Category Archives: Special Guests

Challenges, Inspiration & Focus; How TA Holds My Process

We are absolutely delighted to welcome our colleague Susie Hewitt, PTSTA to the Physis Scotland team. This month we include a blog from Susie, who shares her reflections with us about what ‘challenge, inspiration and focus’ mean to her as a TA psychotherapist, supervisor and trainer.

I’m writing this on the train back to Manchester from Edinburgh and my first trip to the new home of Physis Scotland & meeting the Foundation Year Group during their “Contracting” module. The setting, tutors and students were inspirational and I am so much looking forward to being part of this organisation as a tutor for the Senior Training Group from October this year.

This feeling of being challenged, inspired and focused this weekend with Physis colleagues, reminds me of my process all the way through my TA journey, starting in April 2007 when I did my TA101. I know this TA training journey has enabled transformational change in me, and still continues to do so as I develop as a TA trainer and supervisor.

Last week, I was with our lovely Fiona Cooke at the UKATA Annual Conference in Birmingham. The first 2 days I was involved in the CTA & TSTA exams, and inspired by the competency, unique experience and collegial I+U+ demonstrated by all the candidates. We are a unique, international TA Tribe – and it soothes my ‘Don’t Belong’ injunction to feel so connected and proud to be part of this special modality. The conference theme was Autonomy & Attachment – and the challenge of being both at once.

This theme raised a personal challenge for me as I initiated some discussions with my other TA Training colleagues around the controversial SCoPEd framework (find more information on this initiative on the UKCP website). I wonder how we can be attached to our colleagues in the wider counselling and psychotherapeutic community whilst being autonomous in our TA Psychotherapy modality? I was inspired to write a short piece for submission in the next edition of the Transactional Analyst on the implications of the suggested SCoPEd framework and how TA brings much to the table in terms of training in different fields, yet belonging to the same modality. Our profession is not valued as it should be by our governments and many employers who are used to paying low salaries and offering zero-hour contracts, often forcing qualified counsellors and psychotherapists to continue with voluntary or low-paid positions. It’s a pleasure to be a tutor in a modality where many TA Diploma graduates are able to gain paid employment or be able to start a private practice where their skills and knowledge are valued.

Another challenge we face is that of reducing the stigma of mental illness and explaining to the public what exactly it is we do behind the veil of confidentiality and our therapy room doors. I have been invited to record a Podcast for the UKCP/Psychologies magazine partnership in July – we will be talking about how Mindfulness can help clients on their therapeutic journey. I have been an advocate of MBSR (Jon Kabat-Zinn’s therapeutic mindfulness approach) for over 10 years and urge my clients to daily use mindfulness apps such as Calm.

Whilst on the subject of technology in the therapy room, I have been focused this past month on the question of how we can ethically and safely harness the power of the internet and social media in our practice as psychotherapists, clinical supervisors and TA trainers. It has become more acceptable to receive tutorials and supervision via Skype, and as trainers we can attach to our students remotely to seed or consolidate learning prior to a module using YouTube/Facebook and other social media channels. As therapists (particularly those who work for EAPs) – we are used to giving therapy by phone or through online means. The question of how AI (Artificial Intelligence) maybe utilized in the psychotherapy profession is still to be seen. It has been my long-standing dream for us to receive a brain scan at client intake – although this is many years off (due to cost implications), neuroscience is already offering us new ways of understanding our clients’ psychological make up (we can spot an anxiously wired brain, a brain that has suffered from early attachment trauma, a brain with less connections between the cortex and limbic regions etc).

I have named a few of the challenges we face as individuals and as a profession, yet in these challenges I have found inspiration and an enlivening need to focus my attention on these important issues and how we can make a difference. Transactional Analysis has held me through my transformation into a psychotherapist then into a supervisor and a trainer. I am never through with learning something new – I have not yet read every TAJ article and book, never stopped being inspired by other TA professionals and never ceased to be satisfied by the privilege of witnessing the positive change journeys of my clients.

It’s my pleasure and privilege to journey further with you this next year at Physis and I’m looking forward to the joint challenges, inspiration and focus of our TA personal transformations.


The Gift of Therapy Training

This month we are delighted to include a beautiful blog from one of our colleagues Lucy Hyde, who
shares with us some of the ways in which therapy training has been a “gift” to her.

I don’t know if you know Irvin Yalom, an American psychiatrist who’s written many books in the field of psychotherapy. I love his writing, partly because he makes reading about psychotherapy effortless – my Try Hard driver has a tendency to make reading ‘work’ to justify it – but mostly because of the way in which he reveals his vulnerability, opening up about mistakes made as a practitioner – this godfather of psychotherapy gets it wrong too! The only driver that’s stronger than my Try Hard is my Be Perfect, so I avidly devour these reminders that it’s OK to be good enough, that making mistakes is human, that before anything else, therapists are human beings.

Anyway, Yalom wrote “The Gift of Therapy: an open letter to a new generation of therapists and their patients”, when he turned 70. It’s a collection of his learnings about psychotherapy – tips, suggestions, guidance if you will – from the therapeutic relationship to ‘the hazards and privileges of being a therapist. I guess this blog is my open letter to anyone considering training as a counsellor or therapist.

Why is therapy training a gift? Because once you’ve committed to it – made that decision – you’ve taken the first step on a journey of discovery. Sounds a bit grandiose, doesn’t it? Yet it’s true – after that first step you can’t go back; you can turn aside and take a different path, you can even pretend that you haven’t learned what you’ve learned – but it’s still there, and you know a little bit more about who you are than before.

Here are some ways in which therapy training has been a gift to me:

1. I understand myself better
I’ve just moved back to my home in Scotland after living in Italy for two years (I mention this casually, as if it isn’t a Really Big Deal that I managed to summon up the courage to do that!)  As I was unpacking boxes that had come out of storage, I came across my notes and books from my COSCA certificate in Counselling Skills. This course is a prerequisite for many training courses; mine was unusually spread out over about 18 months which I’m very grateful for – it gave me all that time to really process what I was learning. The end of the first module required a self-evaluation. Here’s what I wrote: “I have realised that you can be a flawed individual and a counsellor at the same time – being a counsellor isn’t something that only comes once the individual has laid their demons to rest and become totally at one with themselves. In fact we never stop developing and discovering ourselves.” At that point I had never heard of TA and didn’t know what a Be Perfect driver was – but I’d already learned an important lesson about being Good Enough.

My last submission for that course included the sentence words “I have become able to be slightly kinder to myself as a result of understanding myself better and understanding the futility of beating myself up.” I read this wryly as I become slightly kinder to myself with each year that passes, even if the steps are small!

That learning about self never stops. A few years after leaving formal training, it’s become a habit.

2. I’ve learned the value of personal therapy other than in times of crisis
I’m thankful that I chose a training path that required I attend weekly personal therapy over an extended period of time.

I’ve written recently that when I was training to be a counsellor, my therapist asked me “Would you be here if it wasn’t a course requirement?” I saw it as a luxury I was obliged to pay for, to ‘do my learning perfectly’. I would still feel the struggle of justifying spending that money on myself now (I’m not currently seeing a therapist) but I’d be much more likely to go ahead and do it anyway.

Because I decided to see a counsellor during my COSCA certificate to better understand how to apply the theory to myself, and because I started seeing a TA therapist only weeks after I began the Foundation Year, I can’t separate training from personal therapy. The two are intertwined. My sessions were on a Monday and so after a training weekend my therapy session fed into, and was fed by, my processing of that weekend. But my life wasn’t just about training; as well as understanding the link between my family of origins and my attitude to group process, therapy over that four years helped me with grief, relationship difficulties, work stress and with the ultimate, self-acceptance.

3. My relationships are better
My first introduction to Transactional Analysis included the warning “people often decide not to continue because they realise that they’re changing and will lose some relationships” and that has certainly been true for some people I know – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself.

Training (and therapy) made a big difference to the relationship between me and my partner. In part this was because he was interested in it and would often ask what I’d been learning about, but anyone can understand the basic ego state model and recognise how they slip into a Parent-Child dynamic – and how they can choose to do things differently. We still use the Daily Temperature Check (maybe not daily, but regularly) after Ronen Stilman introduced it in a couples training weekend and it has made a huge difference to how we communicate.

Other relationships have changed too. I’m much more likely to be open about my vulnerabilities and fears than before, which invites intimacy from others. I’m also much more inclined to give love more easily; my stroke profile has shifted as I’m more ready to give positive strokes both to others and internally. I’ve learned that actually it’s good for the soul to be generous with your love – the Warm Fuzzy Tale of Claude Steiner in action!

4. I’m braver
Remember what I said about living in Italy? I think it’s probably true to say that without learning to be more kind and patient with myself, I would never have plucked up the courage to move to a country where I didn’t speak the language. It would have continued to be something that we’d talk about as an aspiration without ever actually taking the step to do it. Oh, other things contributed; I had a bit of money from an inheritance as a safety cushion; I’d taken the step of leaving full time work to work part time while setting up in private practice so I’d got used to budgeting and changing routine, the Brexit referendum gave impetus – but the change in me was crucial.

Don’t get me wrong; for much of my time there it was amazing and terrifying in equal parts. I was both living the dream and hiding in a cave sometimes. The change to my routine and the powerlessness of my not earning money for the first year were very challenging, as was the realisation that my Be Perfect driver would prevent me from ever speaking Italian quickly as I agonised over formulating the right phrases! But through it all I held in mind the wisdom of my very first TA trainer, that this was an AFLOG – Another Fucking Learning Opportunity for Growth. I learned to appreciate the amazing and accept the difficult, and to sit with juggling both of those at the same time.

Above all I’ve learned that it’s OK to push myself to do things outside my comfort zone (and it’s also OK to let myself stay in the safe place sometimes). I’ve got the confidence to get stuck into my next project – developing an outdoor therapy practice.

5. I’m more reflective
Therapy training encourages reflection as well as self-awareness. Reflection on what has gone well – and what could be done differently. I’ve continued with the practice of regular goal reviews, even while it’s been difficult to know where I’m going to be in six months’ time. That has been valuable not only in terms of giving me a sense of control at times when I’ve been floundering (even while the route meanders) but more importantly it’s helped me see how far I’ve come and to value that.

I really put it off this year because of transitioning back from one country to another – thinking “how can I know what I’m doing before I’m settled?” Yet when I knuckled down to it, I found cause for celebration as I reflected on my hoped-for goals of a year earlier, and the growth and development made since then.

6. I appreciate the meandering path
I often find it difficult to switch off the ‘shoulds’ – and the terrifying hierarchy of TA acronyms probably feeds into that a little. Though I knew it myself – somewhere – I was grateful to hear it when my partner said – maybe halfway through my training “You know, it’s OK if you decide you don’t want to be a therapist. You – we – have got so much from your training journey that it doesn’t really matter.” Learning that it was OK to not have a fixed end product was really helpful – especially as, at times through the training, there were big internal shifts that could push me off course. So my meandering path has included taking a part time job in a completely different environment to give me headspace to think about private practice and of course moving away from Scotland for a period of time.

My meandering means that I now have insights into things I didn’t before – the powerlessness of being in a country where you don’t know how things work; life as an immigrant or ex-pat; the cumulative impact of small changes – all of which feed into my work with clients. And I have added online counselling to my professional repertoire, which I had never expected to do – I work with clients by email and instant message as well as web-cam and phone. Through that work I’ve formed networks outside the TA community and have started to explore Inner Relationship Focusing. I’ve realised there’s plenty of time.

Therapy training isn’t just about therapy training.

“If the path be beautiful, let us not ask where it leads.” (Anatole France)


Yalom, ID. The Gift of Therapy. 2002. Piatkus; London.
Counselling & Psychotherapy in Scotland:
Steiner, C. The Original Warm Fuzzy Tale.


My Therapeutic Journey

This month we are delighted to include a blog from one of our colleagues Paul Redpath, PTSTA about
his therapeutic journey.

Everyone’s therapeutic journey is different. Unique to them. As unique as their face or their fingerprint. There is no right way of doing therapy and there is no one reason for starting therapy.

I grew up in a very unhappy environment. My parents were unusually unhappy together. And so my training as a therapist started in childhood. I learned early on to wonder what the hell was going on. I tried to make sense of a situation which really didn’t make any sense.

And years later I copied the same dysfunctional behaviours in my own intimate relationships with the same level of success that my parents had achieved.

I needed therapy to help me understand what was going on and to start to think about how I could do things differently.

Therapy helped me make sense of why I did certain things and why they didn’t work. It gave me options…I learned that I could choose to do things differently. It helped me relate to my anger differently and express it in a more useful way. And it helped me develop a calm island in the middle of a stormy sea where I can rest and think about how I want to respond to life.

Therapy has helped me deal with anger issues and it has helped me deal with loss and grief. So much of life is about loss and how we deal with it… the loss involved in getting older and knowing there will be an end to this journey.

Therapy has helped me make meaning of the life I lead. It is not for the faint-hearted. It can be fun…after all…it is all about you…but it also can be gruelling…gut wrenching work. It involves taking a long hard look at yourself in the mirror and not looking away. There is always the possibility of laughter and tears and the delight in being surprised by yourself.

I am trained in a number of therapeutic modalities but in terms of learning to think about yourself and the world I would strongly recommend Transactional Analysis. It is unique in its theoretical framework which provides a way of seeing and understanding the world and it offers an alternative way of relating to yourself and others.

I have been in therapy for a long time but this isn’t necessary for everyone. Some people have short-term therapy and manage to get what they want from that. But if you are considering having therapy…I would say…do it. It is the best thing you can do for yourself. After all, there is no-one more interesting than you…you are the person you are having a life-long relationship with…you deserve to get to know who you are and to be living the life you want to live.


The Journey

This month we are delighted to include a blog from our Director of Training, Barbara Clarkson, TSTA

Everywhere, from Strictly Come Dancing, to the local gym, you can find people talking about their “Journey” these days. The journey to fitness, the journey of learning to dance, the journey of the Bake Off contestants etc. At the start of the new year of training for the Senior Training Group at Physis, I’ve been reflecting on the idea of the “Training Journey” in the world of counselling and psychotherapy, and how we are changed by it – all of us, including the trainers.

At the start of each training year a new group of people comes together to co-create a learning experience. The full year’s syllabus lies in wait, new notebooks and pens have been carefully selected, and the group notices what has changed since the previous year ended. Perhaps there are new group members, as well as familiar faces, and those returning after time away from training, (who are sort of connected but not known as well), and the sense of the empty chairs where people sat last year, who have now left the group, either having completed the training or having taken a break. And the trainer of course, familiar or foreign, known and experienced, or yet to be tried out. The sense of expectation and some hint of trepidation is palpable. We are all waiting to see what will happen this year.

Often, we settle quite rapidly into being “back” – the usual start of year administrative stuff seems to provide reassurance that not too much has changed, and provides the familiar backdrop against which we can tolerate “what’s new this year”. New assignments, new demands as placements and supervision need to be fitted in, and a new sense of where we are on this “Journey” – how far away is the Diploma exam now? What does it mean to be in the final year – are we the “big kids in the school” now? Are we meant to know stuff?

As a trainer, over many years, I have come to love the start of the year and the anticipation of what will unfold. I love Clarkson’s placement of Berne’s theory of groups alongside Tuckman’s model of the stages of development of a group – Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing – and have come to believe, through lived experience, that groups really do have an energy, a unique personality and an identity all their own, with an organic need to grow, to enable the members to challenge and be challenged, to support and be supported, and to discover more of who they are and what they are there for. The new group will “do its thing”, the unconscious processes that each member brings into the space will help co-create the focus and the task of the group organism, which will then permeate the “how” of our learning together. What does this group welcome, what does it avoid, how does it tackle the bumps in the road, and how does it celebrate and support. I am the trainer, both part of and separate from the group at the same time. For me, each group I work with will become part of my “journey” as it enables me to see more of myself reflected in its dynamic, including those parts I am less comfortable with. I think this is what each new group offers to its members, in a unique and fragrant stew of many ingredients.

Of course, this training year too will come to its end. And this group will then have completed its work, both the external individual requirements of the year (essays, case studies, hours of practice etc), and the internal yet mutual process of being and experiencing each other and ourselves in our uniqueness. My hope is that each time the cycle turns, and the journey comes to an end, it simply makes it easier for us to move forward into a new stage, a new group, some new learning and discovery. For us, unlike the Bake Off and Strictly contestants, there is no final and no trophy. The continuing of this lifelong Journey of learning and personal growth is the prize.