East Croydon Cool talks…Counselling

East Croydon Cool talks… is a blog series that explores topics of cultural interest via local area experts. This month we spoke to Tom Smithson from New Horizon Counselling to find out more about this type of therapy.

What made you want to become a counsellor?
Like many people I got to a point in my life where I didn’t think I couldn’t cope with it, I was confused about my sexuality, about who I was, who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. I eventually went to the GP who referred me to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), it opened my mind to my mental health and started me on a journey of self discovery then I thought, wow this is good, this helps, how can I do this?

How did you train?
I started with an Open University Psychology course to dip my toe into the world of the mind. I then started a Level 2 course in Counselling skills, at the end of each course I wanted to know more. I kept continuing and now I have completed my Level 4 Counselling Diploma.

Who is counselling for?
I honestly believe it can be for anyone and everyone. Many people think it’s for people who have a diagnosed mental health problems such as depression, bi-polar etc, however most of the people I have worked with this hasn’t been the case. We, as humans, are living in a world that our brains aren`t necessarily used to yet and sometimes it can feel too much. Counselling can be for anyone looking to speak to someone in a confidential environment, who is going to be non judgmental about what is going on in their world and how they might be struggling.

What’s the difference between counselling, therapy, CBT, NLP, Psychology and Psychiatry?
Counselling and therapy can go hand in hand and can often mean similar things, some counsellors such as myself might refer to themselves as “Integrative counsellors” meaning they integrate more than one theoretical approach to their work. For example, I work to a person centred therapy meaning the focus is on the client in the room, what’s happening for them, how they feel, how they might see themselves etc. I also work to a Psychodynamic theory that looks more at the clients past, and how that might have shaped who they are in the present.

CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, the type of therapy I first had. It’s very much focused around solutions and is an excellent tool for Anxiety and other common mental health problems. The therapy might include looking at trying to change the way you think by encouraging you to look at how you react and why you might react that way.

There are many other counselling approaches that can help different people in different ways such as addiction counselling, couples counselling, family counselling many using different approaches so it depends on what you need.

What can people expect from the counselling experience?
Most counsellors will be part of a governing body, for me I am a member of the BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy).  The BACP has an in depth Ethical Framework meaning that the counsellors that are members of the BACP are required to work to the Ethical Framework including working to several ethical principles. These are:

*To be trustworthy: Being trustworthy so the client can trust the counsellor enough to share their thoughts.
*Autonomy: Respecting the clients right to be self governing, to make their own decisions.
*Beneficence: A commitment to promoting the clients wellbeing.
*Non – Maleficence: A commitment to avoiding harm to the client.
*Justice: The fair and impartial treatment of all clients and the provision of adequate services.
*Self-respect: Fostering the practitioners self knowledge, integrity and care for self.

What’s the best way for someone to choose a counsellor?
The BACP website has a full list of counsellors that you can search by a number of categories. There are several other sites including the Counselling Directory where you can select the area you live in and what you are looking for help with. It will then give you a list of counsellors where you can read their pages in more detail. Also have a look at my website and if you like the sound of me as a counsellor and the work I do please get in touch!

Why did you set up in Croydon?
Croydon is changing and with more and more people moving here, there will be a greater requirement for counselling support, especially support for clients that might want to discuss aspects of their sexuality or sexual identity. The NHS and several charities can provide free counselling services, and that is fantastic but there are sometimes waiting lists and clients may only get a small amount of allocated sessions. My service might be smaller but clients will be able to choose to have ongoing counselling should they wish.

What are the most common problems you deal with?
Counselling can be useful for so many things and I have worked with a variety of clients. General depression and anxiety is very common with people who are struggling with everyday life, this might be issues at work, family problems, childhood trauma, bulling, weight management, suicidal thoughts, diagnosis of an illness (for example HIV) and many more.

I have spent a lot of time working with clients going through a bereavement, many people feel not able to speak about a loss however when we lose someone it can often feel like we have lost a part of ourselves. I work with clients to help them come to terms with the loss and explore what life was like with the one they lost and how life has now changed without them, good or bad.

I also specialise in areas such as counselling for sexuality and sexual identity, for clients looking to explore their understanding of their own sexuality, how that might have changed or be changing. I see clients who understand their sexuality but want to discuss some of the trauma that they, like so many others in the LGBT community have gone through.

Is there a need for more counselling services for people with HIV?
Absolutely, although there are several charities and counsellors that provide this counselling support I feel there can be more done and that`s why I am focusing some of my work in this area. HIV has so many social stereotypes and taboos attached to it and people can feel they can’t talk about it. Even though those with the virus can live a full and happy life many people who have the virus can struggle with a diagnoses and don`t know who to talk to. That`s where I hope the counselling that I offer and other organisations offer can not only help more people to speak about the virus but also try and help stop the stigma around it.

What do you do to help your own mental health?
In a busy world it’s easy for anyone to lose track of their own mental health so for me I try and give myself the space and time to focus on me. That can be anything from starting a new book to sitting in a coffee shop and just enjoying the moment, not thinking about what I have done or will do, but just being there. I believe giving time to yourself is the best self care and there is nothing wrong with spoiling yourself every now and then.

For more information on New Horizon Counselling, click here.

Croydon is home to a range of organisations and charities helping to address the community’s mental health needs. Links to a few of those organisations are below:

Croydon Talking Therapies
A free NHS service for anyone 17 years or over who is registered with a Croydon GP. Croydon Talking Therapies offer lots of different support options for anyone experiencing common difficulties like stress, worry, feeling low in mood, trouble sleeping, OCD, social anxiety and panic attacks. Croydon Talking Therapies have a wide range of therapy options including online therapy, workshops, groups and individual therapy. They offer both Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and counselling, as well as employment support.

It is quick and simple to access the service and they accept self-referrals. You can simply call 020 3228 4040 or complete an online form here. You can also ask your GP to refer you. Croydon Talking Therapies have bases across the entire borough and can offer evening appointments from Monday-Thursday. There is no waiting list for assessment or for their first step treatment options (online, workshops, guided self-help).

MIND in Croydon
MIND in Croydon is a mental health charity founded in 1967 and since then has developed into a significant provider of mental health services in Croydon. It seeks to empower people to lead a full life as part of their local community. For World Mental Health Day, MIND in Croydon is holding a Catwalk Fashion Show at Boxpark to raise vital funds.

Happy Heads
Happy Heads is an organisation which coordinates events that promote positive mental health by educating people on a balanced lifestyle and creativity.

Evolve is a charity providing a range of services to homeless and vulnerable people within Croydon and the wider London area. They provide much more than just a roof -Evolve is a place of positive change and growth, enabling people to move on and lead independent lives. Their 1-1 counselling service aims to promote good mental health and wellbeing by providing a high quality and professional service in a confidential and safe setting. The service is free of charge for all customers of Evolve Housing + Support. Counselling is based on the building of a close and trusting relationship between the counsellor and the client by regular weekly meetings. These meetings are for 50 minutes and are offered on the same day, at the same time and with the same counsellor each week.

Off The Record
Off the Record (OTR) Youth Counselling Croydon was founded in 1994 to provide free, independent and professional counselling for 14 – 25 year olds in the Croydon area. Since then the charity has expanded to include further areas of work including BME mental health work; a young carers service offering support to young people under 26 who are caring for a parent or sibling; a specialist counselling service for young refugees; online counselling and workshops; and a young people’s counselling service in the boroughs of Sutton and Merton.

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