Having had personal experience of therapy and having gained so much insight from it, I decided to become a professional therapist and help others navigate their inner landscapes.
With a growing amount of buzz around the words, 'mental health', 'wellbeing' and 'self-development', people often ask me if going to therapy and having a life coach is just a craze or if it actually works.
I think it’s wonderful to see how mental health has risen in popularity and how people are talking about it with much less stigma compared to just a few years ago. Nonetheless, having so much information to navigate through, can be quite confusing, especially when dealing with such sensitive issues. Accessing such abundance of information can make it difficult to understand how this kind of support can improve our wellbeing.
So what is it that makes psychotherapy and coaching a good investment of our time and money?
Unlike talking to a friend or family member, talking to a psychotherapist or life coach offers you the opportunity to discuss your thoughts and feelings with a professional practitioner who is external to the dynamics and situations that you are challenging you.
While it is important to recognise that psychotherapists and life coaches have different trainings, they will both support you in gaining further insight into a specific area of your life. In very general terms, psychotherapy usually focuses on more in-depth work, addressing your past to understand your present better while coaching focuses on your future and on how you can act differently in your present to achieve your future goals.
In your work with a psychotherapist, you are not expected to know what the end goal of your sessions will be as sessions often have an exploratory nature. The therapeutic and coaching relationship both offer you opportunity to find your own answers and solutions and start dealing with difficulties more effectively.
By interacting with a psychotherapist or coach, you can gradually start seeing things from new perspectives and develop a sounding board for your deepest thoughts, fears and emotions. Psychotherapists and coaches will not spoon-feed you with answers or advice. They will support you in finding new answers to your questions by promoting self-reflection and deeper insight in relation to your behaviour and thought patterns. For this process to occur, it is important for you to find a therapist or coach who you feel you can trust and who is going to be able to walk along side you while you venture on this rich and often complicated journey of self-exploration.
If you’d like to learn more about the difference between coaching and therapy, you can read my article on how I combine creative psychotherapy and life coaching in my practice here, or visit Pebbles my professional Facebook page for more resources on therapy, coaching and wellbeing.
When we lose a loved one we go through tremendous amounts of emotional upheavals and our sense of balance is severely compromised. To find ways that can help us cope with the sense of loss and grief can be what turns a terrible day into an ‘OK’ one.
I experienced many bereavements while growing up. I learned how being physically active and engaging in creative activities can help us deal with the feelings that are stirred up in us and help us transform a tragic event into an opportunity for gratitude and self-development. Learning how to come to terms with a loss from a very young age became the foundation for me to become a therapist and coach today.
Death tears us apart from our loved ones and inside out from ourselves. We are chucked in the midst of an emotional storm and often feel like we’ve lost our bearings completely. Both in my personal experience and in my work as a creative therapist and coach, I’ve seen how engaging in physical activity and creativity can support people in riding the waves of grief.
I was barely a teenager when I lost one of my closest family members in an accident. With him gone, I felt like I’d lost the strongest part of me. We’d grown up together, invented games, shared stories, made plans and whispered secrets in each other’s ears. It happened suddenly and no one was prepared for it, least of all me. I had never contemplated death and had no idea as to how I could cope with the overwhelming feeling of sadness that all of a sudden pervaded my life every day.
I remember wanting to talk about my memories and feelings a lot, constantly trying to bring his name in the conversation. As a child, I looked up to the adults in my family for guidance, but soon understood that ultimately it was up to me to find my own way through this earthshattering event.
I remember writing letters and journal entries, creating collages of all the photos I could find of us together, drawing paintings and choosing my favourite quotes to put into words emotions I couldn’t express. I listened to a lot of sad music and sang out loud, crying most of the time. I had no notion of psychology or mental health back then, or of what grief was for that matter. But I knew intuitively that I had to find ways not to keep the sadness trapped inside of me. As Christian Nevell Bovee said, ‘Tearless grief bleeds inwardly’.
Finding ways to creatively express my grief helped me incredibly, both in finding a way to release my anguish as well as a means to contain it and not feel constantly overwhelmed by it. Doing something creative as part of the process of going through a bereavement is a very powerful way to come to terms with your emotions and understand them better.
Creative ideas to heal from grief:
But what if you don’t consider yourself a creative person?
Physical exercise is also a very powerful means to get in touch with your body and take a break from what can be an exhausting and all-consuming emotional headspace. Doing physical activity induces our body to produce ‘feel-good’ chemicals such as endorphins, which counterbalance the emotional strain and tiredness one often experiences when in the midst of grief.
Physical activity that can help you deal with loss:
As human beings, we all have the need to feel connected and understood. When we are grieving this becomes even more essential to our wellbeing. So trying to share how one’s feeling with people you trust and love, creating rituals around the key dates that remind you of your loved one and making time to focus on things that you are grateful for are all very useful elements that will help the healing process.
Finally, I think it’s worth mentioning that grief and love are deeply connected, just as life and death. They are intrinsically linked and to feel grief is also to be reminded of the deep sense of love that you’ve nourished for an another human being. And having offered and experienced love I think is something always worth feeling grateful for.
For more information and resources on therapy, coaching and wellbeing, please visit my professional page Pebbles.
Have you been feeling anxious or overwhelmed at work lately? Are you finding it hard to focus or connect to your colleagues? Has your motivation dropped and are you often feeling tired? If so, you may be experiencing symptoms of stress.
There is no unique definition of stress. What makes us feel stressed is very personal to each and every one of us. Usually stress is linked to eithercircumstances that put pressure on us – for example, times where we have lots to do, or don’t feel in control of situations, or the feelings we get when being placed under pressure that we find difficult to cope with.
Stress can impact our physical health, our mental health and our behaviour. We all experience stress differently in different situations. So, whatever your personal definition of stress is here are some top tips on how you can support your wellbeing in the work place.
Following these tips will help you to stay on top of things and find ways to cope with challenging situations, whilst replenishing your sense of wellbeing.
It is a well-known fact that physical activity is connected to mental wellbeing. From the ancient Roman times, the motto mens sana in corpore sano, meaning “a healthy mind in a healthy body”, has been used to express how physical exercise is an important part of mental well-being.
Research shows that if you have good physical health, you are more likely to have good mental health and how having an active lifestyle can prevent us from developing mental health problems. In this blog post we focus on how we can take care of our physical health and how this can have a positive impact on our mental wellbeing.
So what are the A, B, C, to a good physical health?
A) Sleep – Having trouble sleeping or experiencing irregular sleep patterns can have a serious impact on your mental health. Negative feelings are likely to become more prevalent and this can have an impact on your mood, finding you are more irritable and less confident.
Having a regular sleep routine, avoiding stimulants (especially before going to bed), sleeping in a dark and cool room and having a comfortable bed are proven to help you sleep better. Furthermore, relaxing before going to bed and doing regular physical activity during the day can help you sleep. However, avoid doing exercise late in the evening as the brain chemicals it releases (endorphins, aka happy hormones) give you energy, which can affect your ability to sleep.
B) Diet – Eating healthily has a positive impact on your physical and mental health. Eating a well-balanced diet at regular meal-times with plenty of water and vegetables will help you feel more healthy and happy. Stopping or reducing your alcohol intake and avoiding tobacco and recreational drugs can also help improve your general mental and physical wellbeing.
The famous saying “we are what we eat” is a good reminder of the crucial role our diet has on our wellbeing.
C) Physical activity – is good for mental health, particularly if you exercise outdoors. Being active can help reduce depression and anxiety and boost your self-confidence. It also releases endorphins, ‘feel-good’ hormones that can help improve your mood. It doesn’t matter whether you prefer gardening, gentle walking or something more active – you will almost always feel better for having done some physical activity. If your job requires you sit for long periods during the day and you have to use a lot of brain power, make sure you take some time to balance that out with some time you dedicate to yourself and your body’s wellbeing.
Given that our mental and physical wellbeing are connected, by following these A, B, Cs you’ll be fostering a mind and body balance in your daily routine, inviting more positivity and resilience in your life.
Research shows that doing regular physical activity 5 times a week can help you maintain positive mental health and prevent you from developing mental health problems. In this blog post we explore how exactly being physically active helps your wellbeing.
Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins (the happy, feel good hormone), dopamine and serotonin, in the brain. These hormones are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators and are responsible for the positive feelings you get post workouts — or, at least, the hot shower after your exercise is over! Doing exercise releases these feel-good hormones and make you feel happier and your body feel good.
Whether you decide to go for a run, take a dance class, go for a walk in nature, do the housework or even take the stairs, your body releases the feel-good hormones which combat the negative ones (cortisol and adrenaline), which can make you feel worried, overwhelmed and anxious. Of course some cortisol is necessary as it helps helps you manage stress but too much can lead to physical health implications.
Incorporating regular physical activity into your routine gives structure to your day and creates a space for you to focus on yourself and your wellbeing. Being active helps you feel stronger, more energetic and combat negative thoughts patterns and anxiety.
Setting and achieving goals and tasks can boost your confidence and promotes a positive body image. Doing group physical activity also allows you to connect with people who share your interests and combat loneliness and decrease isolation.
Finally, studies show how doing physical activity reduces the chances of developing depression and other mental health problems. As well as help you sleep better as it makes you feel more tired at the end of the day.
Is physical activity always good?
While being active is proven to be very beneficial for most people, if you notice you’re feeling unwell and find it too difficult to exercise don’t be hard on yourself, and give yourself time to focus on other things that make you feel good. Also always be aware if doing physical activity is having a negative impact on your mood or behaviour, for example if you have an eating problem or find you are overtraining.
Ultimately the goal is to nourish a balanced healthy lifestyle, which you can sustain and enjoy.
I entered the world of life coaching after completing my MA in Drama and Movement Therapy at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. When I enrolled in the Animas course, I was practicing as a drama therapist and was hoping to enrich my skill set. Since the beginning of this journey, many have asked me how I bring together therapy and coaching. In this article, I will share the key elements which inform my coaching style.
My understanding of the place coaching holds in current society is based on two theoretical pillars. The first is Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of “liquid modernity” (2000), which signifies a time in history in which “change is the only permanence and uncertainty the only certainty”. The other is Sartre’s notion of humanistic existentialism, in which man is condemned to be free and is constantly called on to make choices, thereby forging his destiny. Man holds only one certainty: the impossibility of not choosing. From this hermeneutical stance, it is no wonder that the demand for life coaching has grown exponentially in recent years, and that more and more people entrust a life coach to help them navigate their way through life’s complexities.
As an arts therapist, my choice to pursue another qualification, was informed by the fact that I often witnessed people’s resistance when considering the possibility of asking for help and starting therapy. I believe the stigma therapy still holds in our society today is linked to an obsolete concept of mental illness, and is usually not associated with trauma and not to the desire to thrive. As I embarked on my life coaching journey, I reflected on how, possibly for the first time in Western history, people are strongly encouraged to find fulfilment and satisfaction in their everyday lives on such a large scale.
The rampant race towards what is perceived as success, happiness, and even enlightenment, is heavily supported by the media, offered by companies in wellbeing packages, and encouraged by most Western educational systems. Reaching one’s highest potential is no longer the ambition of an elite but a goal which is attainable by and sold to the majority of us. Furthermore, the decline of religions’ influence has created the space for new forms of meaning-making to arise and new practices linked to this fundamental human need to grow.
Both as an arts therapist and a life coach, I felt I had an important role to play in helping others grow in awareness and explore their potential. I was thrilled at the idea of becoming a professional who worked on empowering people to take ownership of their life script. As I’d always felt drawn to being part of such a narrative, which fulfilled my desire to serve the contemporary aspiration of “man in search for meaning”, as Jung would put it.
Since my ultimate goal is to help people live a life they feel they can identify and be happy with, I chose to train as a life coach and bridge the gap between this new profession and therapy, while creating a space for both mental wellbeing and for people who feel the ambition or the need to decipher their soul’s code (Hillman 1997).
As a therapist, working with the dwellings of the mind was the basis of my practice. I soon saw the similarities between therapy and coaching, which include helping people to find insight through reflecting on their behaviour, thought patterns and emotions, while maintaining confidentiality and respecting time limits. What fascinated me about coaching was the flexibility the work could take when supporting clients in making decisions that will shape their lives. In recognising a shared human condition, I felt free to create a space in which client and coach are on an equal footing. This was one of the key differences I felt when working as a coach instead of a therapist. I soon realised that my unwavering belief in human potential to self-heal and reach self-fulfilment was the rock with which I was going to build the bridge that connected these two elements to my practice.
What I was seeking to find in coaching was a different set of techniques that would aid people to progress, potentially more quickly than in therapy, and take concrete actions towards achieving their goals and dreams. Differently from my therapy practice, I saw the coaching space as characterized by a more direct and challenging quality of relating. I particularly appreciated learning how to tackle limiting beliefs and witness how this helped clients gain new perspective on their situation quicker and move forward.
Halfway through my training, I found that my practice was growing towards a new and exciting territory I could explore and shape for myself. While following the training courses and collecting my practice hours, I observed the dance of complementary skills as they moved, landed and adjusted in my sessions. It gradually became clear to me that the key difference between therapy and coaching was where the focus was set. While as a therapist I usually work from the current situation and delve in the client’s past to understand what is informing the present. In coaching, I found myself still starting from the present moment but with the intention of focusing on the future. How will the client move forward from this point? The past was obviously informing the current situation but less time was spent in addressing that side of the client’s journey.
Furthermore, in relation to Jung’s theory of Anima and Animus (1995), the female and male energies within the human psyche, I started noticing how while in therapy-mode I felt beholden to a very feminine quality, characterised by holding, listening and gentle exploration. While when in coaching-mode, I was engaging what I associate to be my masculine qualities: focus on a clear sense of direction, definition of goals and moving forward as part of the session’s structure. The drive to move on, change and break old patterns predominated.
In my reflective journal, I represented therapy with the symbol of a circle, and coaching with an arrow. These two symbols also offer a very evocative representation of the masculine and feminine principles and the intrinsic energies they express. While practicing as a coach, I realised how my attraction to this particular style of working with people had been informed by my desire to find balance between these two internal energies of mine: the feminine, therapeutic and creative side; and the masculine, driven coaching side. This dance of two complementary energies informs my practice today. As by being aware of holding these two opposites, I find the way to balance them and bring together the two sides within me that inform my practice: the therapist and the life coach, my feminine and my masculine nature.
In sessions, the feminine side is what I use to build rapport, hold the space and be present to a client’s story. By holding the space, I act as a witness to my client in front of me. I listen and invite time to unfold. I work to create a safe space for trust to be built and consolidated to the point where clients can dare to go deep inside their psyche and catalyze their resources. This internal backflip can help clients retrieve a fragment of light or insight to their struggle. The masculine elements come into play when I use a more dynamic quality of enquiry, exposing clients to a different quality of questions as well as offering challenging moments of reflection.
I’ve learnt to intuitively rely on this blend between my coaching side and my therapist side, which ebb and flow in response to the client’s journey of introspection, depending on what the client brings to a session. When necessary one side will dominate while the other will diminish to shape the space and the quality of the interaction according to the client’s needs. Their complementary nature creates a grounding quality to the sessions which supports the client’s journey and my role within the interaction to flourish.
Sessions are fragments of time in which two people commit to being present and attuned to one another, while together setting the intention for what the meaning of this meeting will be. As a coach, I hold in mind the idea of offering an open space for enquiry to be strengthened and for insight to be found.
The drive to better understand my new skillset and share my reflections came from the sense of responsibility I feel in relation to the impact life coaching can have on people’s lives. Now, when asked what I do and why my work is relevant to people’s lives, I find myself making a connection that goes back to my ancestors in a time where guidance and wisdom were sought from the sage or healers in a village. Then I find myself reflecting on to periods of history in which the answers were situated outside of man and aimed towards Nature and God. I then land in my present moment, where I find that many people have the inkling of the power of their inner healer and their unique divine spark inside of them. As a life coach as well as an arts therapist, my job is to help them find their path to that side of themselves, embrace it and build an allegiance with it.
Bauman Zygmund, Liquid Modernity, 2000
Hillman James, The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, 1997
Jung Carl, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1995
Jung Carl, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, 2001