Nicola Stephenson (BA Hons, PG Dip, MSc)
Psychotherapy, at heart, is an ethical endeavour requiring a relationship built on mutuality and collaboration. My own approach privileges the client's subjectivity and their right to self determination. I offer transparency and openness with regard to the process, whilst also playing an active role in safely guiding each client on their journey. It is a process which not only helps to relieve suffering and promote healing but, by harnessing the energy generated by the very experiences and environments which hurt us, provides a gateway to unlimited personal growth, expansion and vitality. This is the paradoxical wisdom of trauma and adversity. To find out if I am the right therapist for you I invite you to book an introductory session. This will allow us to have a chat and see how it feels to spend time together.
Against the backdrop of a sick society, your personal struggle might be connected to a specific event such as an affair, a miscarriage, work conflict, a troubling dilemma, or a tragic accident. Or it might be a more general struggle with anxiety, depression or low mood. You might be in the grip of an addiction or compulsive behaviour. Or you may simply wish to embark upon a fascinating journey of personal growth. There are endless reasons to seek help from a psychotherapist. At your own pace and in your own words, I will help you find your voice and tell your story. The simple act of sharing your struggles within the safety and confidentiality of the therapeutic relationship can bring immediate relief. As I gently guide and support you through the process of connecting to your inner world, and help you identify painful emotions, you are likely to gain new insights that will leave you feeling calmer, stronger and more confident.
The origin of painful feelings is seldom clear. We mask them with all manner of addictive and compulsive behaviours. Our unconscious attempts to avoid emotional pain are common and understandable responses to adversity. Painful emotions, however, represent a vital source of information that can guide us towards more helpful behaviours. Most painful feelings can be traced to difficult childhood experiences including physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Such adverse experiences include parental physical and emotional unavailability, or being overly controlled and protected. These kinds of developmental traumas often go undetected. In order to survive challenging family dynamics and remain attached to their caregivers, children learn to supress their fear, anger and sadness, creating the potential for those same feelings to be unconsciously triggered in adulthood. This becomes a mechanism for getting stuck in a relentless cycle of triggers and responses. Understanding that a large part of our functioning takes place outside of our conscious awareness helps combat feelings of shame, and help us make sense of feelings of anger towards those we seek to blame. The therapeutic endeavour is one of creating meaning out of suffering and finding compassion for both self and other.
It is important that parents seeking professional support for adolescent children know that therapy is not about finding someone to blame, least of all parents. Most parents do their absolute best for their children. And inevitably, as Philip Larkin wrote, they fuck them up. This then affords your child the invaluable opportunity to discover who they are, and to develop confidence and resilience. If blame for the suffering of adolescents lies anywhere it lies with society's flawed ideology, and insidious narratives around "success" which leave a growing number of young adults in a deep pit of self-loathing, and most parents too anxious and exhausted to help. Lured into the pernicious world of social media, cruelly masquerading as a community of real friends and connections, our emotionally violent culture sticks the knife in further by telling them that they will only be happy if they have money, own lots of stuff and look a certain way.
Training, qualifications & experience
My approach is rooted in a biopsychosocial model which argues that our health is determined by a complex interplay of biological, psychological and social factors. My studies and research alerted me to a dissonance between mind and body, calling for a contextualised approach to healing. A burgeoning volume of neuroscientific research provides unequivocal proof that human brains develop and mature in conjunction with their social environment. It is perplexing that Western medicine still separates the mind from the body, and the individual from its environment. The data, in stark contrast to the assumptions of the biomedical model, support the existential principle of holism, the interconnected and social nature of human existence, and our scientifically proven need for attachment relationships. The knowledge I have gained within this theoretical framework provides me with a solid foundation for my work.
During my cross modality training I learnt how to blend skills and ideas from a broad range of subjects including philosophy, attachment theory and neuroscience. I also draw on spiritual teachings and practices such as yoga, mindfulness and meditation which help teach us how to feel more present with, and connected to, our bodies. These ancient traditions overlap in a very helpful and functional way with the more modern traditions of neuroscience and trauma psychotherapy. A key premise of my work is that healing requires you to journey back to your embodied self. Spiritual teacher, Eckhart Toller, says this can only take place in the the present moment since this is the only place you can truly find yourself. In this sense my approach is an experiential rather than intellectual exercise.
The process of learning and honing my craft has been facilitated by the pioneering work of a growing and very active community of world-renowned health experts including retired physician, Dr Gabor Mate, who believes that healing requires a reconnection to the client's internal world. Since healing also requires the presence of a caring other, the process by which this occurs is necessarily a relational one. Other key influences include neuroscientist, Stephen Porges, and trauma therapists, Peter Levine and Bessel Van der Kolk. Their ground breaking research into the autonomic nervous system has taught us that human beings are born with an innate expectation for reciprocity in terms of physiological, psychological and emotional regulation. In short, we are designed for co-regulation rather than self-regulation. The essence of my approach is thus to help you feel safe enough in your body to make the sometimes perilous but, in my experience, always healing, journey back to your natural, authentic self.
In terms of my own journey, as a young adult I had a thirst for travel and adventure. After graduating, in 1990, in European Business (BA Hons), I then spent an exciting year working and travelling around the world. By 1993, following two years working for a commercial bank in London, I got itchy feet again. So I set out to do one, fun season as a holiday rep in the French Alps for a global travel business. A succession of rapid promotions, and an ever-present lead me to spend a further six years living and working abroad. During that time I managed various overseas operations including a large Alpine chalet programme. In 1999 I returned to the UK to help integrate a newly acquired luxury ski tour operator into the larger business. In 2005 I took on the role of Managing Director of that same niche business, a position I held for two years before finally leaving corporate life in 2007 to focus on my personal life.
I first embarked upon my second career in psychotherapy in 2010. My growing interest in this area was born out of a long-standing curiosity about my own general sense of unease in the world, and a deeply personal search for autonomy and meaning. My training and immersion in the world of personal growth and development represented a significant and immeasurably helpful turning point in my own journey. Having qualified as a Humanistic Psychotherapeutic Counsellor (PG Dip) in 2016, and a Master of Science in Psychotherapy (MSc) in 2018, I have spent the last few years working as a psychotherapist in private practice. Along the way I have worked for a variety of local charities and counselling agencies including Breakeven, based in Brighton, where for several years I assisted clients struggling with gambling addiction.
A key advantage of being a mature practitioner (I am 53 years old) is the wisdom I have gained through an examination of my own life. I first had to make sense of painful experiences and learn how to honour my own truth. I leant heavily on existential notions of freedom of choice and personal responsibility. I began to understand the importance of balancing the need to steer my own ship with the need to accept that there is much in life I cannot control. I then turned to various spiritual teachings to help me connect more deeply to the people and natural world around me. I finally emerged as a more grounded and integrated individual with a renewed sense of aliveness. An important aspect of my learning has been to acknowledge and embrace my own lunacy. In the words of philosopher, Alain de Botton, we are all a bit mad! We are not the reasonable, rational beings we like to think we are. The unconscious dimension of our existence, and our innate emotionality, dispose us to all kinds of unhelpful, if not idiotic and disastrous, acting out. Humility and a sense of humour have helped me come to terms with this along the way!
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.
Areas of counselling I deal with
From £70.00 to £90.00
EAP/Health Insurance Providers
My fee operates on a sliding scale according to my availability and the client's ability to pay.
I work week days only.
The World Health Organisation has described the general decline in our mental health as a global crisis. Modern living with its punishing demands is a large part of the problem. Covid has laid bare a fragmented and broken society, and a much more troubling pandemic of deep societal malaise. Our diseased sociocultural landscape is built on a complex network of interdependent systems that collectively dishonour and undermine human nature. This has become a breeding ground for insecurity, shame and loneliness. In effect, we are trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle of collective fear.
Experts conclude that the underlying cause of our deteriorating mental health is too much stress. The body responds by employing its fight or flight response, typically manifesting as anxiety and anger. When unable to fight or flee, the body resorts to its freeze response, typically manifesting as depression and isolation. Knowledge of the unconscious, neurophysiological mechanisms at play when our bodies detect threat provides us with the opportunity, both individually and collectively, to develop the tools and awareness with which to turn the tide on this tragic endemic.
Viewed through an evolutionary and ecological lens, so-called mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, addiction, OCD and ADHD are normal adaptations to an abnormal existence. In an otherwise healthy environment human beings draw on them as temporary solutions to life's inevitable adversity. But our hostile and disconnected world keeps us unconsciously locked in defensive modes much longer than nature ever intended. Overtime, as our bodies struggle and weaken under the unbearable strain, we develop serious illnesses. Health issues associated with the fight or flight response include heart disease, insomnia, poor memory, headaches and high blood pressure. Health issues associated with the freeze response include low blood pressure, weight gain, diabetes, CFS, IBS and fibromyalgia.