Dr Alexander Fox (MBACP, Masters in Counselling, PhD (Eng Lit.))
Welcome to “Choice Counselling at Dundee” and I am Dr Fox. I am registered member of the BACP.
My profile page seeks to inform you about the following: A) Who I am; B) How effective counselling, in my opinion, works; C) Common problems and how they might be addressed in therapy.
Section A: Who I am
-I have practices in Dundee, St. Andrews, and Harley St London (my Harley St website address is: http://www.westlakeclinic.co.uk/dralexfox.html). I am able to see clients face-to-face or online in Dundee and St. Andrews, whilst I conduct online sessions for my London clients [N.B. During this pandemic, all sessions will be conducted online until further notice].
- I am a counsellor with an eclectic background: I have an MA Honours degree in philosophy, a Masters in English Literature, a Masters in Pluralistic Counselling, a PhD in English Literature, and a certificate in Counselling Supervision. Since in my opinion good therapy involves understanding a client's life story and helping them to think through their problems to an effective resolution, I draw upon my philosophy and literature background when counselling my clients.
-As a flexible counsellor, knowledgeable in a variety of therapy approaches, I enjoy working with many different kinds of clients and issues, and encourage queries from any adult interested in having counselling. With regards to my specialisms, I do have three client groups that I specialise in:
1) Through my connections with Meisterline (the world's leading provider of expertise metrics: https://www.meisterline.com/) as a Senior Consultant, I love helping professionals (lawyers, doctors, executives etc.) address any personal/professional roadblocks that are affecting them from reaching their potential.
2) My own extensive academic background means I work particularly well with those in academia, whether they be academic staff or undergraduate/postgraduate students. Indeed, I help academic staff and students address their emotional concerns, so that they can thrive both personally and professionally.
3) In my work on Harley St and elsewhere, I love helping my clients explore the the bigger questions (e.g. 'What would be a meaningful life for me?'), as it's our attempts to answer these questions that help us to live more fully. To paraphrase the distinguished critic Neil Postman, counselling at its best can be about how to make a life, which is quite a different thing to making a living.
-I enjoy sharing my knowledge with groups and organisations. Here is a recent testimonial from Lloyd's bank on my talk on coping with health anxiety regarding the pandemic:
Dr Fox conducted a session for Lloyds Banking Group on how to deal with health anxiety in this current climate. The session was part of Mental Health Awareness Week and was conducted for over 800 of our colleagues. The coping strategies Alex outlined were extremely useful and the session as a whole was truly fantastic and thoroughly enjoyable. We were all extremely delighted with Alex’s holistic approach and I would strongly recommend others to lean on Alex’s expertise in this area.
Section B: What is therapy? Demystifying the process
Although the public know more about the process of therapy than previous generations did, I believe it is still useful to provide prospective clients with one account of how counselling works. This will hopefully serve to demystify the process and provide clients with a clearer idea of what to expect.
For me, there are three essential dimensions to effective therapy, which I’ve termed: 1) emotional support; 2) clarification and 3) reframing & finding solutions.
Let us look at each in turn:
All of us need emotional support, but it can often be difficult to find it in our everyday lives (The narrator of a Paula Fox novel begins the story with the question/complaint: “Who listens?”). Here are some of the main reasons for this: a) we might not have a good support network around us; b) our family and friends may love us, yet they are leading busy, challenging lives as well and so might not be readily available; c) the people in our lives may want the best for us, but they have their own take on our problems, which we might find either judgmental and/or unhelpful; d) although family and friends would like to help us, our struggles might make them feel uncomfortable, either because it reminds them of their own challenges and/or they don’t know how they could possibly be of use to us.
The bottom line is this: emotional support that is dependable and helpful can be challenging to find, especially so when we are struggling the most. While the above challenges are not insurmountable-indeed I do encourage my clients, when it’s feasible to do so, to open up more to family and friends-attending therapy is one of the most simple and effective ways to ensure you receive emotional support.
Here are the main ways that I offer emotional support to my clients: a) in my therapy room or online, I offer a safe, confidential space where you can talk about your problems; b) I seek to listen deeply to you, without judgement and without an underlying agenda; c) I wish to get to know you as an individual and help you articulate what’s really going on for you. I aim to make you feel understood and accepted; d) I wish to encourage you to believe in yourself and I wish to champion your strengths, so that you can achieve your personal and professional goals.
Often, but not inevitably, the problems that assail us the most are ones that are painful, yet in some ways bafflingly obscure. Indeed, out of necessity, all of us are determined problem solvers, and we all resolve many emotional difficulties over the course of our lives, yet some challenges seem to resist articulation and we become, in a sense, a mystery to ourselves. For experienced therapists, it is not uncommon to hear our clients exclaim at their first session, ‘I’ve managed to get a handle on most of my problems, but I just don’t know what it is with this one!’
Yet, as frustrating, and as scary as this puzzlement can be, such feelings are not as strange or as much a cause for worry as they might appear to be. In fact, I would encourage you to see such problems, as discomfiting as they may be, as a natural part of living and therefore to be expected. No matter how resourceful we are, we all have our blind spots, as our perspective is limited by the extent of our knowledge, our immersion in our situation (the proverbial ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ phenomenon), and quite often our (understandable) reluctance to face a difficult problem square on.
When you have your sessions with me, I will help you to see past your blind spots and see your problems in a light which clarifies them and makes them easier to solve. Here are the three main dimensions of this clarification process: a) understanding your life story; b) uncovering your negative core beliefs; and c) using concepts/methods from different therapy approaches.
Understanding your life story
It is a truism that we all have a history, including our problems. The difficulties that we face today nearly always have something to do with our current situation, yet seldom are these problems unrelated to our past. Good therapy aims to clarify a client’s problems by showing, where relevant, how they are either a repetition of past difficulties, or the current challenges are being unduly distorted by past (traumatic) experiences. In my work with clients, I encourage my clients to look at how the past has come to define or at least shape their current problems, and by making them more aware of this influence, I find that they can move forward with their lives less encumbered than previously.
A key tool for clarifying a client’s life is an exploration of their own story. The writer Salman Rushdie explains in the following quote why working creatively and insightfully with your own autobiography can be so therapeutic:
Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.
While we consume other people’s stories for entertainment, when we are in emotional pain, we act out our own, often unspoken, narrative, falling prey to its unexamined assumptions, its troublesome repetitions of unresolved pains, and its lack of a happy resolution. As Mr Rushdie implies, we either have our story articulated in our minds, or, more worryingly, a story has us in its grip, one that we are condemned to live out, unless we clarify it, challenge it and change it.
Since an essential part of therapy is helping clients understand how the past is shaping and distorting the present, it is important that the counsellor be skilled at working with narrative, so that you can construct a story that you want to live rather than a story that has you in its grip. I have an extensive training in working with narratives, as I possess a PhD in English literature (my doctorate was a psychoanalytical interpretation of the work of the Nobel prize winning playwright, Harold Pinter). As a former client once put it, I ‘close read’ my clients’ stories, helping them make sense of the present in light of the past, so that they can rewrite their narrative to achieve a future they most desire.
Uncovering core beliefs
The renowned linguist Wendell Johnson once remarked 'what we look at is not what we see'. What he was seeking to challenge and correct with this pithy statement was our all-too-human tendency to believe that our interpretation of the world exactly corresponds with how the world ‘is’. To paraphrase a phrase from general semantics, all of us are predisposed to think one’s map of the world is the territory.
Most of the time, mistaking the map for the territory in our lives does not prove much of a problem, because once we are adults, we usually have a ‘workable’ enough map to achieve our goals. However, one of the most insidious ways in which we can mistake the map for the territory is when we are suffering from emotional problems. In such cases, it is all too easy to be unaware that the perspective (or map or frame) that we are using to approach an issue is actually distorting how we see the problem-indeed it may be the main component of the problem.
Given this unawareness of how our perspective-or, more accurately, our underlying core beliefs-shapes and distorts how we see a life challenge, a key aspect of clarifying a problem involves the therapist helping the client put these core beliefs into words and then subjecting them to critique. Since my first degree was in philosophy, I have had extensive training in clarifying what people believe and helping them to amend their negative core beliefs.
Using different therapy approaches
When trying to clarify and understand a client’s problems, it is necessary for a therapist to bring some kind of perspective, some kind of theory to not only help sort out the relevant issues from the irrelevant ones, but also to give an intimation of how best to resolve the problem (all therapy theories have their own analysis of how emotional problems arise and how best to tackle them). Most therapists, understandably so, define their clients’ problems in a specific way, as they tend to be practitioners of one approach (e.g. Gestalt, psychodynamic, person-centred). Now, while such specialism has its distinct advantages (e.g. the practitioners can be expert in helping people in that particular way), it is not difficult to see its drawbacks, especially in light of what I was discussing earlier about the map is not the territory. More fully, there is no advance guarantee that any specific approach will be right for any given client; to otherwise assume so would be to say that the problem should fit the therapy style rather than the therapy style should fit the client. In short, therapy styles are maps-helpful maps, to be sure-but they do not inevitably match a client’s problems.
One of the most recent and innovative responses to this difficulty is a form of therapy known as pluralistic counselling. Basically, pluralistic counselling recommends that the therapist be knowledgeable about a variety of therapy approaches, so that they can adapt the approach to the individual client in front of them. Since I am trained to masters level in pluralistic counselling and am therefore conversant with a variety of different therapy styles and techniques, I adapt to the needs of my clients to ensure better outcomes. Here is a former client remarking on how my extensive knowledge of different approaches made a big impact on her life:
Alex is an exceptional counsellor. I was immediately put at ease when I first met with him and, during our subsequent discussions, he was patient, friendly, flexible and insightful. I think Alex’s vast knowledge of counselling theory makes him stand out as a practitioner; the discussion of this was incredibly helpful for me in establishing a perspective from which to view my personal emotional issues. The sessions with Alex had a significant and lasting impact on my life, and I would enthusiastically recommend him as a counsellor.
Reframing & Constructing Solutions
While understanding the nature of your problem in a supportive environment can prove therapeutic in of itself, most clients want to achieve some form of constructive resolution. This is the third dimension of therapy and essentially involves two elements: a) reframing: how we look at our problems may be the problem (e.g. if we suffer from imposter syndrome, and therefore have a tendency to discount our achievements, we may interpret a promotion as simply luck) and if this is the case, reframing involves finding a different perspective, a different map to view our circumstances. This different framework can then allow us to lead a better life; b) constructive solutions: having now understood the nature of the problem, this step involves determining how one can construct a better future. Together we will work to map out various possible strategies that will be effective in tackling the specifics of your problems.
Section B: Common problem areas
The previous section gave you an idea of what I consider the essential ‘ingredients’, so to speak, of effective therapy. In this section, I detail how I might tackle a variety of common problems.
a) Resolve your relationship difficulties
Since healthy relationships with others play such a huge part in our overall happiness, it is unsurprising that relationship difficulties can so adversely affect our mental health. If you are suffering from the ill effects of a problematic relationship, I will help you, as an individual or together with your partner, define what is needed to heal or break away. More specifically, in individual or couples counselling, I will help you a) identify the problematic behaviour patterns, which includes often how you communicate and b) utilize a variety of strategies that allow you to connect better with your partner.
Practically all of us are addicted to something, and nearly all of us find ourselves being driven by desires and fears that we seem to have little control over. However, some addictions and compulsions are even more serious, as they threaten our health, undermine our relationships, and challenge our sanity and our sense of who we are.
There are several ways that I work with clients with addictions and compulsions. Firstly, addictions and compulsions can often be viewed as bad habits and we can work together to break these bad habits. Secondly, addictions and compulsions, as costly as they are to the person, are usually forms of escape from a dreaded emotional reality that is feared even more than the unfortunate consequences of pursuing an addiction or compulsion. Through our work together, we can face the underlying problem, resolve it, so that the addiction or compulsion is no longer needed. Finally, addictions and compulsions are symptomatic of inner conflicts, as well as outer conflicts with other people, and pinpointing and resolving these helps the client move forward.
c) Overcoming anxiety
Out of all the mental health problems, the most common by far is anxiety. Whilst not all of us will get clinically depressed, all of us get frightened, and sometimes this fear gets so out of control it becomes an anxiety condition.
There are many effective ways that I can work with you on overcoming your anxiety. One approach, the CBT way, is to help you examine your thinking and change your unrealistic, overly negative thoughts into more realistic beliefs about yourself and the world; this cognitive approach is complemented with encouraging you to gradually face that which you fear. When you work with me, you will receive plenty of support in confronting your anxiety.
Another common technique is the psychodynamic approach, which encourages clients to see their current fears as being related to past adverse events and traumas from their childhoods. The basic reason why this can be effective is that once we become consciously aware of the original cause of the fear, and we start to understand it from the perspective of an adult, the fear no longer has the same power over us. Instead of reacting with fear, we begin to be able to more adaptively respond to a situation.
I will mention one last approach here, known as ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy). This is one of the newest cognitive therapy approaches to anxiety, which is based on the premise that we accept that anxious feelings are part of life and we learn to detach from them and move towards that which is more worthy of our attention. ACT offers many techniques that help clients detach from their anxieties (this is not the same as completely removing them) and reconnect with what they value. If a client wants to work in this way, I can guide them through these disidentification techniques and help them find out where they really want to be in their lives.
Depression is such a common mental health problem.
Here are a few of the many ways I can help clients with their depression: a) using a CBT approach, we can examine and critique the negative automatic thoughts that often fuel your depression; b) utilizing solution-focused therapy, we can work together to start imagining life as you would want it and then I can help you to see how to build that better, happier life; c) using ACT, I can help you to detach from your negative thinking and focus more on what you want; 4) since depression often involves suppressed-‘stuck’-feelings, most often anger and sadness, I can aid you in acknowledging your previously buried feelings and to feel them so you can process them.
e) Achieve greater self-acceptance
One of the major tasks of therapy is to help clients see that they have a right to be who they are and that any weaknesses they possess need not be grounds for fundamentally rejecting who they are.
I have many innovative ways of working with you to achieve this goal from using techniques culled from compassion focused therapy (e.g. fostering better self-talk) to more philosophical approaches that come from REBT (rational emotive behavioural therapy) that counsel ways to accept yourself unconditionally. Together we can tackle a variety of difficulties relating to self-acceptance, such as the following: body image issues; perfectionism; sexuality; ageing.
f) Consolidate your successes
In my work with high-performing clients in law, finance and the arts, a key part of the process is helping them build upon successes they have already achieved. While such clients may be very successful, they might not always be so aware of a number of things relating to that success, such as a)what kind of strengths they might have and how best to utilize them; b) the factors that played a key role in their successes, which might provide a basis for further success and c) how to overcome their personal problems to achieve more success. If this is the kind of work you wish to undertake, then we can as a team seek to provide answers to the above issues, so that you can be even more successful, whether you’ve achieved your dream position yet or not.
g) Loss: our greatest teacher
Life is, in one sense, a series of losses. Many are small (if not always trivial) and some are most significant: whether it be the loss of a partner, a child, our looks, or the heyday of our successes, we must learn to cope with the passing of time and the absence of what is still so precious to us.
To paraphrase psychologist Carl Jung, it is in our darkest moments where the gold is to be found, as life-changing losses may often be very painful, even debilitating; nevertheless, such bereavements teach us the need to re-evaluate our lives, to get better acquainted with our underlying inner resilience, and to find a means to still have a fulfilling life.
When we work together, we can find a way of understanding your grief that respects how important whatever you lost was to you, while also helping you to move forward in a constructive fashion. A key part of this process is being able to arrive at the point that you can give yourself permission to have a future, as grief can sometimes trick us into believing that moving on is a betrayal of what you have lost. Grief work will allow you to remember and honour the past, yet not be entirely defined by it.
h) Apathy and Suicidal thoughts/gestures: finding the 'why' again
I was standing in the snow by my car, looking up at the sky, when I realized that meaning had fled my life~ Allen Wheelis from his novel, "The Seeker."
Sometimes our problem is not so much a specific issue but more a general sense of malaise. What we used to enjoy no longer moves us, we can feel disconnected and indifferent to others, and our days seem to stretch out like some infinite grey plain.
Even worse than apathy is when we are at our most despairing and our painful indifference morphs into a compulsive, negative call to action. Suicidal thoughts and perhaps even attempts become a mainstay of our lives, as we are tempted by the seductively simple solution of ending it all.
Yet, as counter intuitive as it may seem, I contend that you do not want to end the existence of you as a person, but rather to end the pain that you are feeling. Suicide is seductive as a solution when you have equated you and your pain, and you feel that both are forever entwined.
That is not the case, though. Through the right kind of therapeutic work, you can a) manage to come to terms with your pain; b) we can work together on finding solutions to your problems, which includes reconnecting with your fundamental values and what drives you in a positive direction (this can be called finding your 'why') c) we can also work on self-forgiveness for actions that you have taken in the past that you feel guilty about. Your regrets can indeed be honoured and learnt from without them becoming something to berate yourself over.
Training, qualifications & experience
I am a member of BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy)
MA Honours Philosophy, First class, University of Dundee
MSc Literature and Modernism, University of Edinburgh
Diploma in Counselling, Abertay University
Masters in Counselling, Abertay University
PhD English Literature, University of Dundee (NB: Please note that my 'Dr' title refers to my PhD in English literature)
COSCA certificate in supervision
I have worked at a number of organizations providing short-term and long-term counselling, such as Insight Counselling service and Tayside Centre for Counselling at Abertay University.
British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy
BACP is one of the UK’s largest professional bodies for counselling and psychotherapy. Therapists registered with the Association fall into a number of different membership categories such as Individual Member, Registered Member MBACP and Registered Member MBACP (Accred), each standing for different levels of training and experience. MBACP (Accred) and MBACP (Snr Accred) members have achieved a substantial level of training and experience approved by the Association.
Registered members can be found on the BACP Register, which was the first register to achieve Accredited Voluntary Register status issued by the Professional Standards Authority. Individual Members will have completed an appropriate counselling and/or psychotherapy course and started to practise, but will not appear on the BACP Register until they've progressed to Registered Member MBACP status.
All members are bound by a Code of Ethics & Practice and a Complaints Procedure. Accredited by the Professional Standards Authority.
Accredited register membership
Accredited Register Scheme
The Accredited Register Scheme was set up in 2013 by the Department of Health (DoH) as a way to recognise organisations that hold voluntary registers which meet certain standards. These standards are set by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA).
This therapist has indicated that they belong to an Accredited Register.
Areas of counselling I deal with
During this coronavirus pandemic lockdown, all sessions will be conducted online, using Skype or Zoom.
Here are my hourly fees for any new clients:
£50 is the standard rate
These are a few more testimonials from clients about their experience of working with me:
"After a particularly rough time in my life, I came to Alex seeking help in better understanding the basis of my negative feelings about myself. From the first session, Alex was both inviting and insightful. His incredible knowledge of subjects ranging from literature to philosophy and media made me feel not only at ease – he was relatable and understood what I was saying to him – but also helped me to look further inside myself and to connect the dots between life events and current mindsets.
With his help I feel I have come a long way these last few months; I have a better understanding of my own mental health and with his advice and suggestions, I am now taking proactive steps to rectify some deep-rooted cognitive biases. Alex has listened to me and carefully considered which avenues would be beneficial to explore, based on his insight and professional opinion. He has helped me to come to terms with myself, and while I may not be 100% there, I am much closer to my goal than I was before our sessions.
For anyone searching for a warm, friendly and empathetic therapist, I would highly recommend Alex. I have felt that all of our work together was purposeful and valuable, and I look forward to continuing to get know both myself – and Alex – better in the future."
"Alex is an exceptionally insightful counselor. His empathetic approach combined with a highly rigorous intellectual foundation, helped me understand the personal issues I needed to address and the best ways for me to manage them. Without his guidance, I would not have been able to make important life decisions as sensitively nor as effectively for my own sake and for the well being of my family. His personalised approach was key to gaining my confidence and enabling me to move forward on issues with which I had struggled for years."
"For years I knew I had issues and finally plucked up the courage to find a counsellor. I had anxiety, feelings of guilt, and an inferiority complex. Family issues dominated my thoughts and I felt a sense of guilt, shame and blamed myself. Alex helped me look at these issues differently and with his knowledge and experience helped me break free from the past and stop feeling guilty and I now know my own personality. I felt very at ease, was not scared to open up, he was approachable. I would definitely recommend him".
"Alex was able to work with me to identify many underlying issues that I have struggled with. I have found the process to be interesting and enjoyable. He provides a relaxed and comfortable environment in which I feel I can be open and talk frankly. Alex has helped me considerably in exploring my thoughts and introduced me to a number of techniques and exercises that I can use on a day to day basis to deal with anxiety as it arises."
"I’ve found Alex to be very attentive, approachable and knowledgeable. Alex has helped me work through issues in both my personal and professional life, helping me gain insights that I would not have been able to reach on my own. In addition, Alex has also equipped me with the tools that will help me deal with any future difficulties that I may encounter. I found that Alex also takes the time to get to know you so that he has a deeper understanding of you as a person; which, I think, helps him to discover what will be the best and most effective way to help you. Alex also a deep understanding of philosophy and I’ve been impressed with how he’s managed to sometimes integrate this into my sessions, where appropriate, and make it relevant to my situation. Alex has helped me a great deal and I’ve learnt a lot from him; I can’t recommend him highly enough.
"I've been having counselling with Alex for several months now. Initially, I wasn't sure how long I wanted to go; I had planned just to get me through my 'crisis' at the time. However, the more I went, the more relaxed I became and felt there was more I definitely wanted to work through. I find Alex very calming, honest..and most importantly for me..logical! I also didn't know how I would be with a male counsellor, but I can genuinely say I've worked through a lot of issues. My main concern is trust, or lack of, however I already feel a difference in my thought pattern. Slowly but steadily, I'm noticing little changes in the way I'm thinking. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Alex to anyone looking for counselling"
"Alex has helped me to create strategies to help with immediate anxiety problems as well as helping me to face long standing issues. Alex has helped me to explore many strategies in a safe, secure environment and encouraged me to seek out others in my own time. He has also helped me to vocalise my thoughts, feelings and ideas. Alex has a way of turning my thoughts back to me to help me make my own conclusions. Through these sessions I am learning how to manage on my own and in the sessions in a safe way. I feel I am being supported and guided through the wilderness of my own mind to some clarity. I am not constricted by a maximum (or minimum) number of sessions and am able to be supported in what I want to achieve, in whatever timescale that I need as an individual".