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  • Writer's pictureInlight Psychology

Q & A with Anita Shimmins

Interview completed and written by Kirsten Hertog, UNSW psychology undergraduate completing an internship at Inlight Psychology.


Anita is a highly compassionate psychologist, with a strong interest in interpersonal relationships and attachment. She is highly attuned to her clients and is keen to understand them within the greater context of their lives and history.


Anita has a Masters in Clinical Psychology, and utilises a number of therapeutic approaches including CBT, Schema, DBT, ACT, Post-Milan Family Therapy, and Mindfulness.



Kirsten (Interviewer): I am curious to hear about what has led you to becoming a psychologist here at Inlight. What sparked your interest in psychology?


Anita (Psychologist): I've always been interested in people and from a young age it often seemed as if people felt comfortable to share their stories with me, so psychology is what made sense for me to pursue.


K: What do you love most about being a psychologist?


A: No day is like the other and no two clients are the same. Everyone comes in with a rich individual story and I find it fascinating how many different stories we have. Yet, we are all very similar in what we need, what we fear, and what we feel.


K: When you say we're all similar in our needs, I can imagine that you've noticed that there are some consistent patterns with your clients. What do you think most of your clients need?


A: I think we all have a need to belong. We need to have a safe space where we feel like we're connected with others and accepted by them. I think that almost all roots of the issues that clients come in with can be boiled down to problems within interpersonal connections in some way, shape, or form. So, it's either concretely an issue in relationships or it's the absence of meaningful relationships, or it's a traumatic past relationship that has caused issues in the now.


K: We are social beings, really. We need that sense of connection and community and if we don't, it can have a detrimental impact on how we feel. With this in mind, what do you think are some common misconceptions within the community about psychologists?


A: Oh, well, I think the first one is the belief that we are all-knowing and can see right through our clients. It’s the belief that we can read people’s minds and we can see through people’s defences immediately. I think that can make people nervous in the therapy room or prevent people from coming in at all. But really, therapy is just two humans connecting and having that space to talk about real things without having to have those defences up. I think it's a more even footing as most psychologists come in with the perspective that ‘I'm a human, you're a human, let's have a conversation’.


K: That's really beautiful. It's a relational thing. I wonder if people may at times think that psychologists have ‘got it all together’ and that they don’t have their own mental health struggles.


A: Yeah, exactly. That we've got it all together and there's no vulnerability. We can get nervous or sad too. We feel things in the room when we are with the client and that's what makes therapy even work in the first place. It's a genuine connection.


K: On the Inlight website, you share that your primary focus is to create a safe and non- judgmental space where clients can openly explore their thoughts and feelings. What do you do to build trust and create a comfortable environment for your clients?


A: The therapeutic relationship is really what allows people to feel comfortable and able to let down their guard. I think it's all about first establishing a really good connection and then starting to explore those things that may be difficult to think and talk about. It can sometimes be awkward at first or it can be kind of scary. For some, it can feel a little bit unnatural until we get into the groove of things. In this case, it can be helpful to invite them to name those things, the awkwardness, the fear, the initial uncertainty about what therapy may look like. Just sometimes naming things makes them no longer a barrier, but rather something we can connect over and understand.


K: To be human! I think what I'm hearing is that you really have a person-centred approach.


A: Yes, definitely. That's the aim.


K: Which seems tricky because I imagine that as a psychologist, you also want to guide your clients with your knowledge but it's really actually them who are finding the answers that they may be looking for.


A: Exactly, I just want to provide the space where that exploration can happen that otherwise may feel too uncomfortable. My sessions are very much client-centred and client-led, with the assistance of me being on that journey with them.


K: When it comes to the therapeutic relationship, I have noticed that some people may believe that they need to have a perfect therapist and client match, what are your thoughts on this?


A: The perfect client-therapist fit is potentially a bit of a myth. Whilst it is important to have a genuine connection with your psychologist and it's important to find something to like about each other to help with that connection, it's also essential to learn that we can navigate differences that don’t have to negatively impact the therapeutic relationship. We are allowed to be individuals who are slightly different and think about things differently and we can still find a way together, which hopefully the client can then take into the real world.


K: Do you have any specific interests in certain therapeutic approaches or skills that you find particularly helpful for clients?


A: I think there are helpful tools in all the main approaches, including CBT but I really like to look at things from an interpersonal and attachment lens. I feel as though our early relational experiences have such a big impact on how we view ourselves and the world. If I neglect to take those into consideration, I may be missing a big part of the picture. So, I do like to find out about how my clients felt when they were younger and what kind of needs might not have been met early on. Then we can explore together how that might be impacting their present- day behaviour, experiences, and feelings.


K: It really does sometimes seem as though our younger selves’ experiences can keep showing up in our present-day reactions. You really are creating a very comfortable and supportive space to allow people to go back into those childhood memories and to now look at them from their adult self who is in a safe space to do so with you.


A: Yes, exactly. One of the reasons that I enjoy using schema therapy is its focus on the different parts of our selves. There is this idea that we have protective parts that developed at a very young age, that still try to protect us today. However, these “protective” parts are often maladaptive when used outside of the contexts in which they originally developed.


K: I can imagine how helpful that approach may be, especially with a trauma-informed lens, which I'm really witnessing is a strong part of how you approach therapy. What does that look like for you, to be trauma-informed?


A: To me, it is an approach that focuses not so much on what's wrong with you, but rather what happened to you. It is about acknowledging that how we behave, think and feel is very much based on experiences that happen to us. That lens allows us to remove some blame and shame as well and makes it easier to work through that past trauma in a more non-judgmental way. This can then help to pave the path for being empathic towards ourselves and to acknowledge that what we've experienced may very much shape what we're doing now. Therefore, we can forgive ourselves for mistakes made in the past given what we've experienced. It may lead to the realisation that we're not at the mercy of repeating those same patterns but that actually, we are able to overcome some of that trauma.


K: That's beautiful. I can imagine that your clients would feel so validated in your willingness to explore the past, but also empowered by your acknowledgment that they don't have to be defined by it in the future.


A: I hope so. I think that with trauma-informed therapy, the intention is to acknowledge that your responses now are very understandable in the context of what you have been through. However, we can also now create the space where we can explore how these patterns of behaviour are no longer serving us and then how we may want to move forward.


K: Based on your experiences in the therapy room, what do you think are some of the biggest challenges that people in Australia, are facing? Do you have a message for them?


A: I think in Australia, as well as other maybe more individualistic cultures, we have somewhat lost that feeling of community and that sense of connection, which has been so important in our evolution as humans. So naturally, if we are deprived of something that we've evolved for, there's going to be some sort of detrimental consequences. People are craving meaningful real connections and unfortunately, I think the pandemic really exacerbated this by people working from home. With many communities moving connection into the virtual space, it's really made it harder to connect in real-time, and it can make us feel more and more confused about why we feel so disconnected when we have access to all these people in a virtual space. We are basically all lonely, collectively.


K: Collective Loneliness. How does that show up in the therapy room? Do you see an increase in social anxiety because we've been so isolated over the past few years?


A: I think social anxiety is a common one but also, I have noticed that we've forgotten how to do relationships and often have unrealistic expectations of what they look like. What I can offer in the therapy room is actual genuine connection in which we look at each other and really talk to each other. I think that's something that a lot of people might not have in their real life anymore. My message would be to approach things in a way that doesn't feel too overwhelming, start small by maybe focusing on making one or two genuine connections with other people a priority as well as creating the opportunities to do so, prioritising quality over quantity.


K: ‘Approaching things in a way that doesn’t feel too overwhelming’, that seems to be a key foundation of your work as a person-centred and trauma-informed psychologist and what a safe and supportive approach that seems to be.



 

INLIGHT PSYCHOLOGY | BONDI JUNCTION


Anita Shimmins is offering therapy at Inlight Psychology, which is situated in the heart of Bondi Junction. We have a lovely team of experienced and compassionate psychologists, all with tertiary qualifications in Clinical Psychology. The team sees a variety of concerns, including anxiety, mood, interpersonal and relationship difficulties, men's and women's issues, trauma, personality disorders, anger issues, emotion regulation difficulties, perinatal issues, sexuality and gender concerns, and more.


If you would like to learn more about the team at Inlight Psychology, click here.


If you would like to book an appointment, please don’t hesitate to contact Inlight Psychology on (02) 8320 0566 or contact@inlightpsychology.com.au.

 

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