Suzanne Foster Counselling Counsellor for Battersea, Clapham & Balham


March blog

'Therapy helped me accept I am not defective'

When  I was 11 I felt a thin, greasy paper cover my mind.  I'd been moved up a school year at seven, due to being tall.  I was academic enough to keep up but I completely lacked the social skills necessry to navigate the leap.  I was bullied throughout school and struggled to understand why, or how to move along in spite of it.  Even today, my inner critical voice is a result of this bullying.

I had my first therpy session during my first year at universtiy, and after my therapist told me it sounded like everything stemmed from my family I stormed out in a protetive rage. It didn't occur to me that I could find another person to speak to.  I thought that was my chance, and it wasn't right, so I wouldn't have it again.


It was another five years before I had another go - not that things were fine in the meantime, more that I was poractively taking antidepressants and dealing with my brain by overeating, overdrinking and overspending. I had a not-very-impactful course of CBT to tackle depresion.  I had a small breakthrough in 2012 when I had private therapy through my work's health insurance, and my lovely therapist sid, 'it soulds like you think you're defective'.  I didn't know the root of why yet, but this was a huge moment of self-realisation.


Away from work I did lots to build up and enjoy the time I had.  I got involved with the Olympics ceremonies in London, and I learned to run and ran the London Marathon. I challenged myself and ideas that I had.  But underneath there was always something that I couldn't identify let alone solve.  I didn't feel like other people - from what I read, or heard, or even how my friends and colleagues behaved.  In 2016 I was diagnosed with bing-eating dissorder and had outpatient therapy, but I saw three therapists over the course of that year-long programme due to staff illness, and struggled to rebuild relationships.


I didn't know there was a bigger picture to see, so I carried on having therapy on and off without really knowing what I hoped to get from it.  Some therapists were wonderful - I told one how I found it hard to enjoy small things and that it was as if I needed an entire street of cherry blossom.  Whenever I pass them now I look at them individually with great joy, just as she helped me to do.


I was struggling to conceive when I saw her. After my husband and I went throough failed IVF and faced childlessess I broke and saw a new therapist who helped me to cocme to terms with what was happening and to know that it wasn't because I was bad or useless.  We did a lot of work with schemas, which I found fasintating - learning wat was under the bonnet and why that  helped me feel more in control.  She was also the first to gently suggest that I look into ADHD.


After my diagnosis I saw another therapist specifically for therapy around ADHD.  We did a lot of work around radical self-acceptance, which became invaluable when I had a routine hip replacement that became infected and I spent three months on antibiotics, unable to work and think.  I was hugely grateful for the work we had done.  It compounded the reading istening and understanding I was doing to navigate ADHD, to understand the conditions that came under its wider remit and then, in turn, to be able to use what I had learned to help other people.  I spoke to people with ADHD, and experts in the field - psychiatrists, researchers, clinicians and even those who set up the first adult ADHD clinic in the UK in the 1990s.


That I have two books coming out, within a month of one another, both intended to act as support groups for people who are struggling, feels like the best possible outcome for a life with undiagnosed ADHD.  I am not defective - I know that now.  I hope my readers ccome to know that too, and apply it to their own lives.  It has taken me a long time to build this understanding, and it has been worth the journey.


Kat brown is a freelance journalist and commentator whose national work on ADHD, mental health stigma and other social and arts commentary has appeared in The Telegraph, Grazia and The Times and on Woman's Hour.  Her new books "No One Talks About this Stuff:twenty-two stories of almost parenthood "(Unbound) and "It's Not a Bloody Trend: undertanding lif as an ADHD adult "(Robinson) are out now.


Article first published in Therapy Today. March 2024: Vol 35. Issue 2.


My first experience of therapy was at 24 years of age. I can't remember what made me go at that time, but I have had therapy on and off ever since.  A central theme over the years has been the unresolved trauma of a back operation I had for scoliosis when I was 15.  During the operation a nerve in my leg was damaged, which left me with a permanent limp.  The psychological damage has been complex, especailly as in those days no therapy was offered.


What happened to me was seen as purely physical, and trauma was not mentioned.  Everyone knew it had been a difficult, life-changing experience, but getting help to adjust was not considered.  In those days you were just expected to 'get on with it'.  People who did go to therapy were seen as 'having problems', and when I first decided to go and see *Claire, "a local counsellor, the girls in the office where I worked took the mickey out of me.


Claire was a calm, middle-class and unassuming woman; a woman of faith.  All I remember about my visits to her are the sense of peace and the way she made me feel. I don't remember what we talked about. It may have been about my operation and the effect it had not only on me, but on my relationship with my mother, but perhaps more likey I just spoke about the girls in the office, and my dreams of becoming an actor not working out.  It is interesting that I do not remember what we spoke about, only the calmness of the room and how I was feeling at the time. I saw her once a week for a few months.

Since then I have seen countless therapists, healers and medical professionals and recently trained to become a counsellor myself.  Having thought I knew it all due to my extensive soul-searching, when I began the course the impact of my operation once again surfaced along with many other things that I thought I had 'dealt with' but I had actually just emotionally bypassed.

Today trauma is widely recognised and discussed, and it's accepted that the effects can be long-lasting.  As well as counselling as I knew it when I met Claire, there is eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing, trauma-informed therapy, somatic therapy and emotionally focused therapy to name but a few.  Having thought I knew it all, I am now fascinated and encouraged by the amount there is still to know and learn.

Every day I peel another layer and shed light on another part of my past.  I wonder which part of me it is that remembered Claire recently out of the blue - the simplicity of our first meeting, where I felt valued, loved and safe.  My wounded teenage self perhaps, who is now finally ready to speak up and feels safe enough?

Remembering how if felt has reminded me as a therapist not to to forget the power and beauty of simplicity, and the importance of how the client is made to feel. This may be obvious but in an increasingly complex world it could be something that starts to become overlooked. I am grateful that I have been on the 'other side' as the client many times, and that I remember how it felt, good and bad, when I stepped into the room of someone who was, I hoped, going to be able to help. And simple and uncomplicaed as it may have been, all these years later I still remember Claire and the way she made me feel.

*Name has been changed.


Auriol Burgess pursued her dream of being an actor and went to drama school, despite being left with life-changing damage after spinal surgery .  When her acting career didn't work out the way she had planned, she started to question the meaning and purpose of her life, culminating in her training to bcome a counsellor.


Article first published in Therapy Today.  November 2023. Volume 34.  Issue 9


September blog

'I could finally let go of thinking I was a strong man'

In 2016 my life fell apart wen I was sectioned for four weeks under the Mental health act. I had split up with my long-term girlfriend and was under a lot of stress in a corporate job that I didn't enjoy.

My mind was so broken that I thought I was being watched, tracked and followed online by well-known corporations that wanted to snap me up. I firmly believed that I was receiving messages through the TV, radio, internet and even the weather. I was speaking a lot more than usual and very fast, jumping from one subject to the other without making any sense to those around me.

Being sectioned was very traumatic, not just for me but for my family and close friends. However, spending time in a psychiatric ward and being medicated with antipsychotics and mood stabilisers was necessary to start my recovery.

I struggled to get my life back when I got back home. The side effects of the medication were mainly sedation, so I had no energy and put on a lot of weight. I was eventually made redundant from my job and became very depressed.

I felt ashamed and embarrassed about hat had happened to me. It wasn't until two years later in 2018 that I began to talk about it after reading a powerful memoir that resonated with me and gave me huge comfort. I started blogging about my mental illness and the reaction was so positive. I received supportive comments and messages, many from other people who had also struggled with their mental wellbeing. These were such life-affirming connections that I began to accept that the stigma may not be as prevalent as I initially assumed.

Around this time I was put on a new medication, which is what I still take today. This antipsychotic turned out to finally be the right formula for me, with minimal side effects and allowing my mind to be clear and my energy levels to remain.

I was wary of therapy after a bad experience at relationship counselling with my previous partner, but I was so desperate to get better I found myself saying yes when the mental health team suggested it. I went on a waiting list and eventually received CBT through the NHS, which turned out to be life-changing. we were able to explore why I was previously so hard on myself and why I struggled with stress and uncertainty in particular. I ws able to learn self-compassion, how to remain present and use practical tools to help with my well-being, such as the 'stress bucket' and 'friendly scientist' exercises. I felt very lucky that I was matched with such a great therapist. She was around my age and I warmed to her instantly - she met me at a very human level and I always felt deeply understood during our conversations.

My response to the sessions was very emotional, and I would spend much of th time in floods of tears. I soon realised that these were probably tears that I had been holding in or a long time, thinking I was being a strong man. I was finally able to let go, and it made me understand that crying is actually a powerful stress release rather than something to be ashamed of and avoided.

Sadly, at the end of 2019, I had a full-blown relapse of psychosis after a mistake with my medication. I had been taking one 100mg pill a day, bu when I renewed my prescription the pharmacy game me 50mg tablets instead. The instruction to take two per day wasn't pointed out, so I was unknowingly taking half of my dosage.

My second psychotic episode had some similarities in the terms of my behaviour and symptoms, although this time I was a lot angrier, so I found it overwhelmingly and difficult to manage.

Thankfully I didn't get sectioned again - instead, I voluntarily attended an NHS day treatment centre where I participated in group therapy classes and also had one-to-one support. My medication had to be drastically increased and it took months for me to become stable, but I got there in the end and I have been healthy ever since. Once again I found the therapy helpful, particularly in understanding and processing my anger. My latest diagnosis is schizoaffective disorder. I no longer feel shame about it and instead wear it proudly as a badge of honour. I know now that I will probably always need to be on medication to keep me healthy and functioning, which is something I feel at peace with. One of my many lessons is that I need to keep talking, sharing, be understood and to process and articulate what is in my head. Sometimes the best outlet for this will be a therapist, so I am happy that they are always an option if I need it.

James Lindsay lives in Watfor with his fiancé. He works in the marketing team at Hertfordshire Mind Network, a mental health charity. He aims to use his experience of mental illness to help others by raising awareness and ending stigma. His first book 'My Brain: a psychosis story' is available now on

First published in Therapy Today, September 2023; Volume 35: Issue 7

August blog


"Therapy helped me identify the little cuts and bruises that shaped me'

I was changing trains at Earl's Court station when I bumped into a mate I knew from football. He asked where I was going as people do the you bump into them at a station. I completely panicked and started babbling about a fictitious meeting. The truth was, I was en route to my first-ever therapy session. The idea that I would admit that to anyone, let alone this passing acquaintance who knew me only as the loudmouth joker with who he shared beers every other Saturday, was terrifying.

I was married to this identity of being carefree and fun to be around. I took nothing seriously, least of all myself. the was the way almost all the blokes I grew up with behaved. Seeking help from a therapist represented the antithesis of everything I stood for. So I muttered and mumbled a lie and he eyed me suspiciously, probably assuming I was going to see a dominatrix and just didn't want to admit it.

That first therapy session went OK but, to be honest, I wasn't quite ready and we didn't quite click. I was in my mid 30s and feeling overwhelmed by work, family, money worries and the continued maintenance of my 'Jack the lad' persona. I had started to suffer from sometimes debilitating anxiety and was losing sleep. I felt ashamed of, and alone in, my feelings, and a voice inside was constantly telling me that I was a pathetic whiner with no right to feel as miserable as I did.

I quit therapy and turned instead to alcohol as a form of self-medication. Eventually I started to use cocaine to supplement it. With 40 looming on the horizon I had become a secretive daytime drinker and drug user. I convinced myself that drink and drugs were the fuel I needed to keep going. I really thought that my bad habits allowed me to be a better father and husband because they provided the necessary anaesthetic to an overstretched and exhausting lifestyle. Eventually even I stopped believing that lie. I tried and failed to stop using on numerous occasions until deciding to give therapy another go.

In the clutches of addiction, I had developed a siege mentality; I thought everyone was against me. My wife, my friends, my colleagues, my relatives - I felt all of them were judging me and trying to control my life. I was angry. I was in pain and I resented the fact that nobody seemed to care.

But in our first meeting my new therapist showed me kindness and understanding. she was the first person to suggest that I was justified in feeling the way I did. That I didn't need to feel ashamed, but the I did have a problem that needed tackling. She helped me to understand that quitting drink and drugs would be just the first step into a longer journey. I would have to accept that the sadness I felt inside was legitimate and that, rather than drink and snort it away, I should investigate where it might come from. Only then would I be able to process it and move on. It sounded like a lot of hard work. But I was so desperate to stop the destructive cycle of wanton hedonism that I resolved instantly to give it a go.

The was almost eight years ago. Since my first meeting with my therapist, Lizann, in June 2015 I haven't touched a drop of alcohol. It wasn't easy. Giving up the soothing distraction of booze made me face a ton of thoughts and emotions I had been repressing since adolescence. Therapy gently took me through a personal audit of all the pain I had blithely ignored for so long. I started to get to know myself. I caught up on all the emotional development I hd ben deferring since I first stated getting thrashed on lager and weed with my pals when I was 12 years old.

The most important part of all this was the kindness and understanding that Lizann showed me. She helped me identify the little cuts and bruises that had helped shape me. She made me feel less embarrassed about feeling the way I did. Most of all, she made me like myself. She made me feel less embarrassed about myself. I'm not sure I ever have done before. Certainly, through the final years of my problem drinking and drug taking, I was constantly berating myself for being a lazy, pathetic, nail-gazing loser. But I wasn't really any of those things, I was just a bloke who had failed to ever show himself much in the way of compassion and care. So I had burned myself out by the age of 39 and was heading towards oblivion. Lizann helped me step back from the edge. I still see her for my weekly session every Wednesday morning. And since 2015 each year has been better than the last.

Sam Delaneyis a writer and broadcaster from London. His book, 'Sort Your Head Out: mental health with al the b*****ks" was recently published by Constable.

Article first published in Therapy Today. June 2023:Volune 34:Issue 5

March blog


'Many of the clients I meet tend to criticise themselves for asking for therapy in the first place'

I specialise in working with clients with self-criticism as, more often than not, I find that a self-critic lurks within most people's stories I hear in my counselling room. Whether they are telling me about their anxiety or depression, unhappiness in a relationship or stressful job. I will also hear some level of negative self-judgment in the tale. As therapists we are well placed to help our clients to distance themselves from their self-critic. I talk about the specific practice of self-compassion as the best antidote to self-criticism that I know of - but we all do this in various ways, however we describe it.

It is fair to say that most of us are drawn to help others with problems that we ourselves have experienced. I suffered debilitating episodes of anxiety that were wholly driven by a tenacious belief that I had done something terribly wrong, and that I would be rejected or reprimanded or roundly criticised by others. During these tricky times I was exhausted by hyper vigilance and the constant rumination of mistakes I may have done or could do. For example, I couldn't send a message without reading it a dozen times, fearful of causing offence. I would struggle to sleep as my mind busily trawled through everything I had said and done in the day, firming up a case for my 'idiocy' or 'unworthiness'. My self-critic could really put the boot in hard.

Early on in my practice career, I came across compassion-focussed therapy, then a little-known evolution of CBT pioneered by Professor Pul Gilbert. After reading his books and training with him, I went on to do further training in self-compassion practices with Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer. My renewed efforts to safely distance myself from my self-criticism then began to bear fruit, and I could better draw on my own experiences to deepen my empathy with self-sabotaging clients.

Over the years of practice, I remain struck by how many of us lose the ability to treat ourselves with fairness, kindness, love and compassion. One client, Charlotte had a psychologically absent mother and exacting father who repeatedly blamed her for things going 'wrong'. She only felt good in his eyes if she came top of the class tests and went on to develop a strong fear of being 'wrong' all the time, and of upsetting others. Then there was Amanda, a lawyer whose inner critic was fuelled by her experiences of racism growing up as a black girl in London, and later a black woman in a misogynist corporate world. Another client, Susan, because of her very strict religious upbringing, was never afforded an opportunity to think about herself at alll, with the wrath of God threatening to punish her at any moment. She could never believe she would be good enough, and flinched an any introspection as 'self-indulgent'.

I find the voyage of discovery with a client as to why they have learned to turn in on themselves as a valuable groundwork for the task of practising self-compassion. For example, understanding that we think we think we are 'idiotic' (a polite label by the standard of what I've heard over the years) because of the behaviours and words of a nasty sibling growing up offers some space around the entrenched belief. The next crucial step - which involves learning to think and feel differently about oneself - is the longer but fruitful journey to face.

Many of the clients I meet tend to criticise themselves for asking for therapy in the first place - deeming their suffering as 'silly' or 'indulgent' or 'not as bad as others'. The burgeoning 'wellness industry', boosted by social media, hasn't helped either, in that it emphasises our responsibility to be mentally and physically healthy while setting unrealistic standards of 'perfection' in all that we do. We need to focus more on the structural problems we have in society that serve to make many people feel not good enough. Unless and until we do see such changes, we will continue to play a crucial role in helping clients ease up on themselves.

Article is an extract from "Everyone's a critic", a book written by Julia Bueno an integrative psychotherapist and counsellor working in private practice in London and online. Article first published in Therapy Today. March 2023. Volye 34. Issue 2

‘The journey from surviving to survivor has been less lonely with a partner in mental health'

Couples counselling seemed like the best path if I wanted to save my marriage. And I did want to save my marriage, although it was not exactly clear how.

I met my husband while we were in college and I dated him for almost a year before he strangled me one evening on my birthday. Until that moment, everything I knew of him was goodness: a sweet, curious, quiet but outgoing man who loved me almost instantly: I'd never been loved so deeply, so quickly before. And this love felt incredible. Exactly what I'd wanted for as long as I could want romance. And now this violent moment - to me, an anomaly. It was easy to tell myself, this isn't really him; and this is just a mistake. A brief lapse in otherwise excellent judgment. And so I stayed with him, as I did the violence, for almost two years.

He hit me, bit me, tried to push me out of a moving car. And I stayed with him, resolutely, believing I could fix this. But I knew that we needed help to fix it - that I needed help. I'd decided his behaviour was both unacceptable and not my fault, but I wasn't ready to give up on him.

When we walked into the marriage counsellor's office, I was full of hope. The counsellor asked me to describe what was happening in our marriage, and I told him everything - the fighting, the abuse, the strangling, everything. For the first time, I told someone outside of our marriage about the violence, and saying it out loud made it a blunt reality.

Then my husband chimed in with his take. 'Yes, I hit her', he said. 'But it's not abuse. We're just having some issues.'

Sitting legs crossed, on a leather sofa chair in front of us, his wood-panelled office lined with books, the marriage counsellor started scribbling notes. After my husband finished explaining his side, the counsellor looked down and breathed a heavy sigh. The he looked up at us, frowning.

'I think you two need to take a break', he began. 'Hitting is not OK. And that lets me know that you need time apart to figure things out'. I felt hopeful. 'But', he continued, turning to look only at me. 'While you're taking time apart, you need to figure out ways to get him not to hit you'.

I was stunned. 'Something you're doing is causing him to react this way toward you', he continued. 'I'm not sure what it is, but you've got to figure that out. I can work with you both, separately as as a union'.

Over the next 30 minutes, the resounding theme of our counselling session was that I was at fault, and therefore in control. That I could control whether he hit me. But that is not the nature of abuse. Abuse is not an action/reaction dynamic. Abuse is a choice that an abuser makes.

But I did not learn that from the marriage counsellor. I learned that from the therapist at the domestic violence shelter I went to once I'd left my husband. The marriage counsellor was focused on saving the marriage, as opposed to saving me. And I was done with therapy after that; I resolved never to trust a counsellor again. Until I met her, the woman who would tell me that the abuse was not my fault, saving myself is a rightful option, and it is OK to leave. and, as her client, I stayed gone from my marriage forever.

Therapy saved my life, but more specifically, trauma-informed therapy saved my life. after I left domestic violence services, I made regular therapy a part of my wellbeing journey. Even today, I'm still unearthing things in therapy - how to date again, why my deeper of flying is a trauma response and what healing looks like. The journey from surviving to survivor has been less lonely with a partner in mental health.

However, trusting therapists took time. I withheld a lot from my current therapist at first. I'd say I was doing great when I was angry at a loved one. I'd say I felt happy when I knew depression was getting close to my mind's door again.

Now that we have trust and rhythm, therapy is a lifeguard. I talk to my therapist about random things - why can't I stop eating pizzas? And serious things - will I feel lonely forever? Therapy, for me, is a constant renegotiation between my body and heart about what my psyche can bear. About what brings me pleasure and what causes intense anxieties. How to react when people are hurtful and how to seek mercy when I've hurt others.

For instance, it took a therapist I worked with when I was well past the age of 30 to help me understand what I now know - not only are boundaries essential, boundaries are freedom. When you set a boundary, you are saying, 'We are free to engage, explore and create right here, within these lines'. A boundary is an invitation to continue in a relationship with someone, just on terms that are healthy for you.

And that has been the crux of my therapy journey as a relationship abuse survivor: learning what is healthy for me and designing a life around that. Inviting people in and escorting people out. But handling every heart, including my own, with the care and compassion that we all deserve.

Extract from article by Beverley Gooden, who is a writer, artist and social activist known for her groundbreaking hashtag movement "#Why I Stayed". She earned a master's degree is social justice from Loyola University, Chicago, US. He debut memoir, "Surviving: Why we stay and how we leave abusive relationships”, published in the UK by Sheldon Press, is out now

Article first published in Therapy Today. October 2022. Vol. 33. Issue 8.

September blog


'Like everybody I am complicated, and she sees that complexity and does not try to reduce it'

My first therapist was Jungian; I lay on a couch. He was a kind man. Aged 36, I at last felt heard. I remember very little of what he said to me except, later on in the therapy, he reflected that it had taken two years for me to truly 'enter' the room, such was my deep shame. I did not feel I deserved his time; I was 'just another queer'. I blamed my homosexuality for all my anxiety - at that stage, I did not make any link to the sexual abuse I received from ages nine to 10 from a teacher at my state primary school, or to the chaos of my father's alcoholism. The breakthrough was entirely unexpected, and I'm not sure my therapist was aware of it. I will never forget on one occasion as I left at the end of the session, he offered me his hand. I don't know why he did this. He just shook my hand. I was stunned and stood in the street outside, trembling. It was astonishing. You see, his shaking of my hand meant my body was not the hideous, repulsive thing I continuously thought it was. He was willing to touch my hand. It is perhaps ironic that six years of talking and the most unforgettably powerful moment was the simple physical act of a handshake. Of course, unfortunately, the next week I did not dare talk about it.

I later saw a biodynamic psychotherapist of great skill. Sometimes he included resistance work - he made me push my hands and arms against his. I suppose this was for me to realise I did have some physical strength and was not the 'wimp' I thought I was. The irony of all this physically is that what I most remember from my time with him is a rich statement he made to me - instead of trying to deny or suppress or excuse my self-loathing, my shame of sex, my appalling sense of not belonging. I should acknowledge these negative feelings, respect and try to understand them, but not wallow in them. I found this endlessly useful.

It's more than 50 years since I was abused by my teacher and I now see a female therapist, not so much because I need to because I want to. The process is so rich and stimulating. She has vast experience of working with adult male survivors of sexual abuse, and she is brilliant. What I most value is she meets me where I am. This is not a casual statement - I observe her observing me; paying extraordinarily meticulous attention to me and to what I say, and she meets me right there, without judgment, without fixing, without pity. Somebody once said, 'Pity keeps a person where he is. Compassion lets a person grow'. I think maybe what is most healing is the quality of her presence. Like everybody, I am complicated, and she sees that complexity and does not try to reduce it. She tells me what she sees, and the lets me work it out. Superb. Humane. Transforming.

I started seeing her after I performed my documentary play Groomed for a month at the Soho Theatre in London. I wrote Groomed for one reason only - to tell the truth. I suppose it was also a way of transforming painful emotions into something positive, a piece of creativity. People, including therapists, often ask me if writing and performing my truth is cathartic. The answer is definitely 'yes'. Mine Lew, the great genius of male survivors' says it's important to tell your truth again and again and again, until it loses its power over you. But it is also sometimes churning, and now there is a documentary film based on the play. I don't watch it much. when I do, there is always a moment, at a different place in the film each time, when I say, 'Golly! Did I really write that? That is true and painful and I'm only really understanding it now.'

I have profound gratitude for the therapists who have worked with me, and deep respect for their skill. With their help, I have been startled to discover the person I am still becoming.

Article by Patrick Sandford, who is a playwright, survivor and award-winning theatre maker. His film ‘Groomed’, a first-person documentary about sexual abuse, is available to stream via Soho Theatre on Demand. Article first published in Therapy Today. September 2022. Volume 33. Issue 7.




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