Sara Martin from Vision Psychology Brisbane explains why she provides holistic counselling.
Why should you consider a counsellor who takes a bio-socio-psycho-spiritual approach?
It sounds complicated, doesn’t it?
But that’s the point. We’re not one-dimensional, to be viewed through a single lens. As integrated and holistic beings, rather than a set of separate compartments, many things can affect our emotional state:
- underlying medical conditions and general physical health;
- family background;
- cultural and social contexts;
- career situation;
- stage of life;
- underpinning belief systems; and
- recent events.
The path to wellness often involves working on different aspects of our being. That’s why counselling should always consider all dimensions of self: the biological, the sociological, the psychological and the spiritual. So, here’s a bit more detail on what I can help you learn about yourself and where you may want to make changes – or keep things as they are!
Components of Holistic Counselling
Biological Health – Many biological issues can affect mental health – sometimes it’s not all in your head!
For example, depressive or anxious feelings can be rooted in a medical cause such as a thyroid condition, hormonal changes, difficulty with pain management, and individual genetic make-up.
I can help you explore possible biological health problems that may affect your mental health:
- Have you had a recent medical and health check-up?
- How are your energy levels?
- What are your risk factors and family conditions?
- Is genetic or other diagnostic screening appropriate to examine potential methylation issues or neurological/neurotransmitter problems?
- Has there been a recent change to your overall health such as a glandular illness or the start of an autoimmune condition?
- Are you on medications that have side effects that affect mood?
- Is it worth discussing a review of medications (doses, whether or not other options are available) with your GP?
- Do you have a good GP who works with you in partnership and empowers you with the information you need to make decisions that affect your life?
Then there are more general health considerations:
- Sleep patterns;
- Frequency and type of exercise (for example if you have adrenal issues and you’re doing intense cardio it can have the reverse effect on fatigue and mood).
- What’s your diet like? (Are you counting shredded lettuce and tomato sauce on your burger as nutrients?)
- Are you eating ‘mood foods’ that build up your gut biome? (To boost serotonin receptor function.).
- Are your vitamin supplements simply producing expensive pee or in a form and amount that’s tailored to your individual tolerance levels?
While I’m not a medical expert, as a counsellor I have an understanding of these biological factors and consider them as part of who you are, making suggestions for other areas you may like to work on.
Sociological Health – Examining your sociological health means looking at factors such as:
- Cultural Context – How important is your cultural heritage or newly-embraced cultural context (such as when you move to a new country or marry into a particular culture). Identifying as LGBQTI+ and being part of a particular community is a form of cultural context that may be very different from your family of origin or ethnicity or spiritual heritage. Maybe it’s not either/or, but learning to navigate a balance between commonality and difference. Rarely things are all bad or all good, so where is the grey area for you? What pressures do you feel from your cultural contexts – are there parts of you that you want to embrace and other parts that don’t quite fit where you feel different to the ‘cultural norm’? How does this affect living authentically?
- Socio-economic factors – Society may assign us to a category based on socio-economic criteria such as income, work status, education, neighbourhood, stage of life, health status and culture. How you identify with and function within a category or choose to reject and fight against can be a choice. Feeling trapped by circumstance and not being able to ‘get ahead’ or ‘get away from this’ are common feelings. Working out who you are within your socioeconomic context and ‘living with’ rather than ‘being defined by’ is interesting groundwork to explore.
- Social life – What do you do with your spare time, and do you have a healthy social life? What are your friends like – do they support your, or do you feel negative about yourself after you spend time with them? Are your relationships healthy (both from your perspective and from others’)? Do you have hobbies? Do you see yourself as mostly extroverted or introverted? Would you prefer to spend time with animals or out in the natural world than with a group of people? Do you like a carefully constructed routine or exciting last-minute events? Is social anxiety a problem, and is it always or just sometimes? How much time do you spend on social media and what effect does it have on your wellbeing? Most importantly, is there at least one support person in your life, someone who is lovingly truthful, and who you can be raw and open with without the need to edit thoughts or pretend?
- Career/Job Clubs, Interest Groups, Volunteering – These are all parts of life and identity that are worth examining. Why are you attracted to a particular vocation or interest? Did you choose this or was it chosen for you or just presented itself and you went along with it or feel obligated? Is what you’re doing making you feel fulfilled? What are your choices balanced with pragmatic need? If you can’t change what you do, can you change how you see it and change yourself within context? How do your personal values, stage of life, personal growth and personality align with your career and extra-curricular activities?
Family life and dynamics – Our family of origin has a strong influence on who we are:
- Have you ever examined how your family has influenced you and what dynamics are in play?
- Are there spoken or unspoken ‘core schemas’ that rule how your family operates (“toughen up” or “you have to be the best” or “the world is against us” to name just a few). How do these affect how you see yourself and the world?
- Is there significant trauma such as grief and loss, addiction, domestic violence?
- Are there unspoken ‘assigned roles’ that the same people habitually take on, such as Rescuer or Trouble Maker or Peace Maker?
- What patterns can you identify as functional and dysfunctional and what do you want to do with those patterns? By working on yourself, you can change the existing ‘homeostasis’ and create a healthier dynamic.
Psychological Health – Psychological states include experience of conditions such as anxiety and depression; your thought life; patterns of behaviour; coping mechanisms; addictions and habits; past or recent trauma; and formally diagnosed (or informally diagnosed or suspected) conditions.
If there is a mental health diagnosis to be considered:
- What was the foreground and background to that diagnosis?
- Is there a family history?
- Are you ‘living with’ a condition or ‘being defined by’ the diagnosis and you can’t see yourself as separate from it?
- Do you agree with the diagnosis or is a second opinion wise?
- Are you working with health professionals who you feel ‘get you’ and are other opinions warranted?
- Are you on medication and how are you experiencing that?
- Are there other treatments?
- Have you had a wounding mental health journey and your faith in finding solutions and a newfound hope is what’s needed?
Perhaps this is your first experience of a mental health issue and you’re wanting to find out why – is it biochemical or triggered by something specific and circumstantial; are there unresolved issues that have welled up to overflowing, or perhaps you’re at a life crossroad and experiencing confusion that’s throwing you into state of flux.
These are all things to be considered in exploring your experience of mental health. Again, as with medical conditions, I’m not here to treat the medical aspects but can help you with the non-medical aspects, and help you explore any medical options with your health professional.
Spiritual Health – This may not be part of every counsellor’s approach, but hear me out. Whether or not you identify as “religious”, your worldview/belief system has a major influence on identity, thoughts and behaviour.
Spiritual beliefs can be a major support or protective factor in your life, but can also be harmful and detrimental, especially if someone has used them to manipulate you. Maybe there’s an absence of any spiritual beliefs but something in you is seeking a deeper meaning and you want to consider if there is something else out there bigger than you.
Or perhaps you’re evaluating an existing belief system and may not want to dispense of it altogether, but something isn’t sitting right with you and you’re not sure how to navigate that without losing faith. Perhaps you feel guilty that you have doubts and wonder if you’re even ‘allowed’ to have your own interpretation.
As an ethical counsellor, my role is not to impose beliefs or absence of beliefs but rather, help you examine the importance of a spiritual dimension for you, and explore the impact on your life.
So that’s a fairly intimidating list and perhaps your head is spinning! During counselling sessions, I don’t systematically “tick and flick’ all of these areas – some of them may not even come up if your goals of therapy are specific. I consider many of these factors as they naturally arise, woven through the narrative of getting to know you.
In particular, if you feel you’ve “tried everything” and are at a loss about what to do next, I can help you dig deeper and consider all dimensions. Somewhere in your multi-faceted make-up, there is the potential for insightful revelations and findings. It’s very interesting and ultimately a very hopeful experience. I’d be honoured to go on this journey with you.
Sara Martin has a Master’s qualification, and takes an integrative and holistic counselling approach to her work with individuals, families and couples. She assists her clients with a range of issues, including trauma, life transitions, workplace stress and burnout, depression, anxiety, grief and loss, identity and self-esteem, relationship and intimacy.
To make an appointment with Brisbane counsellor Sara Martin, try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology (Mt Gravatt) on (07) 3088 5422.