The second counsellor It’s Complicated interviews is psychological counsellor Valentina, who is specialised in eating disorders and mood disorders, and practices an eclectic approach based mainly on cognitive behavioral therapy and feminist theory.
Tell us more about your counselling philosophy!
My counselling philosophy is eclectic – I believe in pulling from all theories in ways that cater to particular problems and clients. I tend to draw primarily from the following fields: CBT, ACT, and Positive Psychology. Unlike traditional psychological approaches, I tend to draw sociology/philosophy/politics into the office. I encourage my clients to consider the ways in which the meta-environment has influenced their beliefs, personalities, and obstacles, as well as the ways in which challenging existing social structures can help achieve greater wellbeing.
How did you know you wanted to be a counsellor?
I have always been motivated by helping other people. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been driven by a curiosity about other people. I was an active listener from the time I was a child, often finding myself immersed in the stories of those around me, and feeling a great serenity and fulfillment in being a part of someone’s journey in one way or another.
What is most rewarding about your work?
That’s a hard question, everything is so rewarding in my work. When a client expresses to me that things have somehow really changed for them, that is, of course, a wonderful feeling. To know you’ve helped someone, or maybe even more so, to know you’ve encouraged someone to help themselves. I also find bringing awareness very rewarding; by this, I mean asking the right questions to get a client to think in new ways about things. Knowledge is power, and understanding the connection between issues is the first step in solving them.
What is the most hard or complicated?
I find it very difficult to encourage someone to see the light at the end of the tunnel when they don’t see it at all. Most adult clients who come to therapy have a glimmer of hope, which is why they’re taking the steps to feel better. In this sense, expanding hope is a little easier; you have a place to start, some motivation, even if just a speck, to pull wider and hold on to as we move through treatment. Without this, it can be very challenging to help someone who is feeling completely hopeless. That being said, I am learning that instead of trying to instill hope in people, it’s better to just allow space to feel and to suffer, this willingness to sit with pain is often healing in and of itself.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I am blessed with incredible friendships, which I dedicate a lot of time to. I also love to cook (often for my wonderful chosen family!), spend time with my dog, read therapy books to help me help better ;), and dance!
What could I expect our first session together to be like? What happens in a typical session?
I always use the metaphor of painting a picture for the first sessions. I absorb and process information the client is giving me, focusing around areas indicated as important by the client and the goals they decide on. Each question allows me to add color and shape to this picture, which of course is an infinite evolution throughout our time together. I also take time to introduce myself and what to expect from therapy with me.
How do you help ensure I’m making progress in therapy?
I cycle back to the initial goals we’ve established together and ask you about them. It’s also no problem if they’ve changed, we check back in and see what has become most relevant. Sometimes it’s difficult to see your own progress, in which case I reflect back on the client what I’m observing in terms of progress, ex. “I have the impression you are engaging in this behavior less often, what do you think?”.
How will I know if it’s time to end therapy with you or reduce session frequency?
I think that depends on you and your goals. If your goals are to learn about new coping mechanisms to be more functional or content, and you feel like you’ve learned, adapted and internalized these skills successfully, then that might be a sign you can reduce the frequency of sessions or end therapy. Maybe your goal was to increase your understanding of yourself, your mechanisms and your past. If so, simply connecting some dots through a handful of sessions may be enough.
How long do clients typically see you for?
It really depends, I would say anywhere from a couple of months to a year.
What advice would you share with therapy seekers to simplify their search?
Use It’s Complicated! Ha, no but really, using platforms that simplify your search and filter therapists based on certain criteria is incredibly useful. I think choosing a therapist you connect with and trust is more important than a therapist who is specialized in your topics. Research continues to indicate that the therapeutic relationship is the number one key factor in successful treatment. That being said, you don’t always have to abide by research 😉 And I do think that in some cases, expertise within the specific goals or issues of a client is also extremely valuable. I would suggest looking up some major therapeutic modalities (ex. CBT, Psychanalytic, ACT, DBT, etc.) and determining which ones speak to you the most, then choose a therapist whose bio and outlook speak to you. Don’t forget logistics: choosing someone not too far away and whose schedule works with you is helpful, it reduces the barriers to committing to therapy.
How did you decide to specialize in eating and mood disorders? And what does it mean that your approach is informed by feminism?
For me these two questions have a shared answer. I’m incredibly passionate about feminism and think it’s incredibly important to consider sociological factors in therapy. I specialise in eating disorders and mood therapy because they are causes close to my heart, and because I think we live in a world where infinite factors result in decreased mood and motivation, and where all people (though women especially), are under unfathomable pressures to adhere to beauty standards. I’m dedicated to dismantling the patriarchal, oppressive structures designed to marginalize people, and I am truly fulfilled by helping others confront personal as well as meta influences on their mental health.
You can visit Valentina’s profile here.