Sarah Elizabeth Blake is an online counsellor

What attracted you to become a therapist?

It took me by surprise! The first year of my practitioner training course could be taken for personal development. It was only in the second year that I realised I wanted to become a therapist. I feel very grateful to have been on that course, as without it, it might have taken me longer to realise that this is my calling.

Where did you train? 

I trained with Clearmind International Institute for a Diploma in Transpersonal Therapeutic Counselling. They run therapeutic workshops in the UK and Ireland as well as in Canada. I went to one of their introductory workshops, loved their approach which is all about connection, took pretty well all their other workshops before eventually deciding to take their training programme for counsellors. 

I now assist at the workshops that I first came to as a participant all those years ago. It is heart-expanding, compassionate, beautiful work.

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

My approach is fundamentally relational and experiential. I pay attention to the quality of the relationship between me and the client. Going to therapy, to speak to someone you’ve not known very long about struggles in your life, things that you might not have talked to anyone else about before – it’s a big ask. It takes courage to reach out for support and then to open yourself up to this new person, the therapist. So my approach is about building safety, building trust between us, going at the pace of the client, asking directly how it’s going between us.

That’s what I mean by relational – attending to the relationship between us. And then ‘experiential’ because we are going to talk about feelings, and talk about what’s going on, what’s brought you to therapy – but when feelings come up in a session, when we’re together, I will invite you to slow down and notice that, notice how it feels in your body to feel anger, to feel sadness. So something we can do is give space to the emotions as they arise and allow them to be felt. And sometimes it can feel much more possible to give space to those feelings in the presence on a trusted other. 

That is one of the beautiful things about creating that safety between us – then it can feel possible to feel things that have maybe lain buried inside us for a long time, things it’s maybe felt too scary to let ourselves feel, but we can start to allow ourselves to feel them, little by little, at our own pace, in the presence of a caring other.

What sort of people do you usually see?

People who are drawn to working with me are often sensitive, for example to the world around them, or to other people’s emotions. They often feel drawn to the arts but may be feeling stuck/stymied from fulfilling their own creative urges, a people-pleaser, a high-achiever who feels uncertain about the path they are on, or someone who has not yet found a path in life they can put their heart into, who feels there must be more to life or has a niggling, indefinable sense that something is missing.

I work with adults from 18 upwards. The struggles that bring people to get in touch with me are often quite varied – anxiety, grief, relationship difficulties, life transitions, to name a few – and often what we find is that part of the work becomes about exploring ways of freeing more of your authentic self to be expressed in your life. And part of that can be around identifying the beliefs that you may have had since childhood or that you’ve inherited from previous generations. When you become conscious of the beliefs and patterns you are carrying, you empower yourself to choose what beliefs you want to live by, and what is no longer serving you.

Have you noticed any recent mental health trends or wider changes in attitude?

The idea of ‘mental health’ has become part of the mainstream. People in general, and especially the younger generation (that makes me sound very old – I’m a millennial!) seem much more comfortable talking about their feelings and talking about when they are feeling low. And they have a vocabulary for it which I certainly don’t remember having when I was growing up.

It also seems that men (as a massive generalisation) are becoming so much more comfortable with talking about their feelings, and reaching out for support when things feel difficult. That is a trend that gives me a lot of hope for the future – the hope that future generations will have this modelled to them, that there is strength in vulnerability.

What do you like about being a therapist?

I feel deeply honoured that people let me into their lives, share moments of vulnerability with me – telling me things that they may not have felt able to tell anyone in their life before. Sharing their true selves, allowing themselves to be really seen. That feels sacred. 

What is less pleasant?

Therapist burnout is a real issue and something that I remember being warned and given advice about from quite early on in my training. So it’s something that I’m very aware of and try to keep in mind. On the positive side, it’s made me very intentional about self-care. I make sure that I do things I love on a regular basis (like dancing) so that I’m doing everything I can to fill my own cup.

How long have you been with Welldoing and what you think of us?

I’ve just joined Welldoing so just finding my way around. I’m interested to try out the peer support groups and CPD talks.

What books have been important to you in terms of your professional and personal development? Do you ever recommend books to clients?

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron has been a really important book for me. Subtitled ‘A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self’ – it’s a very practical book, not just a book to read; to get the most out of it you read a chapter a week and follow the exercises and suggestions within it. 

Despite the name, it’s not just a book for people who already think of themselves as artists. It’s for anyone who would like more juice, more creativity, to awaken to more of themselves in their own lives.

I also loved Wild Power by Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer which is about the power of the menstrual cycle.

What you do for your own mental health? 

Moving my body has a big impact on my mood. I love being outside so I try to walk regularly. I’ve just come back to swimming which I find very relaxing and energising. I also love dancing, as previously mentioned, and singing (Christmas carols, Handel arias, pop songs, anything really!)

You are a therapist in Cranleigh in Surrey. What can you share with us about seeing clients in this area? 

I live in the Surrey Hills and currently I offer sessions online which means that my clients have been from across the UK (and I’ve worked internationally with clients in Canada and Europe as well).

What’s your consultation room like?

When I first moved in, I painted my therapy room a beautiful deep green colour, so I’m ensconced in this beautiful, calm space when I have my sessions. And right outside my window is a huge, old oak tree. I’m on the second floor and look out into the branches, a bird’s eye view. I feel like the tree is this ancient, peaceful and wise presence watching over me, and the sessions.

What do you wish people knew about therapy?

It is such a gift to yourself, and to everyone in your life – your children, if you have children, your partner, your friends, the people you work with. But most importantly, you. I honestly believe it’s the greatest gift you can give yourself. You’re investing in your own wellbeing. It’s a space to learn about yourself, and to heal. 

You are so worthy of a regular place of trust and care where you can feel truly heard, seen and valued. And I’m someone who is walking the walk on this – I truly believe that the therapy I’ve had (and continue to have) has helped me to change the course of my life significantly and for the better.

What did you learn about yourself in therapy?

That there’s so much more to me than I realised. That there’s so much more to life than I had realised – richness of meaning and purpose, and joy! In some sense the world turned from black and white to full, luminous colour in the time since I started therapy. I learnt about real, deep connection. I learnt what it feels like to be really heard, seen and felt by another. I learnt to value myself through being valued by another. Self-acceptance . . . I could go on and on!

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