Anxieties – mine and my clients – are the best teacher we have available in therapy. They teach us what we most care about, are most threatened by and are often avoiding the most.

Ali Ross

The following interview forms part of a series where I invite psychotherapists to each reflect on their personal history, meaning, and philosophy, and how those are embedded throughout their therapeutic practice.

This week I talk to Ali Ross, a psychotherapist whose practice, Caya, is based in Peckham, South-East London.

What were the main influences drawing you into the world of psychotherapy? 

I don’t know if I had influences per se. I didn’t even know what psychotherapy was until I asked about counselling at my university careers centre. It was encounters in my adolescence that pointed me in the direction of psychotherapy – the death of a friend’s dad when I was 14, working with children with special needs when I was 16, my friend’s death at 18. Studying philosophy at university solidified my desire to make the most of my life, getting a clearer sense of my values and, when I was thinking about career directions, I remembered that in my childhood there was a tree stump in my local playground and I would invite other children to sit on it with me and talk. I saw psychotherapy as the path to make that game my career and the rest fell very naturally into place from there. I signed up for ChildLine training, found an inspirational therapist and signed up to therapy school.

Are they the same influences which keep you in the field today? How have they evolved?

Yes and yes. I have mellowed with time and am less keen for the intense, intimate exchanges that close encounters with mortality and life reviews bring. This has made space to see the beauty and virtue in everyday exchanges more clearly, to try less hard and trust myself and my clients to go at their pace better.

In his book, ‘When Nietzsche Wept’, Irvin D. Yalom wrote that, ‘Every person must choose how much truth he can stand.’ – What is your take on this?

I haven’t read it but it seems like it is a statement of two parts. Many people struggle to acknowledge their truth at all, let alone choose how much they can stand it. Others are more aware and, sometimes in the process of therapy, identify that they are filtering how much they allow themselves to be as they truly are. That is the reason I named the practice I founded Caya – Come As You Are – because in allowing ourselves to be as we are, in compassion, however we find ourselves to be, I believe people can find a quality of inner peace, not fighting their truth any more. I love how therapy neither sets this as an agenda. I fondly remember a client who came to see me and after a few sessions said to me, ‘Ali, I now get that I’ve been avoiding myself my whole life. And, you know, I’m okay with that. So this has been good but I think I’m going to carry on as I am thanks!’ and left. He was great.

Feeling stuck, lost and without meaning are experiences we all face as human beings. Why do you think that is?

Part of existence is being lost to ourselves because to be in constant focus and attention to oneself is exhausting and intolerable. We lose concentration and focus no matter what the subject. No mood is constant or pervasive. Even chronic pain ebbs and flows. Sometimes being lost is a helpful drifting away; a break from ourselves; other times we get lost for so long that we don’t know who or where we are anymore and we become stuck. Life is always changing and we are changing within it so even if we find meaning it rarely survives for long and we get lost again.

How might you approach those feelings in your work?

I find myself regularly drifting in and out of feeling stuck, lost and without meaning. My personal therapy and life as a therapist has helped me understand this is part of existence and, even in moments of despair, find ways to gently find my way back to myself, wherever and however I am then settling back into myself. I offer the same process to my clients, helping them find themselves again now, as they are, finding out what that is like and helping them to consider if they want to stay there for a time or move again. The more we go through this process, the less lost we feel, the more nuanced our self-understanding which informs how we can better choose how to live our lives.

What are the greatest lessons you have learned so far in your practice?

First: Anxieties – mine and my clients – are the best teacher we have available in therapy. They teach us what we most care about, are most threatened by and are often avoiding the most.

Second: Being judgemental about a client is the best way to rupture therapeutic trust and only gets in the way of understanding my clients, unless I dedicate time, normally in supervision, to understand what generated my judgements at which point they become hugely informative.

Read more about Ali Ross’ practice: Website

Posted by:repsychl

2 replies on “Ali Ross | Psychotherapy Interview Series

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