Areas of Counselling

Individual Counselling

 

Life can feel lonely at times. Even if we are surrounded by family and friends we may still feel that we have no one to turn to. Whatever the reason, individual counselling will allow you time and space to explore what is going on for you in a safe non-judgemental uninterrupted space.

Perhaps you are going through a personal crisis: someone you love has died, your relationship has ended; you have lost your job; you feel overwhelmed or anxious by circumstances in your life or your future is very uncertain. You may be experiencing feelings of sadness, grief, anxiety, anger and you feel you have little control of these feelings. Or, it is less obvious than this. You may be feeling really ready to look at the patterns in your life that ultimately hurt you and others around you. Sometimes it is the difficult life transitions and painful experiences that can provide us with the opportunities to restore balance and vitality, to move away from limiting ideas and beliefs.

 

The way I work is based on the simple premise that the quality of the working relationship we build is key to the therapy being effective. The time is yours and my role is to help you through the process by creating a safe place in which you feel comfortable to talk through the personal and difficult areas in your life. I work with the issues that you bring, at a pace which is right for you and will support you in exploring options that help you reach a decision that feels right for you.

Alfredo Gonzalez, Belfast

Couple and Relationship Counselling

 

Only through our interactions with others do we come to know ourselves. Those closest to us are often those with whom we most struggle with when we are most angry.

Couples come and see me for many reasons; maybe you seem to have the "same argument "over and over, maybe you are experiencing a lack of emotional, physical or sexual closeness or have poor communication patterns, or one of you has broken trust through having another relationship.

It can help greatly to have a safe supportive environment to talk through these issues and to have a skilled professional to help you understand what is driving the problems and what will help to resolve them.

The way I work is based on the simple premise that the quality of the working relationship we build is key to the therapy being effective. The time is yours and my role is to help you through the process by creating a safe place in which you feel comfortable to talk through the personal and difficult areas in your life. I work with the issues that you bring, at a pace which is right for you and will support you in exploring options that help you reach a decision that feels right for you.

Depression

 

Depression is something we all experience at some point in our lives. Feeling depressed is a natural response to loss or bereavement. However, depression can be more serious and sustained, when our whole energy and concentration is lowered and we struggle to focus, believing ourselves to be worthless and useless. It is a condition which can affect a person’s thinking, energy, feelings and behaviour.

People with depression may struggle to get out of bed in the morning, eat well, sleep well and be well. Individuals feel sad, anxious or apathetic. Their whole body may feel sluggish, indeed the person may experience deep fatigue and low self-esteem. There is a loss of interest in usual activities or in their social life and the individual may begin to retreat or isolate themselves from life. This loss of interest in living may accelerate into suicidal and self-harming thoughts. Talking through your concerns and worries with a non-judgmental therapist can be a huge help at such a distressing time.

Anxiety

 

We all have times when we worry and feel anxious. It’s very common to feel tense or unsure about a potentially stressful situation, such as starting a new job, or moving home, or challenges in work or family relationships. Despite being a normal experience, if these feelings are very strong or are lasting a long time, it can be overwhelming.

Anxiety results from the body's natural reaction to dangerous, threatening and stressful situations. The body prepares itself to fight or run away, known as the 'fight or flight' response. Your heart rate will increase and you may get sweaty palms as well as a number of other symptoms. It may be that your body is responding to physical harm such as an approaching car, or something stressful such as exams, a job interview or meeting new people.

While these responses are absolutely normal in the short term to protect you from harm, feelings of anxiety can sometimes go on for a long time – long after the harm has gone away. When anxiety lasts a long time and starts to have an impact on everyday life you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety is often caused by situations we feel we can’t control or things that have upset us in the past. We are inclined to remember the times that we feel we have failed for example and fear recreating that same experience. And it’s not just situations or memories that can trigger anxiety. Anxiety can be related to confidence, how we feel about ourselves and our abilities can be a factor. Our physical health is also a consideration. If we don’t look after ourselves, what we eat and drink, how much we sleep and how much we exercise, it can contribute significantly to our anxious thoughts. Unfortunately, if we allow it, anxiety itself can become a problem. We start to feel anxious about feeling anxious. We worry that our anxiety itself will get in the way and anxious thoughts spiral out of control.

Types of anxiety can include:

Generalised Anxiety - A tendency to worry excessively all the time
Social Anxiety or Social Phobia - A general fear of social situations and interactions
Specific Phobias - Can include fear of flying, fear of heights or fear of animals
Panic Attacks or Panic Disorder- Sudden disturbing sensations of fear, panic or loss of control

Counselling can be an extremely useful approach in helping you deal with your anxiety. Therapy helps by giving you the time that you need to reflect on the reasons why you might be suffering the way you currently are. It can help you to trace the underlying meanings behind your anxiety, the thoughts, fears, triggers, memories and behaviours that might be contributing to your anxious feelings.

Loss and Bereavement

 

So much of what hurts us in life is loss whether through bereavement or the ending of relationships or marriage. Therapy provides a space for you to safely experience the pain and grief of your loss and to allow you to explore the different feelings that you are coping with all the while working towards healing the wounds that you have been left with.

When someone significant in our life dies the emotions that inhabit us can be overwhelming. Losing your partner, spouse, friend, parent, family member or child is a devastating experience. The newly bereaved can be unprepared to deal with the sheer force and nature of emotions that follow the loss of a loved one. It can feel like nothing will ever make sense or feel right again. It can be difficult to express or share your grief with those around you as they may be grieving too or you may feel they do not understand what you are going through.

Coping with Grief:

By Alfredo Gonzalez, Belfast

Everyone Grieves Differently

The death of a loved one can be devastating and bereavement affects people in uniquely different ways. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Grieving can be impacted by gender or cultural identity. Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s the emotional suffering you experience when someone you love dies. The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief will be.

Get Support

Talking and sharing your feelings with someone can really help. You don’t have to go through this alone. For some people, relying on family and friends is the best way to cope. For others being part of a faith community or having spiritual beliefs can be sustaining at this painful time. The work of psychotherapy and counselling is to help individuals process the pain of loss and to assist them to go on living effectively in the world.

Trauma and EMDR

 

Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic approach increasingly being used to support people suffering from trauma . EMDR is not a talking therapy in its own right; it uses the body's natural memory processing functions to help clients work through difficult or traumatic memories. EMDR treatments can enable people of all ages to heal from physical and emotional symptoms of distress that are the result of traumatic life experiences.

How does EMDR work?

 

When traumatic events happen, the body's natural coping mechanisms can be overwhelmed and subsequently, the memory isn't always processed adequately. EMDR involves processing distressing memories from traumatic events, removing any emotional charge and so allowing you to move on from these experiences.

https://www.vogue.com/article/how-emdr-helped-me-find-healing-in-a-most-daunting-year

 

EMDR has proven to be effective at helping clients process and release traumatic experiences that lead to PTSD ( Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). EMDR is commonly used to resolve complicated grief, anxieties, phobias, depression, addiction and relationship issues. Clients often remark that the disturbing memory no longer has the emotional charge it once did. They are able to recall the memory but it is no longer associated with the same emotions. They are also able to replace negative beliefs with preferred, positive beliefs about themselves.

EMDR has been proven as an effective therapy, recognised by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE ) and the world Health Organisation as a treatment for processing traumatic memories and post traumatic-stress disorder( PTSD).

At first glance, Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing ( EMDR) appears to approach psychological issues in an unusual way.

The human mind uses Rapid Eye Movement (REM) during sleep to help it process everyday emotional experiences, bringing us relief from any distress. However, when we experience an adverse or traumatic life event, whether this is in our early or later life, this process breaks down and REM sleep doesn't bring the usual relief. Those memories can then start to feel stuck, often being triggered when we do not want to think about them, with an intense level of distress, often impacting our behaviours in an undesired way.

In EMDR sessions we process distressing emotions and images from memories by replicating REM in the session whilst holding the image in your mind's eye, reducing the power of emotionally charged memories.

The goal is to allow the person to achieve a complete state of emotional health. After an EMDR session, there may be a strong sense of relief, a feeling of openness.

It is important that before we do the Eye Movement technique of EMDR, an assessment is undertaken to ensure that you are resourceful and stable enough to do the processing and it can therefore take some time before we decide to move forward with the eye movement.

Woman’s Relationship to Food and Body Image

 

For many of us our relationship to food and body image is difficult, painful and frustrating. So often we feel pressurised into looking a certain way, believing that in order to be attractive and beautiful we need to be a size, 8, 10, 12, to squeeze our bodies into tight ill-fitting clothes and feel self-conscious and ill at ease, therefore ruining our enjoyment of a good night out or eating away at our confidence and self-esteem.

How is it, we hate that extra layer of fat around our tummies, but want another inch on our breasts. How many of us are planning our next diet so we will fit into that cherished dress or pair of jeans?

The current ways of working with eating and body image are outwardly focussed and suggest that if we manage to control our food intake then we will have solved all our problems: we will be confident and happy, have the partner we want, the job we want. Yet the lure of losing those few pounds and believing that we have found happiness ignores the root of the issue and suggests superficial solutions. It ignores that this dis-ease with our bodies and food and continues of distance us from ourselves, our wisdom and power.

Instead of seeing our physical hunger as a craving for food, we can begin to understand it as a hunger for our life. It is us telling ourselves know that we are not satisfied with our life, that want something else, but are having difficulty in knowing what this is and are using food as a way to distract us getting what we really want.

As women we have been taught to judge and ridicule our bodies. We all know in our mind’s eye the way we want to look. This image is rarely self-defined but rather we are significantly influenced by the media and fashion industry to strive for what is for most women an unobtainable shape. Amazingly we support each other in our pain of attempting to create this fantasy by exchanging diets and judging each other’s bodies to be beautiful.

If you feel dissatisfied or unhappy with your body, feel like your body image gets in the way of being able to live your life or do the things you would like to, or you are engaging in restrictive eating or other unhealthy eating or exercise behaviours, then seeking professional help is important.

I offer individual and group work and workshops on women’s relationship to food and body image. I can help you change your relationship with food and feel at ease/enjoy your body again. I will work with you to explore your relationship with food and body image, we will dispel myths about dieting, explore our negative thinking patterns and experiment with affirmation and imagery work so that our internal attitudes begin to change and we begin to listen to our bodies a little more, we begin to challenge the critical voice which makes us feel bad about ourselves.

Exploring your relationship with food and body image allows you to begin to trust and enjoy your body again; it is miraculous how, when you do trust your body, it tells you when and what to eat and when you want to stop. Although, I do not encourage weight loss to be the end goal it is surprising how many bodies adjust to their natural weight as women begin to trust their appetites and move out of a diet mentality.

Body Centered Therapy

Body Centred psychotherapy is an experiential therapy based on the idea that we store or hold information and emotions in our bodies. Said another way, our bodies have a kind of memory for experiences and feelings. Body centred psychotherapy supports you in identifying where experiences may be blocked and inhibiting you from accessing your feeling.

By giving the body a "voice" through movement, gesture, sound and/or awareness of subtle sensations, you can gain insight into long held patterns of thought, emotion or behaviour. The awareness and understanding gained in this process can help you to develop a deep inner sense of knowing, to reduce anxiety and depression, to make healthy decisions, to set boundaries in relationships and to feel more grounded and confident. By using information from the body, we can understand ourselves more fully, deepen self-acceptance and change patterns that no longer serve us.

Nature Based Therapy

 

Whilst traditional talking therapy can help many people, using the natural environment as a therapeutic resource offers an alternative to traditional talking therapies. There is wide recognition of the natural world as a positive resource for our mental and physical wellbeing, help calm the nervous system, lower blood pressure and boost positive feelings.

Therapy in Nature allows for time to pause and experience nature, to listen to the natural sounds around you, feel the earth underneath your feet and the soil in your hands. Being in nature offers us the opportunity to be in the present moment where we take time to be still and silent and absorb the raw beauty of their natural surroundings. In this tranquil environment people come to rediscover their natural ability to heal and to experience themselves at their best.

Blackbird on Tree by Alfredo Gonzalez, Belfast

As part of my services, I am offering opportunities for clients to connect more deeply with the healing that nature can provide. Nature may occasionally be integrated into your therapy through encouraging you to engage with nature in a mindful way between sessions, through the use of natural materials in the therapy room, by fostering the benefits of a room with a view and where appropriate to your individual needs, by taking therapy sessions outdoors. This may not suit everyone so only occurs if you are interested in engaging in this process and after discussion.

Part of my work with clients in working with nature can involve working therapeutically with horses.

Photo courtesy of Katrina Lundgren

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy

 

Caring for and interacting with animals has many proven health benefits. It can provide people with companionship, comfort and a strong sense of wellbeing, and it’s no surprise that animals have been used for therapeutic purposes throughout history.

Whilst a range of animals can be used in therapy, equine therapy (therapy involving horses) has been found to be particularly effective in helping individuals to process and change negative behaviours.

“The big question that people have when they come here is what horses can actually give us in terms of psychotherapy. Horses are very social animals; they engage with each other, they engage with us. That whole process of exploring how can we connect to horses, what can we learn from them, what do they tell us about us, is the core of any equine assisted psychotherapy programme.”
Andreas Liefhooghe
Expert Horse Handler
“There’s a number of aspects to equine assisted therapy. First of all, it’s coming out into the beautiful environment and being with lovely animals. Other aspects of it are about controlling a one-tonne animal as a team. It enables clients to identify emotions which sometimes they find difficult to express.’’
Dr Niall Campbell
Consultant Psychiatrist

What is equine therapy?

 

Equine assisted therapy is a holistic, experiential and highly specialised form of therapy that involves working in collaboration with a horse, your therapist and an expert horse handler.

During sessions, there are opportunities to meet the horse, spend time with the horse (s) and explore the relationship between you and the horse. These sessions generally do not involve riding a horse but may include tasks such as feeding and grooming. After sessions, you have the chance to discuss your experiences and emotions with your therapist.

Ultimately, the aim of equine therapy is to help you to discover more about yourself, develop new ways of thinking and change any negative behaviours.

What is the goal of equine therapy?

 

At the beginning, your equine therapy sessions will focus on helping you overcome any initial uneasiness, empowering you to develop and nurture your relationship with the horse.

Working with horses requires patience, understanding, discipline and responsibility. Horses can be stubborn one day and playful the next, meaning that you need to be flexible, innovative and open to altering your behaviour.

By working through equine therapy, you can develop skills such as communication, self-control, problem solving and accountability, as well as improving your self-esteem, empathy, flexibility and independence.

It gives you the opportunity to discover more about your capabilities develop new ways of thinking and change negative behaviours. For example, by working with the horse, you may start to notice self-defeating thought processes or negative patterns of behaviour which may be contributing to your addiction, giving you to opportunity to take steps to overcome them.

What are the benefits of equine therapy?

 

Many of the benefits of equine therapy are likely due to the nature of the horses themselves. Horses are naturally gentle and calm creatures, and are able to mirror and respond to human behaviour, meaning that they are highly effective at interacting and working with others in a patient and non-judgemental manner.

Those who struggle to articulate how they’re feeling often find equine therapy useful as they’re able to express their emotions and feelings with their horse. In addition, individuals who find it hard to trust others or be intimate with people, can often achieve a strong bond and a level of closeness with their horse, and experience affection, acceptance and mutual respect.

Equine therapy doesn’t just result in psychological benefits - it has physical benefits too. Equine therapy has been found to reduce people’s blood pressure and heart rate, and help to calm physical symptoms of conditions such as anxiety and stress.

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