Miriam Taylor is one of the foremost experts in working with trauma in counselling and therapy. She is hosting a workshop with Brighton Therapy Partnership in March 2016 on how to work with dissociation – a very common consequence of traumatic events. This workshop will introduce concepts and raise understanding of the process of dissociation, and then provide therapists with models, frameworks and experiential teaching that will support them in working with clients experiencing dissociation.
Here, we speak to Miriam Taylor about her work in the field of therapy.
Miriam Taylor interview
How did you start out in counselling & psychotherapy?
In the early 1990s I was teaching personal development courses in womens’ refuges, family centres and mental health projects – assertiveness and confidence building and so on.
I realised from lots of emerging stories that I was out of my depth, so I went and trained initially as a counsellor and later as a psychotherapist.
You originally trained as a Gestalt therapist. What was it about the Gestalt approach that most interested you?
On my counselling training we had a demonstration of relational Gestalt. I loved it. I was drawn to the holistic approach of Gestalt, and the phenomenological method, which is a bridge into direct lived experience.
It carries the possibility of seeing, being seen and seeing yourself without judgement. Contemporary Gestalt is a very different beast from the more confrontational approach of classic Gestalt, and reflects the relational turn of psychotherapy.
You have specialised in working with trauma. How did this specialism come about? Can you tell us about the joys and the woes of working with very traumatised people?
This came really through becoming clinical lead of a young peoples’ counselling service, where I worked for quite a few years. Of course there were many really complex issues related to safeguarding, and numerous ‘first’ disclosures. I thought I would always work with young people, but found instead that they had pointed me towards specialising in trauma.
The woes of working with trauma come from hearing deeply challenging stories, some of which play out in the therapy relationship. Trauma tends to restrict so much that is valuable about life, and that is very sad. So the joys come from seeing people begin to reclaim their vitality, the choices they can make and their autonomy and dignity.
Your first book Trauma Therapy and Clinical Practice: Neuroscience, Gestalt and the Body was published in 2014. What prompted you to write a book, and can you tell us a little bit about it?
I wrote the book mainly because there was a gap in the Gestalt literature on trauma. The previous key text was almost 20 years old and needed updating in the light of neuroscience and contemporary trauma theory.
It isn’t only a Gestalt book – I was asked to make it accessible to a wider audience and worked hard with colleagues from different modalities to achieve that. And yet, Gestalt therapy has many strengths which are consistent with what trauma theory tells us. The book weaves together some neuroscience, Gestalt theory, clinical practice and relational considerations, into a coherent whole.
Here are some things that other people have generously said about the book: ‘Destined to become a classic in Gestalt therapy literature. Well-written, insightful, compassionate and practical’ (Malcolm Parlett, PhD); ‘This book should be read by everyone treating trauma’ (James Kepner).
What got you interested in delivering training?
I was already an experienced trainer before becoming a therapist, so it was a natural progression to teach the therapy that I love. Now I am passionate about delivering good trauma training, because we need to think and work a bit differently with clients who have experienced trauma. It is quite extraordinary to me that I am now asked to train in different countries and on different continents!
If you weren’t a therapist, what would you be and why?
I feel free, alive and settled when I can move. I was never allowed to dance as a child and I think there is a latent dancer in me. Now, as I get older, my expressiveness is more likely to take the form of art; I rarely have time to do more than dabble these days, but one day I hope there will be more space to develop the artist in me.
Where can people hear more from you? (e.g. your own Blog, Website, Twitter, Email?)
My website is at www.miriamtaylortherapy.co.