Sarah Lee is a therapist in M2, Manchester

What attracted you to become a therapist?

I struggled with depression from the age of 16 and had various therapies – some good and some really not good. Studying to be a therapist was the most important step in understanding why I was feeling so bad and what to do about it. I knew I couldn’t expect people to do things I hadn’t done myself and I wanted to be able to say ‘this is what you need to do, this is what might happen, this is the tricky bit, then what you need to do is this’. 

People trust me so much more because they know that I’ve been through what they’re going through. It’s not just something I've read in a book.

Where did you train?

I trained in Jersey. There was no post-grad training there at the time, so my trainers who had written and taught the masters programmes at Sherwood Institute in Nottingham decided to bring the training to us. I used to joke that it was mostly 16 people sitting in a circle while one of them cried but it was honestly the craziest, hardest and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

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

I chose it because it was the type of therapy that helped me the most! I’ve always been someone who wanted to know why. I wasn’t happy with just doing what I was told. I couldn’t cope with therapists who sat there in silence or refused to answer questions about whether I was annoying them or why they looked cross. I couldn’t just figure things out for myself because that’s what I’d been trying to do unsuccessfully for the past 15 years. I needed feedback, explanations, to know something about my therapist and how they could relate to my experiences; I needed them to tell me which direction to go in and not just sit there and nod. 

I work relationally which means we’re trying to look at what patterns people repeat, how their relationships help or hinder them and what healthy relationships look (and feel) like. People who had difficult relationships with family growing up often don’t know it shouldn’t have been how it was. They try too hard and take too much responsibility and it’s a relief for them to hear that it’s ok to take a break. Because the problems developed from having relationships that felt scary or cold they can be worked out and resolved in relationships with people that do listen, do care and do want to help.

How does relational therapy help with symptoms of complex trauma?

I specialise in helping people with complex trauma or cptsd. Many of these people come to me without knowing why they’re feeling the way they do (or even that they’ve experienced trauma). So we start by looking for clues as to what has caused their anxiety, depression or low self-esteem and how it has affected their lives. 

Once people understand what’s going on they can learn to step out of unhelpful family and relationship dynamics, learn how to manage their emotions and feel more in control of them. They learn how to communicate better which means they don’t get stuck in situations feeling bad about themselves, they know when it’s time to walk away and this avoids the constant negativity and disappointment that difficult relationships contribute to their lives. This doesn’t always mean walking away from a job, partner or friend, although it can do. 

Sometimes learning to connect what’s happening with their feelings means they’re better able to explain what they need in ways that other people can understand. This massively improves confidence because it stops people feeling they are the problem which is often a feeling they’ve lived with since they were very young. They end up with more energy to spend with people who do make them feel good and they’re free of the worrying and replaying about what to say, and they stop blaming themselves when things don’t work out.

What sort of people do you usually see? 

I see individuals who have depression or anxiety or low self-esteem and don’t know what to do about it. Sometimes they know the problem but not what to do about it and need more direction. Sometimes they’re aware that they’ve been abused or neglected but don’t know how to ‘get past it’. They want to ensure their past doesn’t keep seeping back into their present so that they can have good relationships with their partners and children and feel loved and valued.

What do you like about being a therapist?

I love it when someone says ‘I thought it was just me that did that’ or ‘I didn’t know there was a word for that’. People can feel so alone and ashamed of not being able to get things right that when they tell me and I still like them or can I tell them a bit about when I had a similar experience, they realise that what happened to them wasn’t their fault. They can stop thinking that they’re crazy and we can start working out what the next step to feeling better is.

What is less pleasant?

It's hard to hear when people don’t have the support they need and their family or partner isn’t interested in how they’re feeling or doesn’t want to improve the relationship. Not all relationships are worth saving and sometimes therapy is the opportunity for people to realise what they would like in a relationship and find someone who’s prepared to listen to them and support them.

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

I've just joined! I’m looking forward to meeting clients that are a good fit to work with me. Since every client has different requirements it’s important for them to find the right therapist. People who can connect with what I say and how I work are going to work hard in therapy to get the results they want and research has shown that it’s the relationship in therapy that is best indicator of success. So I hope that people will be able to find the best therapist for them.

Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?

I do. My current favourites are How to Master Your Anxiety by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell and From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker. Pete’s book is great for people who have grown up in difficult families, who have suffered abuse and/or neglect. It puts into words issues that clients didn’t know they had and is easy to read.

Surviving to Thriving Pete Walker  Master Your Anxiety Joe Griffin

What you do for your own mental health? 

I pay attention to whether what I’m doing and who I’m spending time with is having a positive or negative impact on how I’m feeling. I also really like walking in parks. There’s some beautiful National Trust parks with big old trees and lovely cafés. When I’m starting to feel stressed I pay attention to my breathing and slow it down which indicates to our bodies that we aren’t in danger.

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

I’m based in the city centre so I work with people who work nearby in local businesses or at universities. Employers are becoming more flexible and realising that it benefits them to allow their employees to take time out in the day to see me and work on themselves.

What’s your consultation room like?

I work in a private doctors surgery (Samedaydoctor) so we also have a doctor and an osteopath available. We have a private waiting room and the building has just been refurbished so it’s clean and bright. We also have a lift if you need help getting up to the first floor.

What do you wish people knew about therapy?

I wish people knew that they can come if there’s something they can’t work out for themselves, they don’t need to be having an emergency or feeling suicidal. I also wish people knew that they don’t have to know what to do and that that’s my job! I’m more than happy to point people in the right direction.

What did you learn about yourself in therapy?

I learnt that I am stronger than I thought I was. That I am ok and that good relationships help you to get through the bad times. They don’t make you feel worse.

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Contact Sarah here 

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