Leaving lockdown is great, but ever feel a little… anxious? COVID-secure counselling could help
We caught up with Dr Rhian Lewis – Lead Psychologist at The Clearing and our newest Expert In Residence – to find out how beneficial online counselling can really be
In Partnership with The Clearing
We have no doubt at all about how great therapy can be. Setting time aside to get to the crux of all our deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings, to understand our behaviour and why we react to things the way we do – it can only ever be positive. The thing is, it’s also hella scary.
We’re opening up our hearts as well as our heads, here – how do we know we can trust our therapist? Not only that, are they really going to be able to help us? If they can’t, is it even worth going through all of the emotion that comes with letting our guard down?
But then we met Dr Rhian Lewis at The Clearing. Lead Psychologist and the brains behind the business, we could spot Rhian’s passion for helping people straight away. In fact, the whole reason she set up The Clearing was because she didn’t want to be confined to only helping her clients within the constraints of traditional therapeutic models. She wanted the freedom to help in every way that she can – and with the flexibility and commitment she’s spearheaded at The Clearing, now she can.
The Clearing are about doing things a little differently, a little better. Centred around making their clients feel as welcome, comfortable and confident as possible, Rhian and her team of friendly therapists are all fully qualified, experienced, insured and registered with a professional regulatory body, so you know for a fact that you’re in safe hands.
They understand that successful therapy hinges on a good relationship between us and our counsellor and do whatever they can to facilitate that relationship. They’re committed to working with us as people, rather than working with a diagnosis on paper. And they even offer late evening and weekend appointments so we can still fit counselling around our ever-busy schedules.
But what really seemed to mark The Clearing out from the crowd is their ability to offer online counselling sessions. With the world starting to open back up, but news of the pandemic still dominating headlines, we’re in an anxiety-fuelled transition period right now. Taking any risk of COVID transmission out of the equation, then, means that at least that’s one less thing to stress about.
We caught up with Rhian to find out how it all works, who counselling is really for, why relationship therapy is on the rise and how The Clearing can support employees returning to the workplace.
What first attracted you to counselling?
I was first drawn to counselling at around 14, when a counsellor came in to speak to us at a school careers day. I remember coming away from that session thinking: I’d be a good counsellor. I’d always naturally taken on that role for friends and family. It took me around 10 years to come back to that initial instinct. Like many of us, I’d been taken off track by the well-intentioned voices of the adults around me, who thought that science was a more sensible route to take. Thankfully, my gut wouldn’t take no for an answer and, in 2008, I started my counselling psychology training.
What led you to start The Clearing?
Training to be a therapist is really intense! You’re having your own depth therapy, regular supervision and personal development sessions, and you’re out on different clinical placements, so you soon get a good sense of the kind of therapist you want to be. For me, it was clear that I needed the absolute freedom to work with my clients in whatever way helped, without being limited to a specific therapeutic model. So there was no other option but to start my own private practice.
I had a very clear vision of the kind of space I wanted to create for my clients and for the therapists that would later join me. Coming to therapy can be so incredibly daunting – it’s such a brave thing to do – so it was really important to me that every detail of my service was warm and welcoming, from the website and marketing right through to the atmosphere created within the consulting rooms. I wanted people to feel a sigh of relief as soon as they walked through the door and, from that core intention, The Clearing was born.
Who is counselling for?
Counselling is for anybody who is interested in learning why they feel how they feel and do what they do. In most cases, people are first drawn to counselling because they’re struggling with something specific: a crisis situation, troubles in a relationship or longstanding mental health difficulties. But it always amazes me how, after the initial crisis has passed, many people will want to stay on in therapy – either to simply learn more about themselves or to use the time as an ongoing self-care tool.
How does online counselling compare to face-to-face sessions?
I think all of the therapists at The Clearing have been really surprised at how similar it can feel. Before COVID, I was very sceptical about remote sessions, especially when it came to building a rapport with new clients. So it’s been a relief to find that, actually, you can still build solid therapeutic relationships online and do really powerful and effective therapy. Obviously, some body language can be missed on a video call, but it seems that this isn’t significant enough to limit the success of the process, which is great news for us all.
What’s the difference between counselling and psychotherapy?
The two terms are often used interchangeably. At The Clearing, however, we differentiate between the two to help our clients form a language for what kind of support they need. We use the term ‘counselling’ to describe a more supportive, here-and-now process that helps a person get through a challenging time.
‘Psychotherapy’, on the other hand, we use to indicate a more in-depth therapeutic experience, where you may need to explore childhood roots, lean into unconscious communications and explore behavioural and relational patterns. Depth therapy is usually required if the issue at hand is complex, longstanding, a repetitive cycle, or has simply not been helped by the more surface approaches.
Lockdown has put a strain on a lot of relationships. How can relationship therapy help couples move forward? And are these sessions just for couples?
Relationship therapy can be for any two people who are in a relationship, to explore the issues that have arisen between them. It’s most often romantic partners who come for relationship therapy, but the process would be just as applicable to family members and friends.
The sessions are geared towards exploring the difficulties in the relationship to help each party air their respective grievances and develop a greater understanding of each other and where the friction is coming from. The ultimate goals are to improve communication and increase compassion in the relationship so that, irrespective of whether you decide to stay together, resentments can be released and you can both hopefully find some peace.
The COVID pandemic has also been a particularly stressful time for employees and businesses. What support can you offer at The Clearing?
Stress has an incredibly detrimental impact on our mental health. The adaptations we’ve had to make, to cope both with lockdown and the return to the workplace, have been so laden with anxiety that it’s likely we’ll see a knock-on effect on our collective mental health for some time.
Getting help early is really important. We’re here to help employers support their workforce with any mental health issues they may be facing and we’re offering block discounts to make our services as accessible as possible.
What would you say is the secret to being an effective therapist?
I think the key is to be as tuned-in as possible, both to yourself and your client. People often think that all we do is listen, and to some extent that’s true. But when done well, it’s a kind of listening that you rarely find outside of therapy sessions. We’re not just listening to what’s being said, we’re also listening to the body language cues, the kind of cognitive leaps that are being made and the emotional energy in the conversation, to get to the heart of our client’s difficulties.
That being said, it’s also really important to have the sensitivity and wisdom to intuit when it’s right to share what you’ve picked up on and when it’s maybe too soon.
Starting counselling for the first time can be daunting. What would you say to encourage anyone who might have put off going to counselling in the past?
I would say: trust your gut. Arranging that first session might always feel like a leap of faith, but you will know when you’re ready and you’ll sense which therapist is the right one to take that leap with.
The second week in May is Mental Health Awareness Week. What is something that you wish more of us knew about mental health?
I feel that one of our major problems as a culture is that we have pathologised so many normal human experiences, to the point where we’re now almost frightened of our emotions. This fear of, and resistance to, feeling anything we perceive to be ‘negative’ is often the cause of the most suffering. So learning to befriend all of our emotions is one of the most important things we can do to maintain good mental health.
Our emotions aren’t there to scare us or to ruin our day. They’re simply little messengers from the deeper levels of our minds that have come to tell us something. If we can learn to listen to them, the more challenging feelings tend to pass over much more quickly and easily than they do when we try to ignore or suppress them.
It’s also important to remember that we are not our thoughts or feelings. They don’t define us. We are the ‘experiencer’ of those thoughts and feelings, so there’s no need to carry them as heavily as we often do.
As a professional, what are you most passionate about?
For me, my work is 100% about the therapeutic relationship. Supporting someone to develop a kinder and gentler relationship with themselves and their inner world is my main motivation. The magic happens when we can connect as two fellow travellers, working together in collaboration to figure out what’s really going on, make sense of why it’s happening and pinpoint what it is they need to start healing.
What are your hopes for the future of The Clearing?
We’ve really achieved what it was that we set out to achieve back in 2011. So the main goal now is to maintain our professional standards and stay true to our core ethos by continuing to offer the same client-centred, warm and friendly service while working remotely.
If you’d like to learn more about the therapy and counselling sessions Rhian and her team can offer at The Clearing, visit their website