counselling certificate course, whilst I was living in Stoke on Trent, at the college there. I completed this alongside a psychology course, but we were then moved to West London. I had found the certificate course so inspiring and exciting that I decided to continue my studies. I then found an accredited person-centred & existential counselling diploma course at Thames Valley University in Ealing.

Two years after completing my diploma, I trained as a counselling supervisor at ReVision, The Centre for Integrative Psychosynthesis in North London.

Following working with talking therapies for 16 years, I then trained in Sound Therapy as a Gong Practitioner with The College of Sound Healing.

I also trained as an independent funeral celebrant following my ex husband's death three years ago.

Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise? 

My ways of working with my clients is very varied according to their needs and presenting issues, but fundamentally, I come from an existential perspective. I really enjoy this way of working as it encourages not only authentic living but also taking responsibility for the choices we make.

However, following my supervision training, which was an integrative psychosynthesis model, I now really love to weave in the elements of soulfulness and spirituality into the way I work.

I have noticed that my clients really respond well to this 'other' dimension and the anticipation of 'what if'. It feels as though they realise that they can give themselves permission to use imagination and hope, and really take responsibility for their choices and happiness. I love to work with metaphors, analogies and dreams too.

I chose to work in this way because it feels innate and a deep strong calling. It enables my clients to creatively explore change, healing and freedom at a fundamental level.

I suppose that this this is with why I was drawn to sound healing. I realised that at times, talking was just too much for some clients and that they just wanted to feel different without having to trawl through their stories over and over again.

Learning to become a gong practitioner was an amazing experience, and seeing clients visibly changed by the sound journey, re-enforced my feelings about alternative ways of healing and changing the way we feel.

This all transpired from my own experience of a gong bath. I was going through a difficult time in my life and went along for a session, simply wanting to feel less distraught, and less pained. It was the most amazing experience which completely shifted my mood, and from that moment, I knew that something special had happened that I wanted to be part of and to share with other people.

Ultimately, I integrate all my learnings together to see what is going to be the most useful to my clients.

How does your style of therapy help?

The way I work, which not only includes the existential approach, but also personal and professional experiences and trainings, aims to help clients find a long-term and lasting change in their perspective, outlook and approach to their life issues.

So, for example, we might explore how to best live with the fact that anxiety is part of the human condition and how we embrace and accept this.

I find that my approach works well with relational issues, and gaining a deeper understanding of how we have become who we are, and the influences that have affected the ways in which we experience the world and interact with others.

Accepting that it is our choices that have contributed to our individual evolution gives us the power to make more informed choices and relieve ourselves from blaming others.

What sort of people do you usually see? 

I usually work with adults from age 16 years upwards, and embrace a wide range of issues. Presenting issues are often relationships, either with others or self, and the symptoms that manifest from the disharmony. This can then uncover a multitude of layers within their lives.

I also like to work with post-traumatic stress, health anxiety and long-term health conditions which can be completely consuming for some clients.

During my training as an independent funeral celebrant, I was very drawn to working with people who were 'living with dying', and how it affected them. Sometimes it is the client with the condition and sometimes it is the client who is affected by someone else who is unwell or dying. I discovered that the more accepting and comfortable a client became with their mortality, the easier their end of life journey became. It can be very beautiful work and a great privilege.

What do you like about being a therapist?

I love the connection and authenticity of the therapeutic relationship that I create with my clients. To see a client through a difficult time and watch them work out a pathway through what originally felt impossible, feels very rewarding.

I really enjoy the experience of being with someone on their journey, wherever it takes us, and being trusted with a client's most sacred and intimate feelings.

What is less pleasant?

I guess it would have to be the client that really wants to be helped but cannot engage in the process at that point in time, for whatever reason.

How long you’ve been with and what you think of us? 

I only recently signed up with so am a relative newby! I love to read the articles from other therapists, plus the interviews. Working independently can sometimes feel quite isolating so it is refreshing to see what others are up to.

Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?

Occasionally, if I feel that the client will really engage with a book, but generally, I prefer to suggest a short article. Sometimes I might take something along for them to take home and read if they want to.  

I also use pages from Draw on Your Emotions by Margot Sunderland. This is a brilliant book illustrated by Nicky Armstrong and is a resource for therapists as an alternative way for clients to express their emotions. Pages can be photocopied and either worked with during the session, or at home.

What you do for your own mental health?

I play the gongs! I also do shamanic drumming, either alone or in a drumming circle.

Walking is another way that I find space for myself. In Feb/March 2017, I walked the 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago on my own! It took me 35 days, through sunshine and thigh-deep snow!

Walking has been really important for me during lockdown.

I wild swim too, and I sing in a Madrigal group.

You are a therapist in Exeter and Exmouth, Devon. What can you share with us about seeing clients in those areas? 

Exeter is a busy and vibrant city with a popular university. My clients are very varied and bring a broad range of issues. However, a common theme is gratitude for living in an area where they can access the sea, Dartmoor and city life.

What’s your consultation room like?

I work mainly from The Practice Rooms in Exeter. The rooms here are very tranquil and serene. In each room there are several comfortable chairs and also a chaise longue in most rooms. The general style of all the rooms is sort of ethnic antique chic, and each room has a colour theme, and plants!

I also work occasionally in Exmouth from a place called Pete's Dragons, which is a charity set up for families who have been affected by suicide. The room that I use there is very simple and tranquil, with french windows.

What do you wish people knew about therapy?

That whatever it is they need, it is within themselves and that therapy can help them to locate and unlock it.

I think that this quote by Albert Camus is beautiful and sums it up perfectly....

In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love. In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile. In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm. I realised, through it all, that in the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there's something stronger – something better, pushing right back”

What did you learn about yourself in therapy?

Gosh..I suppose that it was through therapy that I really learned who I am, and to embrace that, even with my faults. I learned the value of self-care and to accept that not everything can be fixed, but that life is to be enjoyed not endured!

Contact Paula here

Meet more therapists