Meet the Therapist: Tanis Taylor
What attracted you to become a therapist?
People have always told me things. It’s a privilege and responsibility.
Where did you train?
First in art therapy with IATE then in gestalt therapy at the Gestalt Centre and now Metanoia Institute. I did a two and a half year training in Developmental Somatic Psychotherapy (a movement articulation of gestalt designed by a dancer) with founder Ruella Frank in Paris.
Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?
I practise a type of therapy called gestalt. The literal translation from the German is probably ‘shape’ or ‘pattern’ and it looks at the behavioural patterns we develop in response to the world around us. For the most part these work out just fine. But sometimes they don’t.
When any pattern (work, relationships, eating, thinking) begins to feel fixed or automatic it can be helpful to find a safe, creative place to learn more about it and why it’s showing up. Gestaltists are like detectorists. We suspend judgement, use our curiosity, kindness and trust in the human orientation towards health to, together, try to bring more of what’s in the shadows into awareness. Sometimes we might use small experiments to ask into a particular stuck behaviour. We might work with metaphor or dreams. As an ex-dancer I often enlist the wisdom of the body in our work – it never ceases to amaze me how articulate our bodies are even when our heads are totally offline.
How does gestalt therapy help with symptoms of anxiety or depression?
Most injuries happen in relation – and it’s in relation that they can be repaired. I start by really trying to understand my client’s experience of anxiety or depression. It’s not the same for any two people. Once we’ve established how it shows up we might look back to how it began – often as a perfect adjustment to an imperfect situation. I have a huge respect for the early, subconscious changes we make in ourselves in order to be OK. Later we can ask into these patterns and wonder whether they are still fit for purpose today?
I work slowly and at the client’s pace, aiming to replace what’s missing with new strengths and resiliences. It’s like Jenga. You can’t strip away a familiar coping strategy mindlessly – we do it carefully, consensually together. I don’t believe change can be strong-armed or forced but that once you look honesty at where you are at, it invariably follows.
What sort of people do you usually see?
I work with adults for individual counselling. Clients come with a range of issues – anxiety and depression, loss, trauma, chronic pain, shame, low self-esteem and perfectionism, eating disorders, creative blocks. I see a lot of artists, writers and dancers who enjoy the energy of gestalt’s experimentation.
Increasingly I am seeing clients working on existential themes, particularly climate change anxiety which is a place I am exploring in my own therapy and training. If we look at this anxiety as a perfect adjustment to an imperfect situation it can help us work with it with more compassion and hope. In my experience company is crucial in unpacking these big questions, they can be hard to tackle alone.
What do you like about being a therapist?
I love being able to work with clients and trust in my intuition and follow interests until, suddenly, some new piece of awareness emerges. It’s a place neither of us could have got to on our own. It’s like when you’re painting and suddenly out of the collection of marks on the canvas, boom, the figure is just right there.
The other great thing is watching clients re-discover parts of themselves that should always have been birthrights – full breathing, laughter, tears. Clients might learn to reach after a lifetime of thinking they don’t deserve or begin to trust their weight to the chair after never trusting anybody. Therapy is about loss and tears and shadows and it is also about joy, laughter and play.
What is less pleasant?
Being a counsellor can be lonely. Confidentiality is a huge part of creating safety and as a therapist our toughest moments and greatest achievements will only ever be shared fully with our clients. It’s fiercely energetic work that needs a good support system in place so as not to burn out.
How long you’ve been with welldoing.org and what you think of us?
I am a Luddite and always relied on word-of-mouth for my referrals. I have a small practice and no website or Facebook presence so welldoing.org is my first and only online presence and it’s been wonderful. I can feel the duty of care to clients and counsellors alike in their contact and communications. It feels very containing and safe and is a great platform for me as a therapist, and way of feeling part of a wider community.
Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?
I am wary of suggesting books or apps to clients. A firm go-to of mine however is Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ Women Who Run With the Wolves: Contacting the Power of the Wild Woman. I’ve lost track of how many copies I’ve bought for friends
What you do for your own mental health?
I sing in a choir once a week in a living room in Walthamstow and loose myself in rock anthems with complex harmonies. I paint, dance, swim when I can and I cycle everywhere. I try to live honestly and environmentally as possible. I am active in my local community. I take a month off every year to be in the Highlands.
You are a therapist in Hackney. What can you share with us about seeing clients in this area?
I work on an inner-city farm in Hackney. Clients often come to me precisely because of my location. I like knowing that the farm provides an extra holding for people once they leave the room. We have a café and a wild, walled garden, pigs, bees, donkeys, chickens and a package-free shop. The clients who find me often love nature and chime with the ethics of the charity. I keep my prices affordable to be able to service the diverse area I work in.
What’s your consultation room like?
I work upstairs in a small room with a lot of plants. You can hear the noise of the farm out the window - baying donkeys are usual.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
Therapy turns the stuff of your life into material for you to work with. How or what you do next is up to you. That’s the empowering bit.
What did you learn about yourself in therapy?
Therapy helped me reframe my sensitivities as a strength. Shame had a good hold on me and it took a long time! Therapy also helped me tune, acutely in, to my own body feedback so I can support clients to get curious about theirs.