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Interview on Australia Counselling: Helping clients achieve mind-body wellness

I was recently interview by CEO of Australia Counselling, Clinton Power, about my practice.  It was great to have a chance to think carefully about who I help and how.

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Australia Counselling member Deborah Jackson is a psychologist practicing on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

Deborah provides counselling services to help individuals heal through trauma, mood disorders and life crisis, to embody more of their essential self and make their true contribution to life.

In particular, she is passionate about supporting her clients in achieving mind-body wellness through a holistic approach that respects the client’s own internal wisdom.

Here’s what Deborah had to say about her counselling work when we spoke to her recently.

Tell us a bit about your practice – where it is, who you work with and the services you offer?

I work with adults who are troubled by a mood disorder or life crisis and seek to work through it using a holistic framework. My clients are seeking not just to heal through the mood issue or life crisis, but in doing so to connect a little more fully with their essential self and what wants to create in their life from that place.

My face-to-face practice is on the Gold Coast and I work via Skype anywhere the time zones line up, offering counselling and life coaching.

How did you become interested in counselling and working as a psychotherapist with mood disorders?

I have always been a big champion of the potential in people and possibilities in life. For a long while I worked in
organisations, helping people to uncover the true and needed essence of a brand or business and to deliver that through people, culture and authentic customer relationships. It involved a lot of working with business leaders and uncovering their hopes and fears, losses and secret desires to make a difference.

These are often high stress, highly competitive environments. Without the right coping skills, stress can morph into an anxiety disorder. Too much stress over too long, without enough resources or hope for change or positive sense of self can lead to depression.

Depression and anxiety disorders can get in the way of people offering up their gifts and making their best contribution to life. Seeing this, I wanted to hold a space for deep healing where people’s true self can come through and make a difference.

What do you consider a mood disorder and how would someone know if they had one?

A mood disorder reflects variations and intensity in mood that go beyond the normal ups and downs of life. Usually the person has difficulty managing stress, anxiety and low mood and this impacts their work, relationships and general health and wellbeing. For example, they may find themselves avoiding things that are important due to excessive worry or negative thinking. It also tends to have a physiological impact and may affect sleep, appetite, concentration and energy levels. Anxiety and depression are two common mood disorders.

How do you believe people overcome mood disorders?

First up, it’s important to develop skills for calming down the physiology that goes with the stress response, settling down the fight-flight-freeze response, reducing the flow of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) and allowing access to more of the whole brain, particularly the regions that help us stay in the present, to give expression to true feelings, to reason and have some flexibility and choice in the way we respond to the world.

Once in a calmer and more present state, learning how to think in a realistic rather than overly negative way, is the next step. This includes evolving the core beliefs about life and how to be in it that hold us back. Even so, difficult things happen to all of us and developing a capacity for accepting what life is calling on us to accept is also an important step towards healing. This frees us to take action on what matters most, without denying or fighting ourselves.

Cultivating our capacity for present moment awareness, including deep appreciation of the small things, can go a long way towards recalibrating neurochemistry to support calmer and more manageable mood states. Working with natural character strengths and the things that energise and light a person is also a big part of the way forward.

Tell us about your approach and why you believe the way you work is effective in helping people with mood disorders

I bring a mix of the disciplined approach that comes with psychology as a profession and also a holistic awareness, helping people to integrate their mind-body wellness and also to listen out for and act from the wisdom of their soul-self.

Tell us what a client can expect to experience in an initial counselling session with you

To feel deeply heard, understood and accepted. To get clearer about the real nature of the problem and how the issue is impacting their health and wellbeing. To receive feedback about the likely path we will take towards wellbeing. To take away something immediate – a new perspective, a tool, some feedback, some reading or a new process to try.

On a personal note, tell us something that you’re passionate about or love to do in your spare time

I’m big into photography – love to go on dates with my camera into the great outdoors and also photograph people in a way that shows them back something beautiful about who they are.

Neurotransmitters, talk therapy and creating a healing climate in the brain

I’m  going to a workshop in Brisbane this week facilitated by Pieter Rossouw.  Pieter is the Director of the Master of Counselling Program at the School of Psychology and the School of Social Work and Human Services at The University of Queensland. Through his research and teaching, Pieter has amassed a really helpful level of knowledge and insight into how to work with the brain to best support healing and growth.

There can sometimes be a divide in the medical and therapeutic industry between those who rush to prescribe anti-depressants and those who are “talky-touchy-feely” (or seen this way).

I sit a little to the left of centre on this one, but not all the way. SSRI’s, SNRI’s and the like have their place under certain conditions, but they are usually a long way from the whole answer.

This workshop looks at a bottom up approach to therapy where the first focus goes to down regulation of stress related neurotransmitters and neural structures and up regulation of safety triggers (oxytocin release, healthy attachment, upregulation of the parasympathetic nervous system, increased GABA release), as the foundation for talk therapy. Under these circumstances, talk therapy has been shown to be more specific in the way it impacts neural structure, than chemical interventions.*

Put simply, find ways to reduce stress that don’t rely on “thinking your way out of it” – because clear thinking is limited under stress and limited in an ongoing way with long term stress and trauma. Then find ways to increase your “feel good” chemicals and hormones – this can come from the quality of the therapeutic relationship, lifestyle changes, time in nature, natural supplements, rhythmic activity (dancing, drumming, music) healing touch, spiritual connection and anything that creates a sense of safe belonging and care.

From this point, you are much more likely to be able to take full advantage of your cognitive abilities to support change and maybe a little less likely to need them!

* (Kumari, 2006 “Do psychotherapies produce neurological effects?”).