Before we get into the nitty gritty of therapeutic approaches, the most important part of my counselling practice is that, like you, I am an imperfect human who is trying their best. I always aim to be warm, kind, honest and open-hearted in my practice (and in life too), and believe in the inherent goodness of all people.
You know what else I think is super important? Understanding the frameworks and theories that underlie the therapeutic practice of your counsellor. This way you can make an informed decision about whether they are the right fit for you. At Sit with Self I use an integrated approach to counselling which includes elements of acceptance and commitment therapy, parts-work and polyvagal theory. Here is a brief explanation of each of these theories/approaches:
Polyvagal Theory: Polyvagal theory recognises that there are three neural circuits of the autonomic nervous system; one responsible for a mobilised survival response (fight or flight), one responsible for a shutdown survival response (dorsal vagal) and one responsible for relaxation and social connection (ventral vagal). We need all three of these nervous system mechanisms to maintain homeostasis (a fancy word for balance). Sometimes, when someone is exposed to a traumatic event or a series of stressful events, they may become stuck in fight/flight (this may look like anxiety, hypervigilance, anger) or shutdown (numbness, depression, apathy, dissociation). Having an understanding of your own nervous system and learning practical tools for regulation is an essential part of my counselling approach (1).
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): ACT is all about changing the way you relate to your thoughts, emotions and sensations. From an ACT perspective, trying to get rid of difficult internal experiences is often the source of suffering for many people. ACT is all about learning to be with whatever experience arises, and making decisions from a grounded place that move you towards your values and desired life (2).
Parts-work: Parts-work is the idea that our internal world is organised, not as one unified mind, but as distinct parts that have their own personalities, priorities and purpose. When we experience difficult early life events, these parts can adopt extreme roles such as perfectionism, people-pleasing, addiction, self-sabotage and many more. There are many different modalities that include this way of working, and it is rapidly becoming an effective approach to trauma healing (3). The approaches I use that work with parts are Internal Family Systems and Schema Therapy. Parts-work is all about approaching all parts of you with curiosity and compassion, and freeing them from the outdated beliefs and fears of the past (3,4,5).
So a typical session with me at Sit with Self will likely involve a combination of the above modalities. In my opinion, an integrated approach to counselling that works across both the mind and body is the best approach to healing and growth.
- Rosenberg, S. (2017). Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve: Self-help exercises for anxiety, depression, trauma and autism. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.
- Harris, R. (2019). ACT Made Simple (Second edition). New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, CA.
- Schwartz, R., & Sweezy, M. (2020). Internal family systems therapy, second edition. The Guilford Press, New York.
- Schwartz, R. (2021). No Bad Parts: Healing trauma and restoring wholeness with the Internal Family Systems model. Sounds True, Boulder.
- Young, J., Klosko, J., & Weishaar, M. (2003). Schema Therapy: A practitioners guide. The Guilford Press, New York.