Registered Psychologist, Macquarie Psychology – Hobart Australia
Psychology has always been a fascination for me but we didn’t really find each other properly until later in my life. When I left school I was going to be a mechanic! But my employer told me that he had decided not to take on another apprentice, so that was that. Needless to say, I didn’t stay there long. After a few more years working, I went to university and started studying a bachelor of arts with the intention of doing psychology. I really enjoyed anthropology and English, but found first year psychology a bit dry! Overall, it seemed too far removed from everyday life, let alone people. So I changed to business.
After completing a business degree I went to work in the real world and slowly realised that it was a world of conformity and rules. The aim was to make money and everything was about making more of it. At this time I was living and working in Sydney, Australia. I worked in various capacities such as financial planner and as an advisor to small business. So eventually, in 1991, my partner and I decided to move to Tasmania where her family was and where we could raise our two boys in a place that was a little more removed from the rat-race.
During all these years of work, I had always been interested in the journey of self-understanding as well. In my early 20s I discovered self help books teaching such things as Transactional Analysis and Gestalt Therapy. I read as many books as I could find. I wanted to know about myself and my role in this world. I went to see therapists. The first one was good. The second was not as good. I wasn’t sure that therapists were able to offer anything substantial and I was concerned that it perhaps wasn’t really a ‘science’. Maybe we just turn out to be who we were going to be despite ‘psychology’?
But I was a scientist at heart, and business and science are worlds apart. So, one day I decided to go back to psychology. I had decided by this time that psychology did have something to offer when done properly. I wanted to do it properly. I restarted the arts degree part-time and got into honours at the University of Tasmania. I spent a few years working on my Doctorate and became a registered psychologist.
My philosophy in life had always been that of a generalist. I wanted to gather knowledge about a wide range of things and apply that to my vocation, whatever that was. Being a psychologist was a way of utilising that experience; use my own journey and the variety of things I learned in life, and at university, to help those who are in need. So I became a specialist, which now actually sits well. To that role I bring all the differing perspectives of living and working in various places. Since working as a psychologist, I have felt fulfilled and happy. There is not a day that goes by where I don’t feel grateful for my life. I used to worry that one day it would all go pear-shaped and not last. But over time I learned to trust that it wouldn’t. Of course there have been bad times. But overall, life has really been good to me.
In all those early years where I was learning about life and myself, funnily enough, I was never drawn into mindfulness in a formal way. Back in the 80s I read a book called “The relaxation response” and I was intrigued by how meditation affected the mind and body. I also read and absorbed books on visualisation and many other techniques that helped to still the mind. I applied these to my life in a casual way. One outlined a technique that I tried and found affected me profoundly. It started off small, only a slight change. Over time, as I practiced it, I was able to ‘hold’ this sensation of letting go. I had learned to be equanimous for short periods in a focused way by letting go of an attachment to sensations in the body. I still use it and it led me to have an affinity later with the practice of mindfulness. I also learned a long time ago, of the impermanence of emotion and the notion that we are often rooted in the present by emotion, but have to also have an eye to the fact that this will change.
I met Bruno in 2000 and was struck by his calm, his dedication and the clarity he brought to things. He wanted me to understand mindfulness in a deeper way by practice. His view was that if you have found something this good, you want others you care about to also benefit from it. I resisted. “What was the point of working hard on something designed to make you happier in your life when you are already happy?” I thought. Over time, we had chats about his methods and I could see a definite advantage in utilising a more pervasive mindfulness approach with clients.
I heard others, including Jon Kabat-Zinn, talking about the benefits of mindfulness and I had read much on it. So I began to practice it more formally. Since then, it has been imbedded in my work with clients. What I like about this approach is that it is experiential. It is one’s own experience and not that of another who may be trying to help you change your understanding of what you experience. It asks you to do it to yourself, without a ‘middle man’. In MiCBT, mindfulness is not on the periphery, it is central. When I thought about it, I realised that traditional CBT is often simply trying to put a wedge between someone and their troublesome thoughts. Why not start deeper; why not work on it yourself through the practice of mindfulness? Above all, being mindful really does impact on what you bring to therapy. I think Bruno has truly brought mindfulness to psychotherapy in a unique and powerful way and I am grateful for his wisdom.