What do you think of when you hear the word ‘therapy’?
Some people might picture a person on a sofa answering questions. Others may imagine conversations about childhood experiences, or maybe activities like word association.
Fewer people think of drum kits, Chinese martial arts or drawing.
I am a psychological wellbeing therapist at Evolve. My team provides tailored support to our service users, including therapy. We work with people who have experienced trauma, mental health issues, addiction and many other challenges.
Anyone referred to us would typically have between 6-18 sessions. However, beyond that no two journeys are the same. Yes, sometimes we sit and talk, but that’s just one option.
Some people prefer to be outside, so we walk and talk. Others want to move even more, so we might do Qigong – similar to tai chi – to help combat stress or anxiety. If not, there are guided meditations and other forms of mindfulness we can try too.
For others, playing music can help express things and build up resilience, confidence and emotional intelligence. Other artistic activities like drawing also allow people to explore difficult issues in a non-threatening way. Sometimes group sessions are more appropriate, enabling people build new relationships; once we did an aromatherapy class, making spritzers that people could use in their rooms to relieve stress. COVID-19 has inevitably meant moving lots of sessions online, but even then there’s scope for creativity.
That’s the beauty of what we do – there is no set formula. Therapy is often taught as being one thing or another, but really you can always change, building a ‘therapeutic alliance’ with people in order to progress.
The effects of such a personal approach can be incredible, and very empowering.
I have seen a young person with serious family trauma use meditation and drumming to find their confidence and identity. I worked with another who lacked confidence in his own abilities, but through therapy discovered that it was safe to nurture a determined and compassionate aspect of himself; this allowed him to go to university after coming to us with immense anxiety and low self-esteem. I remember one resident struggling with depression after previous traumatic relationships, using therapy to come to terms with their experiences. Ultimately, this allowed them to find a job and move to less-supported accommodation with us.
In a safe environment and with the right approach, that is what therapy can do. It can provide a sense of value, showing people a way of being that they can commit to, unconnected from their past and built on self-compassion. We all go through suffering – therapy can help people to manage that suffering more, even coming through it stronger than before.
Donna Arthur is a Psychological Wellbeing Therapist at Evolve. Read more about the work of her and her team here.