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Working Systemically with Individuals, Couples, Families and Adolescents and Specializing in Trauma, Addiction & Supervision

Systemic
Systemic Therapy

A systemic approach focuses on exploring the context within which a behaviour occurs. The belief is that if we experience adverse circumstances we develop ways of coping with our environment that are sophisticated survival strategies but which in the long term are very often not very good living strategies. These strategies because they are not optimal in the long term can impact on us physically, emotionally, and psychologically.

The challenge therefore is through dialogue with the therapist that the client becomes more aware of their existing coping stragegies and through a process of exploration develop more fulfilling strategies for living healthy and fulfilling lives.

This approach works equally well with individuals, couples, families and groups.

Couples
Couples Therapy

Working with couples can be quite a complex, but very rewarding process. This is primarily because it is in our intimate relationship with another that our most primitive fears arise. The person we are in relationship with, while being the person we have the greatest capacity to love and be loved by, they are also the person who has the greatest capacity to hurt us. The stakes are very high.

It is in this intimate relational space that our earliest attachment vulnerabilities get triggered. Because these early attachment patterns develop before we have language it can be very difficult for us to be conscious of them. When they get triggered we can quickly regress to a very threatened space.

What complicates things further is that very often when our vulnerabilities get triggered, the strategies we have developed to feel safe tend to trigger our partners vulnerabilities. This can very quickly lead to polarised and unhelpful communication. When both of us are triggered at the same time it is next to impossible to engage in constructive conversation. At this time both individuals tend to feel very threatened.

In my work with couples I prioritise creating an environment of safety. It is only in an environment of safety that constructive conversation can happen. Once the couple feel safe, we can then explore the patterns that have brought about the difficulties, in a collaborative and constructive way. As both individuals have the experience of both being understood by their partners and being able to understand what is behind their partners vulnerability they can begin to build a foundation of trust, safety and understanding. This has the potential to create greater intimacy in their relationship but also the foundation on which they can both grow individually and together.

As therapist my role in this process is to first of all help to create the environment for safe communication. Once this has been created I can then through following my curiosity explore the dynamics behind the presenting patterns in a way that helps each individual to understand why they get triggered and for their partner to witness, understand and empathise with their partners experience.

Trauma
Psychological Trauma

I believe that one of the most important and fundamental shifts in how we see mental and indeed physical health in recent years is the emerging and growing acceptance of the importance of psychological trauma. Whether this is developmental or specific trauma.

This development has come about because of research both in relation to the link between mental and physical health issues, and adverse childhood experiences and research relating to how the brain and the nervous system are impacted by traumatic events.

Traumatic events are events or series of events which overwhelm our existing capacity to cope. They result in our nervous system not being able to fully integrate the experience(s). This leaves our nervous system in an underlying state of disequilibrium which it adapts to by being either constantly hyper or hypo vigilant or alternating between the two.

One of the reasons conventional approaches do not work so well with psychological trauma is because very often the individual is not consciously aware of the event(s) or of the impact the event(s) has had on them. In addition if the practitioner is not trained to work with psychological trauma specifically there is a danger they will unwittingly re-traumatise their client.

While there are a number of modalities which have been developed to work with psychological trauma, somatic experiencing is one which I believe is both effective, is consistent with the emerging research and which minimises the risk of re-traumatisation.

Adolescents
Adolescent Therapy

As a result of my work in Aislinn and Keltoi and my work in private practise, I have had the opportunity and privilege to work quite a lot with adolescents. This I have found immensely fulfilling, enjoyable and challenging.   I believe in working with adolescents a number of important factors need to borne in mind.

For the adolescent this period in their lives can be incredibly challenging. At the anatomical level they are going through seismic changes. These are at a physical, at an hormonal and at a neurobiological level. These alone can be very overwhelming and disorienting.

At the same time, they are trying to find an identity in the world. They are making an immense lifecycle leap from being a child to being an adult. This involves them navigating changing perspectives on themselves, both by themselves, their family and their peers.  They are moving from their family being the most important sounding board for their identity to it being their peer group. They are doing this at incredible speed whilst at the same time moving into becoming sexual beings and dealing with all that that entails. Overall a huge challenge to manage amidst the challenges of performing at school.

For their parents this can feel like being on a rollercoaster. They are suddenly relating with somebody completely different.  Somebody who has their own point of view which almost inevitably will conflict with your own. Somebody who can either move towards greater aggressivity or greater withdrawal or more often a bit of both.

The challenge can very often be about trying to keep the relationship whilst at the same time trying to keep the boundary. This can very often lead to conflict with the adolescent or indeed between both parents as they might have different views on how to respond. It can also often trigger issues for parents from their own family experience.

In my opinion the most important thing is to try and keep the line of communication open despite all this. It is also important to keep a positive image of your adolescent because inevitably they will have a negative one of themselves. It pretty much goes with the territory, despite what can sometimes seem like the opposite. I also believe its hugely important to try and have an attitude of discovering your adolescent as opposed to having fixed ideas as to how they should be. In most cases they will pick this up and be the opposite.

Adolescents are facing huge amounts of challenges in finding their identity in our fast- changing society. Alcohol and drugs have become an increasingly popular way of reducing the difficulty of these challenges. If adolescents begin to use alcohol and drugs to overcome developmental challenges they are on very dangerous ground. A growing percentage are doing so and there are an increasing number of vested interests supporting this. For most adolescents they will quickly get a perspective on this and grow through it, but a growing percentage will develop a relationship with alcohol or drugs which will significantly impact on their relationship with life. Its important to become aware of this if it’s happening and to challenge it whilst at the same time keeping the line of communication with them.

It can often be helpful for an adolescent to talk to a professional about the challenges they are facing in private, within clear and agreed limitations. This can help them get perspective on themselves, and a clearer direction. 

Addiction
Addiction

Having studied and worked in addiction in a variety of contexts for over twenty years I believe there are two important aspects to recovery.

The first relates to the client gaining clarity on the nature of their relationship with the object of their addiction and making changes to that relationship and the second which is equally important is the capacity for the client to get their needs met in relationship with life.

For many clients they need to end their relationship with the object of their addiction before they develop their relationship with life. For others it can be a gradual process of moving from one to the other. For all however if they don’t have the experience of getting their needs met they will inevitably relapse or turn to another addictive behaviour.

In my opinion as human beings we have certain needs we can only get met in relationship with other human beings. We either get these needs met or we learn to escape them. The primary way we do this is through addiction in one form or another.

The object of our addiction gives us the illusion we are getting our needs met while meanwhile eroding any capacity we have had of getting them met  in the first  place.

The experience of psychological trauma in particular trauma which is experienced in relation to another human being is a significant obstacle to us being able to get our needs met.

Supervision
Clinical Supervision

I am a qualified clinical supervisor having completed my higher diploma in Trinity College Dublin in 2017.

I see Clinical Supervison as being a discipline separate from any particular modality and am available to provide Clinical Supervision to any individual or group who feel they might benefit from a process of reflection on their practise.

Personally, I don’t believe Clinical Supervision should be compulsory and have little interest in supervising an individual who is attending solely to fulfil the requirements of their accrediting body.

I believe the best clinical supervision comes about as a result of a collaborative process of reflection and can benefit any professional who is conscientious about their professional practise.

While I don’t subscribe to any one model of clinical supervision, I am quite drawn to the comprehensive nature of Hawkins and Shohet's seven eyed model. I also believe an important part of an exploratory process is an exploration of the embodied experience of the supervisee as they explore their relationship with the material.

Ultimately, I believe clinical supervision can involve an exploration of anything which can be an obstacle to the supervisee bringing about the best clinical outcome for their client(s) and to them growing and minding themselves as a professional(s) and as human being(s). This should not exclude the suitability of me and my interventions as clinical supervisor. It also imposes a discipline on me to do everything reasonable for me to progress as a clinical supervisor in order that I can grow and provide the best support to my supervisees/clients.

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