An interview with Georgina Hoare Head of Talking Therapies

Georgina Hoare is the Head of Talking Therapies at Wimbledon Guild and also has a private practice as a psychodynamic psychotherapist, supervisor and consultant.  She trained at Birkbeck, WPF and the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust and has worked in the NHS, Education and voluntary sectors, primarily with people with complex mental health issues over the last twenty years. 

Could you tell us a little about your professional background before you trained to become a counsellor/psychotherapist?

Music was a big love in my life from a young age and I initially went to Music College and trained as a cellist. However, I’d always had the dual interests of music and psychology. 

During my time at music college and afterwards I worked professionally as a cellist, teaching, playing in bands and orchestras and continued to do so for a number of years.  As my career as a psychotherapist and senior manager developed, I continued to enjoy being involved in music but only in an amateur capacity.

What led you into training as a therapist? What appealed to you about the psychodynamic modality?

I think with hindsight, as many therapists might say, I had been interested in learning more about psychotherapy because I wanted to understand more about my own family history and my own early experiences. 

Whilst I was at Music College I had the opportunity to undertake a short course on music therapy in my final year and this really sparked off something in me as it combined my interests of music and psychology.  So after Music College I undertook a full time course in music therapy and was then working as a music therapist from about 1997.

Music therapists often work with people who have more complex presentations such as people with profound and severe learning disabilities or complex mental health presentations.  As a result of working in such challenging environments, I quite quickly I felt I needed more training in order to be able to engage on a deeper level with clients, both through the medium of music and also understanding more about the unconscious world of the clients I was working with.  I went onto train at Birkbeck as a psychodynamic counsellor/psychotherapist qualifying in 2003. 

I was drawn to the psychodynamic model primarily because I’d found it helpful myself.  Having seen a few therapists, it was the form of psychotherapy in which I’d felt the most contained so that it had also led to the greatest changes in me.  The music therapy training I’d undertaken also had a psychodynamic emphasis, therefore this was a natural a direction for me to move in, both then and more recently as I’ve now also completed further trainings as a supervisor and consultant too.

Before becoming Head of Talking Therapies at Wimbledon Guild you were in charge of the clinical service at SurvivorsUK.  What were the struggles and rewards of working with this client group?

At SurvivorsUK we worked with anyone over 18 who identified as male who had experienced sexual violence at any time in their lives. Therefore adults who might have experienced childhood sexual abuse, or a more recent experience of sexual assault or rape.  Men coming for help were often traumatised, with symptoms of PTSD and they’d found different ways to cope with their experience, such as turning to drugs and alcohol, violence, or withdrawing from relationships for example. Many had never told anyone and many took years to tell anyone, because they didn’t feel they would be believed; it felt like a taboo. 

The societal perception historically is that predominantly “women are victims and men are perpetrators” and whilst this is something that continues to be challenged, this is one of the greatest stereotypes that men who have experienced sexual violence are effected by too, which often creates difficulty for them to tell someone. 

The victim/perpetrator cycle was one of the key challenges working in the organisation, both within the client group and also a dynamic that at times staff too would feel caught up in.  For example men might feel fearful that if they told someone that they had experienced sexual violence that there would be a fear by others that they might become perpetrators.  It could feel like quite a muddle for them inside and they needed a safe space to explore their mixed feelings without fear of being labelled.  Counsellors or staff too might at times struggle with this, with the idea that the “bad perpetrators” were kept outside the organisation, rather than the idea that these concepts can be quite a muddle inside an individual and in an organisation too, with staff members also bringing their own experiences at times too which they’d not all fully processed. Therefore it was really important that the organisation was aware of this and promoted the need for a reflective space including supervision to think about some of these complex issues, rather than try to avoid them.

I felt proud working for an organisation that was campaigning about such an important issue.  SurvivorsUK dared to try to change the dialogue around some of these societal ideas, whilst also providing a safe space to work therapeutically with experienced counsellors and psychotherapists.

At Wimbledon Guild we work with a very wide variety of clients from the local community, many of whom may also struggle with similar difficulties with experiences of abuse or domestic violence, alongside depression, anxiety, or bereavement for example.  I continue to be drawn to the challenges of managing the balance of promoting a positive dialogue about mental health needs, whilst also providing a good quality service. 

What books would you recommend to trainees starting out on their journey towards becoming a psychodynamic therapist?

Most trainees on a psychodynamic counselling or psychotherapy course will either have a well-stocked bookshelf with all the key authors (Freud, Klein and Winnicott for example) or access to a library.  However I would highly recommend Laplanche and Pontalis – “The Language of Psychoanalysis” as a go to reference book, which clearly defines all of the key concepts in quite straightforward language. 

Other than that I would encourage reading books by psychotherapists who have written about some of their clinical work.  Whilst we all know this kind of work can be challenging, these clinical stories also bring to the life the enjoyment, creativity and reward from doing this very important work.  Some of my favourites are “Love’s Executioner” or “The Gift of Therapy” by Irvin Yalom and Julia Samuel’s book “Grief Works”.