As a young school student I had the fantasy of becoming a “psychologist” but never really imagined myself studying at a university. In fact, my English teacher discouraged me – claiming I “didn’t have the aptitude”. My struggle with, then unnamed, learning difficulties managed to convince me that academic life was not my place. I went on to pursue studies in advertising art but soon realised that, although I enjoyed the creative work, it was not necessarily my place either. After toying with many possibilities, I ended up registering at university hoping that I might stumble upon something that would give me direction. My subject choices were a spur of the moment thing. Psychology and English happened to be two of the subjects that I chose. Both proved to be very enriching and I eventually chose them as my majors. I remember joking with my English professor that English graduates would make much better therapists than Psychology graduates. It is only in retrospect that I have begun to understand that statement.
As a psychologist, I have come to find it useful to view people as constantly in the process of storytelling. Most people come to therapy with problematic themes that seem to dominate their lives. These themes gradually thread together, leaving us with very limiting stories about our selfs. Therapy, therefore, is about a collaborative effort (between client and therapist) to notice, honour and generate less “problem saturated” stories about our lives. The Psychologist is not seen as the expert in this process. Rather, the people I consult are the experts (and authors) in their own lives. Therapy is merely the editing suite for people’s life stories and the therapist’s job is to ask questions that are genuinely interested in their lives, their stories and how their futures can be re-authored. These thoughts are not entirely my own but inspired by a small but growing community of therapists that have an interests in a refreshingly non-pathologising way of working with clients. See for example the pioneering work done by the Dulwich Centre.
In my master’s thesis (2005), I gave a discursive analysis of “How concerns about erections are treated and constructed on a sexual health helpline?” This engendered my on-going interest in what is achieved through dialogue or what is done through conversation. The discursive theory is that conversations achieve something; they “do” things to us. This, I believe, is a beautiful point of departure for a therapist. How magical is it to believe that conversations have the ability to construct our realities? The therapeutic conversations, therefore, pay careful attention to the words we use to make sense of our lives.
My interest in the field of sexual health has opened many doors for me. From working with sexual health, I have been introduced to the delicate realm of couple’s counselling. And, when you work with couples, you inevitably work with families. It has also led me to working with people with spinal cord injuries and from there the whole field of injury and illness related counselling became a passion for me. Over the years, I have learned so much from my clients about the strength and courage we all have for enduring unimaginable suffering.
Since officially entering the profession of psychology I have found that we psychologists are not in the habit of always reflecting on what, how and why we are doing things. I would rather bake muffins for a living than allow “psychology” to become a recipe that I apply every day just so that I can make a living. So, in this spirit, I decided to publish a site that is dedicated to my own “doing” of therapy, openly reflect ing on what it is that I do.
More than 5 years ago, I decided that my two sons would be much better off growing up with the sand beneath their feet (as I did for a portion of my youth). And so, after about a 17 year stint in Johannesburg, I made a return to Durban to start a new practice. My life has changed dramatically since then. During this time I have made a return to working specifically with couples and sex therapy. I have also increasingly become involved in the working with what is conventionally termed “addiction”. I have also made a return to the study of secular buddhism and a martial arts way of life. This philosophy for living is gradually being woven into my understanding of human struggle.
Out of the myriad of human struggles I have helped people through, regardless of the origin of the problem, the “cure” has always amounted to finding a reason to go on.
It has been my career long fantasy to provide a live-in therapy space for people to take refuge while they recollect themselves from the traumas in their lives.
My partner, Fiona, and I have launched The Centre for Purposeful Living – A therapy and retreat space that will focus on ‘living therapeutically’. This is a dream made real by our shared ethics for how to live, love and make the most of our time between life and death.
“Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” – Albert Camus.