Being based in Oxford, there is a sense of the year beginning in October, as the Universities welcome their Freshers, and the lengthening nights seem to refocus the mind away from the escapism of summer and back to life’s more long-term projects.

 

This autumn we are saying goodbye to Angela Shanly, who offered couple and family therapy at Headington Psychotherapy for most of 2016. Angela is moving a couple of miles away and will now be based at the Oxford Natural Health Centre (www.oxfordnaturalhealth.co.uk). Her new email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Thank you, Angela, for your help, and we wish you well in your new base.

 

Gillian, who reduced her time at the clinic at the end of 2015, is now back and working Monday evenings at Headington Psychotherapy. Gillian is our expert in couple and family work. If you are interested in booking an appointment you can get through to her at her Headington Psychotherapy email address, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

If you did a therapy with me or with Anne-Marie in 2015, you might have taken part in a study in which Chris Laraway, then a trainee at the Doctoral Clinical Psychology course in Oxford, explored how discussing a short measure of the experience of each session can contribute to resolving misunderstandings in therapy, and help keep therapists ‘on track’ with their clients. Chris successfully completed his doctorate this time last year. His findings suggest that it takes input from the therapist – helping the client feel safe about offering possibly negative feedback, and it also takes work from the client – being prepared to offer that feedback. When both of these contributions come together, then misunderstandings and difficulties in therapy were successfully resolved. If you are a therapist, the take home message, as I understand it, would be ‘honestly encourage your client to express their reservations about you and the therapy’. If you are a client, the implication, I think, is ‘don’t be shy of expressing how you are really feeling about your therapy’. If, as will likely be the case at least on occasion, there is something that doesn’t feel quite right, then do let us know. We actually like this kind of feedback and we trust it will often help us to tailor the work to suit you better.

 

I have a couple of long-term projects that are looming larger as the nights draw in. I will be taking some time over the next two years to study mindfulness and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. This has interested me for years, and I see it as increasingly important in therapy. Mindfulness practice is now reasonably well understood and provides a skilful basis for working with difficult states of mind and body. Whilst it overlaps with what we already tend to do in therapy, I really like the fact that mindfulness can be practiced at home as a skill, like learning the violin. We can learn, in quite a structured way, to play the strings of the mind with greater confidence and harmony – and the more regularly we practice, the better we are likely to get. I am confident that the clients I work with who start a regular mindfulness practice in parallel to their sessions with me, increase the speed and effectiveness of the work they do here.

 

We also have two new doctoral trainees doing their research with us. One of them, Rachel Evered, will be inviting clients in the practice to take part in a study exploring the value of doing a short mindfulness exercise at the beginning of each session. Building on Chris’ work described above, Rachel is looking to find out how clients and therapists might use mindful awareness (coupled with shared reflection on uncomfortable moments in therapy) in ways which help move the work forward. If you are interested in taking part, please feel free to email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I can tell you more.

 

If you have made it to the end of this post, thank you for your attention! And best wishes for the New Academic Year.

 

James

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome back to the blog and thank you for reading this far. At the risk of sounding like a head teacher sending out a beginning of term notice, I’m planning to give you one of my seasonal updates on what is going on at Headington Psychotherapy.

 

Firstly, I would like to warmly welcome our newest psychologist, Angela Shanly. Angela brings enormous depth and breadth of experience to the team, having worked in addiction services, child and family services and physical health settings. Like Gillian, Angela is a highly experienced family therapist (and supervisor of family therapists) as well as being a clinical psychologist.

 

Secondly, Gillian will be stepping back from the front line of Headington Psychotherapy for a period whilst she juggles a number of other priorities. This means that from now on Angela will be responding to enquiries for help with children, young people, couples and families. I am confident that anyone who finds their way to Angela will discover themselves in the kindest and most capable of hands.

 

So far, 2015 has been by far our busiest year, coinciding with me starting full time in the practice, and Gillian joining us about then, too. If you are one of our clients, I would like to say a heartfelt thank you for taking your therapeutic plunge with us. There is something beautiful in the courage and honesty involved in opening up in therapy. I know many of you will have been rewarded with new confidence, greater emotional comfort and clarity, and deepening relationships.

 

James

 

 

There’s been plenty going on here at HP, so it seemed like a good time to dust off the blogging software and share some of our news now we’ve arrived in 2015.

 

Firstly, a big welcome to Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Family Therapist, Dr Gillian Nightall, who, as some of you may know, joined us towards the end of last year. Gillian’s long experience of working with adolescents, families and couples, as well as her expertise in working psychologically with people who have suffered from psychosis and their families, is a considerable boost to what we are able to offer here. Gillian’s arrival means that our clients will be able to benefit from a broader range of interventions and consultations, and we are now able to offer expert help to clients of all ages, and their families. We are lucky to have Gillian join us. Not only does she bring a breadth and depth of understanding based on having trained rigorously both as a clinical psychologist and a family therapist, she is also, as anyone who meets her will discover, someone of exceptional warmth, who wears her expertise lightly and is easy to talk to, even when things are really difficult. Gillian will be working with us part time whilst continuing to work part time in the local NHS secondary care psychological services.

 

Secondly, this year, in addition to welcoming Gillian, we are considerably expanding our service. I am now working full time at Headington Psychotherapy. It feels liberating to be finally spending all of my time practising what I love in the context we have created here, which is designed to support and nurture the best that psychotherapy has to offer.

 

Finally, to coincide with our expansion, we have revamped our website, which is now in a format that will be easier to update and edit. We hope you like it.

 

James

 

 

 

So, at last the world is warm and light again! Since my last blog we have been joined at the practice by another very experienced clinical psychologist, David Tilbrook. It is a particular pleasure to welcome David to the team. He is a former colleague of ours from the Oxford Health NHS psychological therapies team, and we had hoped when we first started Headington Psychotherapy that David would be able to join us here at some point.

David’s work is characterised by a sensitive appreciation and exploration of the therapeutic relationship and other relationships both past and present.  This makes a lot of sense as most psychological problems have roots in the compromises we make in order to get on with the people we need and care most about when we’re growing up. I have had many case discussions with David over the years and can testify to his consistent thoughtfulness and compassionate commitment to his clients. For more on David and his approach check out his entry in the ‘who we are’ section of the website.

18th July 2014

My last blog was way back in June. How swiftly time and the intention to blog speed past!

Now we are in November, we’ve had our first frosts, and many of our sessions are in the hours of darkness. Hopefully, our clients experience the Headington Psychotherapy rooms as places of warmth and light as the world outside cools towards Christmas.

Our main news is that we are welcoming a new psychologist, Chantalle Berry, into the practice. Chantalle has a doctorate in Counselling Psychology and she will be offering evening work. We hope this will help us meet the needs of those of you who need to work between the hours of nine and five. Chantalle is very comfortable working with the most common problems in adult mental health. She also has specialist experience of working with addiction problems and people with learning disabilities. For the last few years she has been a highly valued member of an NHS psychological therapies team (I know, because I have worked there myself!) Chantalle will be an excellent choice of therapist for anyone wanting a committed, empathic therapist who is adept at tailoring therapeutic approaches to fit individual needs.

Chantalle’s details and Headington Psychotherapy email address will shortly be added to the website. In the meantime, if anyone would like to enquire about her availability for either an assessment or ongoing therapy, you are welcome to email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

James

17th November 2013

Thank you for taking the time to read this far into our website. At the time of writing, both the website and Headington Psychotherapy are new arrivals in Oxford (although both of us have worked locally in the NHS for many years). Over the last two months we’ve been busy setting everything up. We’ve had the whole of our offices at 110 Old Rd repainted and re-carpeted. We’ve also had wooden louvre shutters put into the windows of our two consulting rooms to ensure that the space inside feels private whilst letting in plenty of natural light. Later this month we will be getting a state of the art computer system that will enable our clients to track their therapeutic progress over time using brief ‘outcome measure’ questionnaires. In short, we are now open and fully equipped for the real business of helping our clients!

If you are a potential client looking for therapy, we recommend an initial ‘try out’ of one or two sessions of therapy – at least one of them being an hour and a half or two hours long. This is usually long enough to come to a mutual understanding of the nature of the problem you are struggling with and how therapy can help. Now is a great time to book a ‘try out’ as we are just beginning to build up our caseloads. At the moment, we can offer appointments on Fridays within two weeks of your enquiry. We have some early morning and evening appointments available if you are unable or unwilling to take time off work during the working week.

Please feel free to contact us for a discussion of what might be involved if you are contemplating therapy but unsure about taking the first step. We are approachable and willing to signpost you to different services if we do not think we are best placed to help you. Emailing us is best in the first instance (our email addresses are in the ‘contact’ section of the website), but following this we are happy to set up a phone call at a mutually convenient time to talk things over with you.

James

1st June 2013

At its most basic, a therapeutic conversation involves opening up to another person (in this case the therapist) about what is most troubling in one’s life. The therapist is trusted to respond as empathically as they can and to keep the conversation private. Empathic, trusting and disclosing relationships of this kind are the basis for emotional growth no matter whether this occurs in therapy or outside therapy. In feeling valued and understood, we are more hopeful that there are solutions to our problems, we are more likely to see new perspectives on our problems, and are more likely to involve ourselves in new opportunities for learning. In fact, the more one has access to relationships of this kind in one’s personal life, the more protected we are likely to be from psychological problems in the first place, and the less likely we are to need professional help.

Professional therapy adds to this in a number of ways. Firstly, the therapy situation has boundaries which protect the ‘therapeutic’ nature of the conversation. The therapist is and remains outside the client’s social and family life, the therapeutic time is clearly defined and protected from intrusions, and the therapist focuses on the client’s life (rather than talking about their own life, for example). These boundaries aim to create and concentrate the conditions for emotional growth in the therapeutic relationship. (Of course it is also necessary for the client to use those conditions to help them face their difficulties). Secondly, the therapist offers their knowledge of tried and tested methods for resolving psychological problems associated with the approaches to therapy in which they have been trained. For example, the therapist can offer the client techniques for managing or exploring troubling situations, offer new understanding of the problem, use the therapeutic relationship to support new learning about the client’s self, feedback on the client’s progress and so on.

We hope that this brief, simple explanation of therapy is helpful. The ‘therapy world’ in the early twenty first century can be somewhat confusing. There are at least 400 different brand names of therapies in existence (e.g. cognitive behaviour therapy, psychodynamic therapy, cognitive analytic therapy, etc.). However, researchers who have compared different models of therapy tend to find that there are no differences in effectiveness between different approaches to therapy. It is therefore likely (a) that different approaches suit different people and (b) that in spite of the differences, there are some core psychological processes that are present to a greater or lesser degree no matter what kind of therapy is being used. Such processes are likely to include feeling more hopeful that there is a solution to one’s problems, facing and mastering feared situations, becoming more accepting of one’s emotional experiences and so on. We do know that the quality of the therapeutic relationship is one important element in most successful therapies (which is why it makes sense to ‘monitor’ this formally at the end of each session). 

We often suggest that you start with a longer appointment of one and a half to two hours. This enables you to describe your difficulties and the background to your difficulties without feeling rushed and to begin the process of building rapport with us. This also enables us to share some initial impressions with you, which can help you consider new perspectives on your difficulties and build motivation for the therapeutic journey ahead. In the first appointment, we will ask you to talk about the problem or problems that you are hoping to resolve, and will ask you to talk in as much detail as you can about times when the problem has been difficult. We are likely to invite you to explore life experiences and relationships which may have influenced the development of the problem.

At the beginning of therapy, we will ask you to fill in a questionnaire that covers many of the commonest symptoms of psychological distress. We will review this form with you, usually at the beginning of the second session. The aim is to clarify more about the nature of your distress. This first form will also provide a comparison point for repeated use of a short symptom questionnaire which can help us track your progress in therapy.

At the end of the session, we will invite you to review your experience of the session, covering issues such as the extent to which you felt understood in the session and whether you agreed with the approach taken by us in the session. This is to help us tailor the treatment specifically to you, and can also act as a very helpful indication if for any reason you are not feeling comfortable in the session.

Future sessions can be either one hour or one and a half hours long. They are usually scheduled either weekly or bi-weekly (though sometimes monthly for family therapy). The beginning of each session will be devoted to a review of your progress in therapy. The end of the session will involve a review of the session, as described above. The work in the main part of the session will vary in its focus depending on what is required and what you bring to the session to work on.

Length Of Therapy

This varies according to the wishes and needs of each individual. In general the range is between twenty sessions to fifty sessions though family and couple therapy tend to be shorter, generally between four and twelve sessions. As progress is reviewed at each session, we do not encourage you to stay in therapy for longer than is beneficial or necessary for you, and the duration of treatment is something that can be openly discussed (and reviewed) at any point in the therapy.

We provide individual, family and couple therapy in a comfortable, private setting in Headington, Oxford. We are experienced professionals who have trained in more than one model of therapy. We try to use the best of different approaches to meet your needs. James works mainly from a psychodynamic and humanistic base, Anne-Marie from a cognitive behavioural base, Chantalle from an integration of cognitive behavioural and psychodynamic approaches and David from a broadly psychodynamic perspective. Gillian and Angela work from a family therapy and systemic perspective as well as offering cognitive behavioural therapy*.

In practice, we use the techniques that we believe are best suited to you. We regularly request that you give us honest feedback on your progress and how you are finding the work with us. This is so that throughout therapy we can tailor our approach to your unique situation in order to help you get the most out of your investment in therapy.

* Very briefly, for those for whom these terms may be unfamiliar: ‘Psychodynamic’ therapy has a focus on our history of relationships and how relationships have shaped the ways we cope with our emotions and the ways we connect to ourselves and others. The goal is to have a ‘corrective emotional experience’ in therapy. ‘Humanistic’ therapy emphasises the innate tendency people have to grow emotionally and stresses the value of empathic listening, and the healthy expression of emotions. ‘Cognitive Behavioural Therapy’ is based on exploring and testing out beliefs that contribute to psychological problems. It tends to involve a practical focus on monitoring and challenging unhelpful assumptions. ‘Systemic’ therapy involves exploring and working with the patterns of communication in families, couples and groups and is used particularly in family and couple therapy work. In practice, there are many overlapping elements in these approaches, but they also have distinctive assumptions and practices.