We speak to counsellor and outdoor therapist, Sean Tierney, about his career journey so far and advice for those interested in therapy.
Hi, I’m Sean. I have been working as a counsellor and outdoor therapist since 2017, setting up my private practice in early 2019. I’ve always worked with and been fascinated by people and feel really grateful that I combine that interest with my love of the outdoors in my work!
I have another role as a youth counsellor, working with nine to 19 year olds, which I love. Away from work, I live with my wife and my 16-month-old son, who are both great sources of support and encouragement. We enjoy spending time outdoors and can often be found in one of the many lovely parks in Glasgow.
I feel so much gratitude for finding my way to counselling. The short answer: it’s the only thing I have ever done (in terms of career) that I find truly satisfying.
I have had many different jobs throughout my 20s and early 30s, with varying degrees of success and personal contentment. I realised that for me to feel greater fulfilment from my work, I needed to be doing something worthwhile that I also enjoyed. In the summer of 2016, I left my job and enrolled in a full-time counselling course. It’s fair to say that I’ve never looked back.
In counselling, I’ve found a career that aligns with my personal values, allows me to be creative and gives me the hugely rewarding opportunity to help equip people with the insights, knowledge and tools that can improve their day-to-day life.
In a lot of ways, outdoor counselling – in terms of the content of the session, the space being held, the client/therapist relationship and dynamics – can be the same as it would be online, on the phone or in-person. But, conducting a session outdoors also offers a feeling of expansiveness and of space.
The outdoors and what they may mean to clients is open to interpretation but, for my practice, I think of the outdoors as both a setting and tool for therapeutic change.
Some clients have given feedback which suggests they can find discussing difficult themes a little more manageable with that space. I would say though, broadly speaking, that people do find it more relaxing working outdoors.
Taking counselling outdoors is something I decided I wanted to do very early on. The outdoors and what they may mean to clients is open to interpretation but, for my practice, I think of the outdoors as both a setting and tool for therapeutic change.
I’ve designed and run some workshops on taking your therapy outdoors and these have been well received by other therapists thinking of working in this way.
I would say in some ways, yes. The general themes that may lead people to engage with therapy are still there; anxiety, career worries, family conflicts, stress, relationship difficulties. But, it does feel that the context of the pandemic has, for some people, made these issues more present.
In my experience, there are definitely more clients engaging with therapy as a response to the difficulties brought on by COVID, and some clients are even engaging with therapy as a direct response to issues, such as COVID-specific health anxiety.
I would say that the pandemic has, by and large, amplified any pre-existing issues for most people and has given people the prompt to reflect and implement changes if they can.
As a therapist, I have felt well-equipped to work with clients throughout the pandemic. I had experience working with clients over the phone and, in January 2020, I started offering Zoom/Skype sessions – two months before there were any restrictions. This was a personal decision, mostly based on having a three-month-old baby and wanting more time at home. So, I already had some things in place.
In terms of the presenting issues and themes emerging, I felt like I was able to be that – or provide that – calm, steady presence for people in the midst of what at times felt like chaos.
On a personal level, I think I’ll look back on the pandemic as a time when, as a family with a new baby, we spent so much time together and if circumstances had been ‘normal’ we probably wouldn’t have.
It’s really important for me to ensure the client feels able to ask me anything about the process and to have the opportunity to change their mind too. When I engage with a client for the first time, I would typically talk to them on the phone/Zoom first to explain the process, answer any questions they may have and go through a lot of the contracting and confidentiality processes.
I would say a client can expect me to offer a gentle, safe space where we would work collaboratively on some identified goals, as well as being able to respond to their needs as they may change. I offer connection, empathy, sensitivity and humour.
I always tell clients that I see the work as a collaborative thing without any hierarchy, and that together we want to work to get them to the point where they feel they can manage on their own without my support.
Reach out to a therapist and ask questions. Go with your intuition and find the right therapist for you. The relationship you have with your therapist is fundamentally important to the process, so going with someone who you feel a connection to is important.
I also think people may have some preconceived ideas about what therapy looks like and how it might go, which maybe can put people off. I would say, again, reach out to therapists, book consultations, make phone calls and find the right therapist for you.
I have a website, Sean Tierney Counselling and I’m fairly active on Instagram, where I post a mixture of videos and photos. I also have a listing on Counselling Directory, which is where most of my clients find me!
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