Joanne Gilhooly - Psychotherapist & Counsellor - Dublin City
As a counsellor/psychotherapist I use a humanistic integrative approach to practicing counselling and psychotherapy, which is another way of saying that I draw on different approaches according to the needs of the individual client. Approaches I draw from are:
Relational Gestalt Psychotherapy
Relational gestalt psychotherapy is a humanistic-existential therapy, probably best known for its emphasis on personal responsibility, and its focus on process, authentic dialogue, and connection. In gestalt we talk a lot about ‘contact’ between self and other, meaning a kind of relating which allows each person to be themselves, as they are, moment to moment, and to develop a mutual respect and curiosity for the unique experience of both persons.
In gestalt psychotherapy the therapist’s role is to support the client to become more aware of how they relate to others, and to themselves; to explore with the client where there might be blocks or difficulties in expressing themselves authentically, to facilitate an exploration of how the client may better support themselves in relationship, and to feedback to the client some of the therapist’s own experience of the client, so that this might be explored in the context of the client’s relationships outside of the consulting room. In short, we get to use the therapeutic relationship as a kind of microcosm through which to examine what may (or may not) be happening for the client in other relationships.
Difficulties with authentic self-expression are frequently found in experiences of depression, anxiety, eating distress, addiction, and, of course, relationship difficulties. At its core, relational gestalt therapy understands that all human beings are wired for, and need, a sense of belonging and connection with others, whether in our primary relationships or, on a larger scale, in our communities. When we are struggling, we are often experiencing a sense of lack in this area in some way or another. It is understood that if we cannot express ourselves authentically and honestly, we will suffer a sense of ‘unbelonging’, as our real self cannot find a sense of belonging if it is hidden away behind a protective cover, or a conforming façade.
Because Gestalt therapy is so focused on authenticity and being ourselves, it has a strong history of social activism and support for inclusivity and diversity. It is well suited to those who would like to explore ways to express more of themselves, or who feel that they are keeping parts of themselves hidden, to those who feel that they are having trouble with conflict or confrontation, to those who are feeling disconnected or lonely, and to those who would like to relate more creatively in their personal and/or working lives.
Psychodynamic psychotherapy is also a process focused therapy, but with more emphasis on a person’s early childhood experiences. Its main aim is to support a person to develop greater insight into what is troubling them today, by exploring the impact of experiences in childhood relationships, such as those with parents and siblings (but may include others also).
Psychodynamic therapy utilises the idea of the ‘unconscious’, believing that in early life we can develop internal conflicts and defences which, as we grow, move out of our awareness and become automatic and unconscious. We may, as adults, ‘act out’ of these conflicts through ‘symptoms’ such as self-sabotaging behaviour or counter-productive ways of relating to others and ourselves. Unconscious conflicts may play a part in maintaining many issues, including depression, anxiety, substance misuse, some sexual difficulties, anger problems, and assertiveness issues, to name a few.
It is understood that these conflicts and defences develop originally as a creative means of keeping ourselves emotionally safe, as far as we are able to at the time, but that these issues can later become a source of difficulty as we try to move forward and live fulfilling adult lives. Many people imagine that when they leave the old situation, they will simply leave old problems behind, but the reality is more often that because these conflicts are out of our awareness, we need to bring them into our consciousness in order to make the necessary changes. The psychodynamic therapist’s goal is to support you in bringing these conflicts to awareness, providing an opportunity to examine their usefulness to you, and to think about more productive ways of expressing your needs and desires. In a nutshell, the aim is get your unconscious out of the driver’s seat, through the development of insight and greater self-awareness.
Psychodynamic therapy is useful for people are ready to explore what may be underlying their difficulties, and who would like to gain greater insight into what is troubling them. It provides an opportunity to deepen self-understanding, and to make lasting change.
Person Centred Counselling
Person-centred counsellors take the view that the client has the resources they need to grow already, but that their experiences with others has stymied their ability to access these. Person-centred theory understands that certain conditions are required for the person to make contact with their internal resourcefulness, and the counsellor aims to provide these conditions. The conditions the counsellor wishes to provide are unconditional positive regard, empathy, and genuineness or congruence.
The person-centred counsellor believes in real empathy, without judgment, and aims to be ‘real’ and human in the counselling room, rather than presenting a distant or detached appearance. It is thought that by engaging in a human to human way, instead of expert to patient, the client has an opportunity for healing through authentic and empathic connection with another. A situation in which the client can be all of themselves, and experience being valued as such, provides an opportunity for the person to move in the direction of personal growth. In essence, when free of the usual judgments, unexplored aspects of the person have space to emerge and integrate, supporting change and movement toward more satisfying ways of living.
You can expect that the person centred counsellor will not advise or behave as the expert on your life, but will support you to make contact with your own ‘inner expert’, trusting that you have the knowledge you need to grow, and that only you can know what direction feels right for you.