Simon Stafford-Townsend MA, UKCP Reg
07773887568 / 07773887568
I specialise in working with depression, and trauma. I give a brief outline of my approach to each of these areas below, followed by a description of gestalt therapy.
I view depression as a creative adjustment to adversity during a time of no or limited support. Therapy in this context is about getting some of that support now, and safely expressing what is being depressed in an appropriately paced manner.
My approach to working with depression starts with exploring how you are experiencing your depression. The word "depression" covers a wide range of possible experiences that differ from person to person; I want to develop a course of therapy that addresses your situation.
British culture at this time views depression as an illness that happens to people. In my experience as a therapist, depression is more usually related to the kinds of events a person has experienced, and what they've needed to do in order to get through them.
An analogy I use to explain this is of someone who sprains their ankle badly. Without appropriate support, that person will automatically adapt to the injury by using different muscles and movements to hold their weight. Over time, they develop a limp that persists even when the original injury has healed.
Depression is similar in the sense that it involves an automatic and unconscious adaptation to what is happening in a person's life. This can range from being punished for emotional expression as a child and so turning those feelings inwards; to suffering extreme personal difficulties without adequate support from others.
The common thread is that powerful feelings need, for whatever reason, to be held inwards, ie depressed. Hence the experience of depression frequently involves feeling lifeless, or having the colour and vitality drained from experiences.
A traumatic event is one in which you experience an imminent threat to life and/or limb, or witness this happening to someone else. During a traumatic event, powerful survival mechanisms in the body are activated, and the central nervous system generates traumatic stress.
This triggers the fight/flight/freeze response as an immediate strategy for surviving what is happening. Once the danger has passed, the trauma response is switched off, and stress levels in the body drop back to normal.
For some people, however, the trauma response doesn't switch off, leaving the person with a disconnect between an intellectual knowledge that there is no current danger and a physical sense of imminent threat. Depending on the severity of this experience, the person may be suffering with post-traumatic stress (PTS) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It is also possible for PTS to fall away naturally but be triggered again at a later point by something that is associated with the original traumatic event. And, for some people, memories of the traumatic event may become periodically intrusive.
I have undertaken a specialist training in somatic trauma therapy, an approach developed by Babette Rothschild. Using this approach, I focus on your physical experience of trauma as it is being expressed now. In simple terms, our aim in the case of PTS or PTSD is to switch off your trauma response; metaphorically speaking, we're trying to get your body to recognise that the danger has passed.
Depending on what is most appropriate to your situation, this may or may not involve working directly with memories of the traumatic event. It is not necessary to work on trauma memories in order to reduce traumatic stress, and if your life is already disrupted by traumatic stress, working directly on the memories could be re-traumatising.
Somatic trauma therapy is also a good approach if you're not experiencing PTS or PTSD as a primary issue, and are wanting specifically to resolve trauma memories.
Gestalt therapy is an approach to counselling and psychotherapy that focuses on what is happening in the here and now - the present moment at any given time. Anything that remains unresolved for you will try to resolve itself in the present moment. Your experience of yourself, the world, and other people will be shaped by these unresolved needs because they will actively seek completion.
A very simple demonstration of this is to imagine you are doing something you enjoy, then you start to feel hungry. The need to eat something will remain an unresolved need until you find something to eat. Importantly, your ability to enjoy what you’re doing right now will decrease the more urgent your need to eat becomes; if left unattended, hunger will become painful and come to dominate your thoughts. But notice how, once you’ve met that need and eaten some food, the urgency falls away and your focus shifts onto something else.
This is a very basic description of what gestalt theory calls organismic self-regulation. That is, moment to moment, our focus shifts from one thing to another based on our most pressing needs/wants/desires/interests. So I go from reading an interesting book to going to the toilet to answering the phone to reading my book to making a cup of tea to reading my book to scratching my suddenly really itchy leg to reading my book again. Our needs are ever-shifting, and our natural process is to get our needs met from moment to moment as best as our present environment allows.
So what happens when a need can’t be met? Well, as human beings we are incredibly creative and adaptable creatures; gestalt theory calls this creative adjustment. Creative adjustment is the natural process by which we adapt to our present situation as best as we can given our available resources (and resources here can mean other people, the physical environment, spirituality, as well as the basics needed for survival).
The more limited our resources, or the more hostile our environment, the more extreme the ways in which we need to creatively adjust will be. Many people who have suffered traumatic events will have no or limited memory of what happened because they wouldn’t be able to function whilst living with the memories. Many people who self-harm do so because it actually helps them regulate unbearable emotions by providing a physical focus. And depression can be an incredibly creative way of shutting down overwhelming feelings or a way of turning inwards in order to heal a deep wound.
Gestalt therapy starts with a profound respect for the way you have creatively adjusted. What we actually do in a therapy session is let your most pressing unresolved needs come into focus by exploring what you are aware of in the present moment. This will also allow us to explore how you have creatively adjusted to balance these unresolved needs with continuing to live. You will become more aware of these unresolved needs and the ways in which they affect your functioning in the present moment. In turn, this will help you develop a greater ability to make choices about these needs and the creative adjustments you’ve developed to deal with their non-resolution.
It is important to know that I do not seek to change you or to take away anything that makes you who you are. My job as a gestalt psychotherapist is to help you become more aware of how you tick, and to support you as you make your own choices in relation to this new awareness.
Training, qualifications & experience
I hold the MA in Gestalt Psychotherapy from Sherwood Psychotherapy Training Institute (accredited by Birmingham University). I have also completed a specialist training in somatic trauma therapy with Babette Rothschild, author of The Body Remembers.
Whilst my specialisms are described above, I also have experience working with a wide range of issues, and am happy to work with whatever you want to explore.
Areas of counselling I deal with
I charge £45 for a 50 minute session; this also applies to my initial consultation.
Maps & Directions
Type of session
|Face to face counselling:||Yes|
Mon, Wed, Thu, 3pm to 8pm.
Types of client