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Choice Counselling | Dundee & St. Andrews | drfox@choicecounsellingatdundee.co.uk+44 (0)7734 900 796

Pluralistic Counselling

My Approach

Over the years, most of my clients have asked the following questions in their first sessions with me:

 

  • What is counselling?

  • How can counselling help me with my problems?

  • How do you work as a counsellor? Why do you work in that way?

 

This section will answer these questions for you. If you have any other questions, just drop me a message, and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

 

Counselling can be defined as a form of mental health therapy that aims to address clients' life problems. Here are some of its key features:

 

  • Your counselling provides a special place for you, as a client, to talk about your problems with an experienced practitioner.

  • The ethos of the counselling relationship is that it is a safe, confidential and non-judgmental place for you to discuss your problems. You will be listened to with great respect and understanding, so that you feel free to explore sensitive topics.

  • Counselling has an inbuilt flexibility, as it can be short-term (say 10 sessions) or it can last for a much longer period (say greater than a year). The length of counselling depends on the nature of your issues and what you want from your therapy. You will never be forced to stay longer than you wish; equally, your therapy will not be brought to what you consider a premature end.

 

My specific training was in pluralistic therapy, which means I adhere to the above while adopting an approach that has many added benefits for my clients. Below is a definition of pluralistic therapy and how it helps clients to overcome their problems and flourish as people:

  • Pluralistic therapy means that the therapist uses not one but many different approaches when working with clients.

  • Due to its great flexibility, pluralistic therapy's chief virtue is this: you are given the freedom to choose, in consultation with me, what therapy approaches suit you best. Pluralistic counselling is the therapy world's first bespoke approach, as how we work together will be determined by you and your specific issues rather than you being made to fit a model of therapy that is unsuited to you. 

  • How this works in practice is as follows: 1) we work together to help define your goals for therapy (i.e. what you want to achieve from your therapy); 2) we then have a discussion about the kind of sub-goals that we can use as stepping stones to reach your destination; 3) finally, we work together using a variety of methods designed to help you reach your targets.

  • At various points in the therapy, pluralistic counselling involves obtaining feedback from clients about what is or isn't working. This feedback allows me to alter, if need be, my approach so that you can safely reach your overall goal.

 

In a nutshell, then, pluralistic therapy involves 

  1. focusing on what you want (it is a therapy designed for each client) 

  2. working together as a team to reach your goals 

  3. the therapist draws on their knowledge of different therapy approaches to achieve said goals (these are called 'methods')

  4. feedback is regularly asked for and incorporated into the therapy process

 

Apart from being a pluralistic therapist, I have extensive academic training in a number of different disciplines from philosophy to English literature to therapy. In this final part, I would like to detail briefly why I believe these influences are important in my work as a pluralistic therapist.

If I were to sum up in a nutshell why my philosophy and literary training is not only relevant, but also fundamental to my work as a therapist it would be this: the main ways that we understand ourselves is by the system of beliefs that we have (our worldview), the stories that we tell about ourselves, and the stories we identify with. In other words, when things go awry in our lives, two of the main ways to help someone change for the better is to 1) aid them in examining critically their beliefs and replacing them with more useful ones, and 2) to explore the stories that they tell themselves, and to help them rewrite them, so that their narratives underscore their strengths, highlight their passions, and foreshadow a constructive future.   

Let us look at these two things in a bit more detail.

Therapist as close reader and co-writer

A number of years ago, I studied for a PhD in English literature, where I explored the work of the Nobel laureate Harold Pinter from a psychodynamic perspective. For those unacquainted with Pinter's work, he is a writer with as much a signature theme (the abuses of power) as a characteristic style (his terse, allusive, halting dialogue). Little did I know at the time, but my study of English lit. and of this particular writer shaped much of my work with clients in the following ways:

  • My English literature training has helped me to be an exquisite close-reader of what my clients convey to me, as I am attentive to the nuances of what they say, and can help them to understand what they are 'really getting at'. Indeed, there are two languages in the therapy room (verbal and non-verbal) and I am good at helping my clients understand the subtext of what they say and do, so that they become more aware of what is happening in their lives. Undoubtedly my study of Pinter exercised this ability too, as he has often been called a 'master of subtext', since his dialogue is brilliant at hinting at the undercurrents of his characters' emotional lives.

  • My study of Pinter's work made me sensitive to the issue of respecting others and to create, as much as possible, safe and egalitarian relationships with others. While some of his later plays portray injustices perpetrated by state power, his earlier work was brilliant at showing how even in our domestic lives, we can mistreat one another with our callous indifference or falling prey to our petty hatreds. Studying his work has made me realize that the most ethical, caring and successful therapists are able to empower their clients, because they have a greater understanding of how people disempower others.

  • Studying drama for my PhD helped me to appreciate the therapeutic potential of the three act structure that is the foundation for mainstream plays and films. This three act structure (beginning, middle, resolution) mirrors how we approach problems and how we seek to resolve them. When I work with clients, I often join them in the first act where they are confronting their problem and are unsure of how to proceed,or during the second act where they have tried to resolve their problems only to find themselves floundering more. My job in this sense is to act like a co-writer, someone who is able to stand back, 'read' their story so far and help them to rewrite it such that a successful resolution is possible.

The therapist as a Socratic midwife: helping you answer your own life questions

Philosophy is the subject where fundamental questions get asked and attempts are made to answer them. Apart from philosophy being the art and science of rigorous thinking, it also involves exploring what constitutes wise and ethical life choices. My undergraduate training was in continental philosophy, where I explored the thought of many eminent thinkers (e.g. Spinoza, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche) who were intimately concerned with what constitutes the good life. None of them agreed with each other, and their answers were never definitive, but that spirit of inquiry, coupled with the dedication to argue as clearly and as effectively as possible, are skills that I bring to my work with clients.

More fully my philosophy training helps in the following way:

  • I am able to help my clients to examine thoroughly what they really believe and to help them amend their beliefs so that they can live a more satisfying and meaningful life.

  • I can help my clients to weigh up the pro and cons of their actions and to guide them in making choices that are wise for them and for others.

  • Since I trained in philosophy, I have an ability to understand deeply the various therapy models and when best to use them in my work with clients. In general, the most judicious use of therapy techniques depends on the therapist understanding the underlying premises and models on which they are based. Having trained in philosophy, I can work more consistently and beneficially as a pluralist, as I use different techniques with a full understanding of what I am doing and why they are likely to be effective.

 

For those that would like more detail on how I might approach a variety of common counselling issues, please read the following PDF here