When I meet a client for the first time, my initial aim is to develop a collaborative working relationship. My belief (supported by academic research into what makes counselling effective) is that a supportive working relationship is vital to helping my clients clarify and ultimately achieve their goals. My Windsor room is set out like a lounge room, with comfortable seats and indirect lighting. There is no large table between my clients and myself.

Nathan Kotler

How I Work with Clients

Our initial session is a conversation. I don’t write notes during the session. I focus totally on my client. I listen. I work to understand the issues, thoughts, beliefs, feelings, conflicts, behaviours, roles and relationships of the person I am sitting with. I work to understand their world through their eyes. I discuss with my client what I am learning and together we explore the layers of issues. My client knows how I am reacting to their story as it unfolds, and we work together to develop a common understanding.

My aim is for the client to end their first session having gained something – the beginnings of a new productive relationship, a new idea to think about, a new insight, something that will make a difference. My aim for the first session is that it will be more than a recitation of past events and experiences.

The client takes control of the sessions by setting the agenda for our conversations. I walk with the client in the direction in which I am led.

I am responsible for being present at the agreed time, containing the sessions to their time length, and helping the client become aware of the thoughts, beliefs, conflicts and feelings underlying their behaviours. I also work to help clients contain their thoughts and feelings, both in and out of the counselling session.

My overall aim is to help my clients function in a better way in the present. The present is the important reality to focus on. The past is only useful if it shines a clarifying light on the present. My sessions do not have to consist of endless amounts of “archaeology”, to uncover the past. The past shows us patterns of behaviours and can help us understand the reason for those behaviours. The present is where the behaviours need to change.

The sessions usually develop a practical focus in which strategies for change are eventually developed, implemented and reviewed. I then can become a life-coach as well as a relationship coach. Obstacles are analysed and we work to overcome them, gaining a deeper understanding of the issues involved as we progress.

In learning new behaviours, an analogy that I help my clients understand is of a person first learning to ride a two-wheel bicycle. The learning involves getting on, and falling off. Falling off is part of the learning. We eventually start to understand why we fall off and then can stay on for increasingly longer periods of time. Therefore I help my clients;

  1. Become realistic about their expectations of which new behaviours they can try;
  2. Increase their motivation to try, and
  3. Learn from each attempt so that the next attempt will be more successful.

For change of long-term behaviours to be successful, change has to happen slowly and gradually.

How I Can Help You

My clients come to me because they are concerned. Usually, they are concerned about problematic behaviours and/or relationships which also contribute to them having negative thoughts and feelings about themselves. My clients also often have thoughts and/or feelings that they find hard to contain (limit and control). They can feel overwhelmed and realise that they need help to manage. Usually my clients have tried to implement change and have not succeeded. This often leads them to feel bad about themselves. They ask “What’s wrong with me?”, “Why can’t I stop?”, “Why am I so weak?” “Why do things always not work out the way I want?”

The following is a story I often share: A person receives a deep cut to their arm. The blood flows. The person wraps the cut in a bandage which soon becomes soaked in blood. They change the bandage, and it also becomes soaked. They frantically look for more bandages. What is their problem? Is it the lack of bandages? Is it the quality of the bandages that are being used? Is it the way they use the bandage? Or is it that the underlying wound is not being dealt with?

I work with my clients to understand the issues underlying their behaviours. My belief is that we usually try to act in ways that make us feel better. We make choices that we believe are the best at the time. These choices may help for a while but then can start creating their own problems. For example, we may have an alcoholic drink when we are stressed. Some people then use alcohol as the only way of dealing with stress. This may then lead to other problems – health, financial, relationship or work. Such a person may come to me concerned about their relationship breakdown. However, serious as this is, this breakdown is only the symptom of deeper issues. By ignoring those issues (eg stress management), the client will not be able to find the changes he/she so desperately needs.

By focusing on changing the problematic behaviour, we ignore the original issue that we were trying to deal with. By dealing with underlying issues, my clients’ problematic behaviours can become less frequent and eventually diminish and disappear.

However this exploration can involve hard work. The more problematic the behaviour, the greater the work needed to change it. It often takes years for problems to develop. So clearing up those problems is not going to happen quickly. However progress can occur, as long as the client has a reasonable expectation of gradual evolutionary growth, rather than instant revolutionary change.

I also help my clients accept responsibility for changing. Our problems are not always caused by the way we are treated by others. Our problems are usually caused by our responses to the ways others treat us. We cannot change others, but we can learn to change the way we respond to others. For example, if a client complains about a dominating partner, it is often a waste of energy trying to change the other person. The client can produce change by being helped to learn to be more assertive, by not relying on the other’s approval as much, by not arguing when it is pointless, by focusing more on one’s own needs and not being controlled by guilt.

Focusing on changing oneself is more productive than trying to change others.