“We’re all in this together…
by ourselves”

Lily Tomlin

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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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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.

Jane Goodall in the FT on the Interdependence of Humans, Dogs and Chimps
“People think that my favourite animals are chimps, but I don’t really think of them as animals any more than I think of humans as animals” - Jane Goodall, ‘Dog Walking with the FT’ (Interview by Stephen Pincock), 24th June 2011.
Last weekend the Financial Times‘ Stephen Pincock ran a lovely interview with the primatologist and environmentalist Jane Goodall. In Dog Walking with the FT, an interview is conducted in Sydney, Australia while Jane plays with the interviewer’s dog on the beach.

Now 77, Goodall is as fascinating an interviewee as ever. World-famous for her work with the wild chimpanzees at Gombe, she reveals that her favourite non-humans are, in fact, dogs – and attributes the awakenings of her lifelong passion for the animal world to a pet dog from childhood, Rusty, who taught her that animals were emotional beings – something that was dismissed out of hand by most academics at that time.

During the interview she also manages to get in a volley against dominance- and obedience-based dog training.

Goodall seems to share something fundamental with some of the animal-assisted therapists I’ve been interviewing for my research recently, and that’s a natural tendency to consider herself and her animal close kin (as in, non-humans that she’s known well) as one, rather than as beings from opposing or distinct groups of ‘people’ and ‘animals’.

One equine-assisted therapist told me recently: “In my life there’s not been a me, an us and the horses. There’s been an us – myself, my horses, my family, all in one. I’m them and they’re me – it’s hard to explain but that’s how it is.”

It’s encouraging to think that a worldview espoused by Jane Goodall, who has achieved so much for animals and for people, is one shared by some therapists in the UK. When human-animal dominance or interdependence is becoming more topical than ever, voices for interdependence need to be heard.

Llyn Tegid (Bala) with Paddling Dog

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