“Our lives are shaped by forces
we are totally unaware of”

Darian Leader

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Individual (One-to-One) Counselling and Therapy, Alsager, Cheshire

I offer one-to-one counselling and psychotherapy sessions for adults and young people, working through issues in a confidential, nurturing environment. Sessions last 50 minutes and I usually see clients once or twice a week for a given period. I am based in Cheshire, working from Alsager (East Cheshire, Junction 16 of the M6), although my client base geographically includes North Staffordshire, the Peak District and beyond.

To date I have helped individual clients in both short- and long-term therapy, dealing with issues ranging from anxiety and panic attacks through chronic eating disorders, phobias and relationship problems to bereavement, post-traumatic stress disorder and abuse.

My therapeutic approach is integrative, which means that I borrow freely from various schools of thought to use the techniques that will work best for each client. These include psychodynamic and transpersonal therapy and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) as well as less mainstream creative techniques including bibliotherapy and eco-therapy in cases where they can be helpful for the client. I have also trained in animal-assisted therapy (AAT) which can be very effective in some instances.

For more information about individual therapy or to make an appointment, please contact me at jcsmith@therapy-cheshire.co.uk or call me on 07811 981645.

 

 

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Very good facilitation – encouraging and warm.

Extinction, Grief and What We Can Do with It

Sunday 30th November is the international Day of Remembrance for Lost Species, aimed at facilitating thinking around extinction.

Here in Alsager, I’ll be leading a short walk into open fields where we will lay stones in remembrance of species already lost to the world and in acknowledgment of the very many species that are currently endangered.

In therapy, an almost daily lesson is that grief needs to be both recognised and honoured. People grieve over lost loved ones, lost companion animals, lost buildings, lost childhoods and lost dreams, amongst other things. But what can we do with our grief when we’re faced with the loss of a species forever?

The loss of a species might at first seem fairly impersonal. Extinctions are, after all, measured scientifically and also reported on science pages or, even if they make the ‘general’ news, with a scientific bias (as opposed to a cultural or emotional bias). Some extinctions make the headlines – recent years have seen the widely-reported disappearance of the Yangtze River Dolphin, the Passenger Pigeon and the much-lamented Galapagos Turtle Lonesome George, for example. But every hour – yes, every hour – three species become extinct on Earth. How can we deal with the truth of that?

Thinking about extinction is interesting therapeutically for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, how we deal with the loss of species says a lot about how we as human beings connect with ‘the world’ and see our place in it. Some people prefer not to think about it, perhaps feigning disinterest or that old chestnut of a get-out, ‘there’s nothing I can do to change things’. Other people feel a profound sense of grief, perhaps even of guilt, shame or powerlessness – but how do they acknowledge that feeling?

Secondly, extinction is an unusual loss in that it affects all people, everywhere, in the sense of the world’s journey. It alters the fabric of our eco-systems and it changes our landscape – forever. With each loss of a species, the world becomes a poorer place than it was. So those taking the time to mourn extinctions may face a double problem in that they see the hugeness of the loss for all of us while others around them may appear not to care.

This Sunday morning, our local exploration of how we feel about extinction won’t be a loud affair and won’t take very long. It will be a very small group of us doing two very simple things – walking, and placing a stone as a marker. But those two very simple things are huge because they help us feel solidarity in our grief (through walking together) and they help us tangibly see the loss (through the laying of stones). On Sunday, we will know our personal grief is shared externally and we will see our grief physically acknowledged. For some, the experience will be purely contemplative. For others, it may become a trigger for activism, with the thought of extinctions helping us reconnect with other species and perhaps determining to do something about it.

But either way, on this symbolic day, extinction will not go unnoticed.

For more information about Sunday’s walk in Alsager e-mail Jane at jcsmith@therapy-cheshire.co.uk.

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New Monthly Drop-In for Bereaved Pet Owners

Wednesday 4th September sees the first of my free monthly drop-ins for bereaved pet owners.

Why run a group specifically for bereaved pet owners? Well, anecdotal evidence from my clients would suggest that some GPs, some counsellors and indeed some friends and family struggle to understand the grief that can occur following the death of a companion animal. Pet bereavement is very much a “real” bereavement – after all, companion animals often represent the most ‘honest’ and non-judgmental relationships in their owners’ lives, and in most cases they are bona fide members of the family who, on their death, are grieved for just as much as people. And like all bereavement, if unattended it can lead to depression and other problems.

We have a wonderful free phone and e-mail helpline that’s run by the Blue Cross‘s Pet Bereavement Support Service, but I haven’t heard of drop-ins specifically around this issue before, so I think it’s a UK first. I’ve no idea whether people will want to attend. I do know, though, that many people struggle greatly following the loss of a companion animal, so it’s worth offering the service.

It will offer a supportive, confidential environment where participants can learn to grieve healthily and with self-care, and where we can explore meaningful remembrance. Above all, we will be able to acknowledge the real grief of losing a companion animal and give voice to those feelings that are sometimes not taken seriously enough by health professionals who should know better.

Advance booking is essential. Owners of terminally ill or missing animals are also welcome.

Please spread the word if you think this group could benefit someone you know.

Pet Fosterers Needed to Help Families Fleeing Domestic Abuse – RSPCA and Women’s Aid’s Pioneering ‘Pet Retreat’ Service

The RSPCA and Women’s Aid are to be congratulated for their Pet Retreat initiative to help families feeling domestic abuse.

One of the myriad reasons people don’t leave situations of domestic abuse is fear of their pets being left behind or hurt. Indeed, there is plenty of research showing that abuse of domestic animals can often be an indicator of abuse against human members of the family – see a PETA article on the subject here and an NSPCC document on the same subject here.

The service was set up in 2002 and has helped 538 families and 815 animals to date.

If you could help by fostering an animal for Pet Retreat, e-mail petretreat@rspca.org.uk. Volunteers are needed across the UK.

Equine-Assisted Therapy to Help Paul Gascoigne on Road to Wellness

In the news headlines today is the story of footballer Paul Gascoigne‘s current visit to a rehabilitation clinic near Phoenix, Arizona, where the programme of treatment includes equine-assisted therapy.

Working with horses is one of the fastest-growing areas of animal-assisted therapy, and for good reason. Horses, in common with many prey animals, are highly sensitive to mood and atmosphere, and are excellent communicators, more than capable of giving immediate honest feedback. But additionally, their sheer size and weight can be an important factor for clients who need to learn to develop trust in their own emotional and physical reactions and in others’.

In the UK, we’re fortunate to have world-class equine-assisted therapy delivered through centres such as Sirona Therapeutic Horsemanship in Devon and the Barton Hill Centre in the Brecon Beacons, both of which I visited as part of my Masters research into animal-assisted therapy.

If you’d like to find out more, a great place for learning about the healing power of horses is Susan Richards‘ unforgettable memoir Chosen By A Horse, which tells the story of the author’s healing process through looking after her rescue mare Lay Me Down. The classic text on the theory of equine-assisted therapy, meanwhile, is Linda Kohanov‘s The Tao of Equus.

Horses in Snowdonia

Next BASN Seminar in Glasgow this April

The next BASN (British Animal Studies Network) seminar will take place in Glasgow in April; details here.

Exploring Childhood Pet Bereavement Through Film: Tim Burton’s ‘Frankenweenie’

Director Tim Burton’s latest film, Frankenweenie, tells the story of a child who tries to bring their beloved pet dog back to life.

In the Observer at the weekend, Burton explained how Frankenweenie is actually one of the first stories he ever worked on, having developed a much earlier animation that was deemed too macabre for his erstwhile Disney employers (who, incidentally, are now releasing Burton’s 2012 film). Click here to read the whole interview.

Burton also explains that his own childhood dog was his “first love” in the sense of experiencing unconditional love, to the extent that the first sketches he made of the dog for the Frankenweenie story were of a dog that was essentially heart-shaped. Luckily, the dog in the 2012 film is very similar to the one originally created by Burton.

The story of Frankenweenie‘s evolution through the creative exploration of the death of a childhood pet is a fascinating one, and for Burton it’s obviously been career-long. After reading the interview, I found myself wondering just how many other creatives – film-makers, illustrators, artists, writers and others – have spent lifetimes exploring formative experiences of grief, including companion animal bereavement, through their chosen media. In many instances, I’m sure we’ve been fortunate as consumers of film, literature and art in appreciating these attempts to make sense of key themes from childhood.

Frankenweenie opens in UK cinemas on 17 October.

For more information about children and pet loss, visit the Blue Cross’s PBSS (Pet Bereavement Support Service) site. The PBSS also runs a free pet bereavement helpline staffed by trained volunteers.

SCAS’s Code of Practice for Animal-Assisted Therapy Practitioners: Feedback Sought

The Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS) is asking for feedback from practitioners on its draft Code of Practice for animal-assisted therapeutic interventions.

You can request a copy of the document here, and feedback is being accepted until 30th September.

Poetry that ‘Distils’ Something About the Human-Animal Encounter

Well, my thesis is due in next week and it’s actually kind of bittersweet coming to the end of the work – although of course it’s not really an end, since there are many more questions than answers and I hope to continue with it all later on.

One of the themes I’ve been looking at as a tangent to my research is the way some Native American authors seem to be able to ‘distil’ something about the experience of human-animal encounters that is definitely related to animal-assisted psychotherapy, and to this end I included an extract from the poem Affinity: Mustang by the Chicksaw Nation’s writer-in-residence Linda Hogan.

Here’s another of Linda’s poems: Turtle Watchers, available on her website, from her collection Rounding the Human Corners.

“I want to consider beings for what they are, and not for their species” – Peter Singer

There’s a fascinating debate in the current issue of Standpoint magazine between Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, and Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University.

‘Putting a Value on Human and Animal Life’ encompasses discussion around human medical ethics, the Holocaust and Darwinism, and is an intriguing exchange between two deeply moral thinkers, both of whose influence extends far beyond academia.

“I want to consider beings for what they are, … and not for their species,” says Singer, author of the seminal Animal Liberation, a  book that represented a turning point for many people of my generation.

For us as counsellors or psychotherapists, the relevance of the debate is obvious when you think about what we’re doing on a daily basis – helping clients situate themselves in the world around them and facilitating their understanding of themselves in their worlds. We’ve studied in Humanities departments on courses teaching ‘Person-Centred’ theory, where Martin Buber’s ‘I-thou’ philosophy is often brought into play.

For many clients, intimacy during childhood was sought after through companion animals, and something of that has stayed with them into later life.

For others, concern about the environment is something that weighs very heavily on them, and as such it’s brought into the therapy room with them.

In this era of environmental awareness, as therapy professionals and as citizens it’s time we had a really good, hard look at speciesism, post-humanism and the whole subject of human-nature interdependence, and it’s great that serious publications like Standpoint are giving such issues credence and column inches.

Hebridean Sheep – image courtesy of Cheshire Wildlife Trust

Barton Hill: AAT Outcomes in Action

Just back from an eye-opening visit to the Barton Hill Centre in the Brecon Beacons.

For anyone still unsure about the many therapeutic benefits of being around animals and nature, whether through animal-assisted therapy or horticultural therapy, seeing the work at Barton Hill is a must. There, Julie Milsom and her team are doing amazing work with adult clients, working alongside animals that include horses, pigs, rabbits, guinea pigs and even foxes as well as employing horticultural therapy.

The outcomes are remarkable, and this work is crying out for further research to populate the evidence base that is ever more requisite for animal-assisted therapy providers to secure funding for their work.

To find out more about Barton Hill click to their web page here.

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