Before I started seeing Samantha three years ago, I had suffered with low self-esteem, generalised anxiety, depression, OCD, ADHD, and both mild narcissistic and Aspergers traits – grandiose thinking; compulsive behaviour; a racing analytical mind that I generally couldn’t control; obsessive tendencies; a need for control. I had tried to cope with these problems as best as I could, trying all manner of lifestyle changes, medicines, and giving myself regular talkings-to. But it was a constant uphill, and ultimately losing, battle. Nothing had worked, and if anything, the failed attempts further hollowed out my already fragile self-esteem. I felt like I had little control over myself, and to a great extent, I didn’t know who I was.

For years, I had nevertheless been loathe to enter therapy. In my mind, it seemed to imply failure and/or weakness. As a man, particularly in this culture where showing emotion, or admitting to psychological difficulties, is fraught with stigma, it felt humiliating to concede I needed help to tackle my mounting, if largely hidden, problems. I was sure that, somehow, some day, I would just work things out for myself.

I had also assumed that no therapist could tell my anything I didn’t already know. I felt I knew myself quite well – lord knows I’d spent enough time self-examining. I surely knew all the facts of my life. So what value would therapy bring? What good would it do to just ‘talk’ about my problems? I had never understood what just telling someone about my problems would achieve.

Three years on, I look back at my long-standing reluctance to ‘get help’, and shake my head at how little I knew, and how little perspective I truly had. I now know the value of integrative psychotherapy, because I now understanding what ‘talking’ therapy means. It does not simply refer to a client unloading their story to a patient (and paid) listener in a monologue. Rather, ‘talking’ means dialogue. Specifically, it is a case of the psychotherapist asking questions, and in doing helping me to see the facts, of my life and experience, in a new and different light. That is, she has helped me connect the facts in ways I never considered, because I’d been too emotionally invested in seeing them connect in different ways. The best analogy I can thing for this is the famous drawing of the duck-rabbit. The fact of the shape that is drawn on the paper never changes, but the picture you see (either a duck or a rabbit) changes, depending on what you decide to see.

Samantha hasn’t changed any of the facts I knew about my life. But, session by session, week by week, year by year, she has helped me change the way I interpret not only myself, but also those around me. In doing, she has helped me change how I relate to other people, and thus how I relate to myself. I now recognise that I’ve gone from seeing myself, other people and the world as I wanted them all to be, to seeing them as they actually are. As a consequence, I navigate my place in the world better, and as a consequence, my relationships are easier, and thus the symptoms of my emotional tension (anxiety; depression; grandiose and controlling behaviour) have largely, if not wholly (but I should emphasis, gradually) dissipated. Committing to psychotherapy, and in particular finding this psychotherapist, has, genuinely, changed my life, and all for the better. Importantly, it has also improved the lives of people around me, as it has improved how I relate to them all.

Committing to psychotherapy was, however, not easy. It is often hard work, and sessions tend to leave me emotionally exhausted. But this is not a bad thing. Much as how, if we work hard in a class, we are mentally exhausted, or if we work hard in the gym, we are physically exhausted, working harding hard in therapy is emotionally exhausting, and, during the session, sometimes quite painful. But in this, I see psychotherapy as analogous to physiotherapy. In physiotherapy, in order to relax a knotted muscle, one must press on the knot itself. While this is painful in the short term, in the long term it is how we gain relief from the knotted muscle. Psychotherapy is like this – pressing on emotional knots, exploring parts of our psyche that we may be completely unaccustomed to exploring. It is often painful, but eventually – if we stick with it, and trust the process – the tension slowly releases, and with it, our ability to sit more comfortably with ourselves, others, and the world around us, is eased. The benefits come in time, although much sooner than I, for one, expected.

If I’d not met Samantha, I do not know how I would have coped. The idea, of having continued to live with the psychological difficulties and tensions I’d been struggling with for so many years, doesn’t bear thinking about. I’ve met few – if any – people in my life who’ve shown such awareness of, let alone interest in or acceptance of, the underlying person in me, beneath the insecurities, and behind the bluster I so often used engaged in to mask my insecurities, and to keep others at a n emotionally ‘safe’ distance. In every session with Samantha, I know that I can talk of, or bring up anything, and she will not pass judgement. And I know that, however bluntly or inarticulately I may express something, Samantha will see, or at least seek, the spirit behind what I say, rather than cross-examining me on, or react to, the letter of what I say.

Most of our relationships in life are conditional, mediated by no-go areas for discussion, and fear of judgment or, at least, of being misunderstood. My sessions with Samantha are an oasis of understanding and honesty and clarity, a place where I can voice my doubts and admit to my vulnerabilities, which of course is a necessary prerequisite if one is ever to address one’s vulnerabilities. My sessions with her have given me a safe space within which to break down my problems, to excavate their causes and foundations, and to slowly rebuild something more consistent, secure and stable in their place.

The person I am now, anxiety-free, undogged by depression, at ease with myself, and with more understanding of and empathy for other people, is one who owes a huge amount to this calm, consistent, clear-sighted and fundamentally kind woman. I can’t recommend her enough. The community here is lucky to have Samantha working in their midst. Lord knows many of us need her skills and services, and above all, her extraordinary capacity for empathy.