Meet the Therapist: Ruxandra Anghel
What attracted you to become a therapist?
Becoming a therapist was one of my biggest childhood dreams. At some point, when I was about eight or nine, I went through this phase when I wanted to decide what to become when I grew up. I did a small survey in the family to ask for suggestions and the only one who took me seriously was my grandma. She asked me: ‘Think about what makes you feel good about yourself.’ And I replied: ‘I like it when I can make people happy.’ My great grandmother said that it was obvious even before I learnt to speak that it was my gift in life to make people laugh and feel good about themselves. I do remember that I could never accept seeing people in distress and despite having been through numerous distressing situations myself, I believe I was born with an ever burning joy of living. It was then decided, becoming a therapist was the profession for me.
By the time I became a grown up, becoming a therapist was not so straight forward. It took a while, a career in advertising and a bunch of important life experiences until at the age of 25 I decided it was time to follow my calling. Then it took a few years to find the framework I most resonated with, time in which I took on a few educational and work experiences. I believe I have now found my place in the world of psychology and therapy.
Where did you train?
I trained at Birkbeck and the New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling where I am still training as a doctoral student in counselling psychology.
Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?
I am an existential practitioner, a concept that sounds a bit fancy when you first hear it but it is in fact about life itself. Of course, all therapies are about life itself. The difference for existential therapy is that it focuses very clearly on all life dilemmas, big or small, from the little wonders of everyday living to larger existential issues like the meaning of life.
This type of therapy encourages clients to discover themselves as they really are and to think about their personal view on what it means to be alive on earth in this moment in history. Another thing that is specific for this approach is the call to responsibility of choice. In existential philosophy the human being is characterised by an infinite potential and each of us are the result of the choices we make, consciously or not. We are responsible for those choices, which in philosophical terms are referred to as the condemnation to freedom. A big part of the existential therapeutic work is done on accepting this paradox of existential freedom: we are who we choose to be, which is both a curse and a blessing.
How does existential help with symptoms of anxiety?
Anxiety is a very big theme in existential philosophy and practice. The existential belief about it is that there is no such thing as a life without anxiety. Anxiety is being alive. Anxiety has the role to shake us and shape us. It pushes us forward if we decide to be led by its current.
Of course, there are situations in life where anxiety is the direct result of a traumatic event. Let’s say someone had a car accident and after that they feel very anxious to cross the street or drive a car. However, in most cases at a deeper exploration of what that feeling of anxiety truly means for someone, we discover it is actually rooted in a larger existential fear, such as the fear of death or the fear of uncertainty. Life is nothing but uncertainty and it is very hard to deal with accepting what we do not know. It takes a great deal of trust and courage to take a leap of faith and let life happen, holding on to the hope, yet without any proof, that it will work out in your best interest.
What sort of people do you usually see?
In my career as a psychologist and therapist I have worked with people from the age of 7 to 97. All experiences have been incredibly rewarding. It is a great privilege to have access to preview all life stages without having to go through them yourself to gain that life earned wisdom, or to be able to travel back to an earlier stage of life. There is so much to learn for us therapists from all our therapeutic encounters.
I am mostly working with adults 18+ with a particular focus on young adults (18-24). I am passionate about personal development, meaning in life and joy of living. I work with dilemmas around performance, high achiever mentality, perfectionism, conscientiousness and how these affect work, relationships and personal identity.
What do you like about being a therapist?
I have answered this question many times in the past few years and I have a good list of reasons why I love my profession, starting with that from childhood that I love seeing people become happier. To put in one simple sentence though, this job makes me feel alive! It brings so much meaning to my life.
What is less pleasant?
Being a therapist is after all a job, not just a hobby, and so it comes with the challenges of any job plus the emotional risks and the personal investment that is higher than any other profession because it is almost entirely emotional. It is so important to look after ourselves as therapists whilst we look after our clients.
How long you’ve been with welldoing.org and what you think of us?
I found out about welldoing.org in a professional development workshop and I liked the idea of an alternative directory for therapists. I particularly like the fact that its concept brings therapists and clients together as a community and it is created to match clients with the best compatible therapists. I joined it at the end of last year.
Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?
Our cultural identity is a big part of the existential approach and so I enjoy talking about books or films with clients. We also talk about self-help tools and we share recommendations. However, it depends on my clients’ individual story whether this topic comes up or what titles come into discussion.
What you do for your own mental health?
I practice self-reflection, rest, dance, and I made it a life principle to surround myself only with good positive company.
You are a therapist in Crouch End in London. What can you share with us about seeing clients in this area?
I started my private practice last year in the midst of the pandemic that, despite being the most unfortunate situation, it connected me with people from other areas of the UK. The online has this power to expand our horizons. Before that, I worked as a counsellor in South London. If an area has a strong cultural identity then can come in the therapy room as well, but not necessarily. For me, culture is mainly a thing of mentality than it is of geography. I like to think of myself as a citizen of the world and thus I am genuinely curious to meet people from all over the world.
What’s your consultation room like?
I am still moving things around. I am excited to be at the start of private practice and decorate my room by myself. I like decorating very much. My environment has always reflected my personality and I often hear ‘Oh, this room is so you!’ I hope this means colourful, indie and very tidy.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
I am seeing more and more people open about therapy and this is amazing news. To those who are still shy to approach it, I would like for them to know that therapy does not point fingers, nor does it place blame or gives diagnoses. Therapy is not about finding out “what is wrong with you”. In fact, in existential therapy we dispute we can discuss human nature in terms of right or wrong. For us, therapy is about finding out who you truly are in your most authentic version and it invites you to make choices for the life you truly want to live.
What did you learn about yourself in therapy?
I must confess that I was very worried when I started therapy. Like many people, I was worried I would discover there was something wrong with me. I thought it would force me to make changes that I did not feel ready to make. But I stayed the course and to my surprise I discovered many wonderful things about myself that were buried underneath social conditioning and the fear that I might not be good enough to reveal myself. It turned out to be a great adventure and I met a great companion for life in my own self. I realised that all my other relationships cannot be meaningful if I do not foster a meaningful view of who I am.
I am in the process of creating a project to support young adults and bridging the gap between generations. It is called The Cartesian Experience and I hope to launch it in February. I have given a few talks on the topic, including for the BPS and the UKCP.
In the meanwhile, I can be found on Project Gladness on Facebook, a project launched during the pandemic for the general public to help with finding meaning and joy of living through overcoming a crisis. It offers a warm community, inspirational resources, and monthly wellbeing challenges with rewards in free coaching sessions or personal development workshops. You can find the group here: www.facebook.com/groups/projectgladness/