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  • Writer's pictureInlight Psychology

Q&A with Dave Norton, Psychologist

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




Kirsten (interviewer): What inspired you to become a psychologist?

 

Dave (psychologist): The brain and behaviour were always something that I was really interested in. I suppose my avenue into psychology was that my grandfather was a World War II veteran. So, I was always interested in military history and history itself, and then dug a little bit deeper into it, ultimately finding out about PTSD and the impacts of trauma. It blew my mind that for generations of people, from 1914 all the way up to the Vietnam War, civilians, and soldiers alike, there was just no concept of PTSD or post-traumatic stress as we know it today. It affected hundreds of millions of people globally and that still makes my hair stand up on the back of my neck. I was so interested in trauma and that led me down the path of psychology.

 

K: How has your understanding of psychology changed since you began practicing?

 

D: I have really come to learn that a lot of distress, a lot of mental illness, a lot of psychiatric conditions have their roots in trauma. I've started to look through that lens instead of someone presenting to me and saying, ‘Oh I'm anxious I'm not really sure why,’ and me simply helping them to manage those symptoms. I'm now a lot more inclined to look at the origin of those symptoms. Whether it's prolonged trauma over a long period of time or one particular event, I find that a lot of current day symptoms can be treated by processing the original trauma itself.

 

K: It is fascinating how the body can still respond in the present moment as though the past is reoccurring. I can imagine that many of your clients with trauma would present with this feeling of powerlessness to their own physiology and you can support them in identifying the original cause. With this in mind, what do you love most about being a psychologist and especially supporting people who've experienced trauma?

 

D: We can only view the world through the experiences that we've had. The people that have come through the door to see me at times have said, ‘Oh, you know, this happened to me, or I witnessed this, but I just thought it was normal’. And I hear those words so often, ‘I just thought it was normal’. To validate their experience and gently educate them about trauma is very fulfilling. For me, one of the most rewarding things is to see their relief and realisation that it maybe wasn't normal and that I can acknowledge what they have been through. People often share that they are glad that their experiences and story make sense to someone else.

 

K: It sounds as though you really help people to let go of the shame that can come with carrying around trauma for so long by letting them express themselves in therapy. I feel as though that powerful moment must also come down to you creating a safe space for them to be able to discuss those memories. How do you create a safe and supportive environment for your clients?

 

D: Yeah, for sure. One thing I picked up early on was that whilst it's great when the client and I are really connecting or on the same page, sometimes it may actually be more helpful when I'm wrong, or I've missed the mark. In doing so, I can create a safe environment where I can check in and the client feels comfortable enough to adjust my understanding if I might have missed the mark. This gives them a chance to put their thoughts and how they are feeling into words, and it increases their understanding of themselves, but it also increases my understanding of them as well. I tell people early on that there will be times throughout therapy when I will misunderstand or when I might be wrong, and please tell me when I am. I also tell people as well from a very early stage that I am here to help them to the best of my ability and that I may not be ‘perfect’, but I am always doing my best to support them.

 

K: Outside of private practice, you also work with those within the police force, what is it like for you to work in that environment?

 

D: I'm working with an individual, and that individual who I'm sitting across from is often someone like you and me, who got into a job thinking they wanted to serve, they wanted to help, they wanted to work for their community. Helping the people that help others, I think is a really, really rewarding experience. A very common response that I hear in relation to their experience of trauma is, "Oh, but that's just part of the job.” That perspective can seem quite dismissive and almost invalidating in a way. It is this belief that ‘I should be better than this’, ‘I should be able to cope with this, but I can't’. As humans, none of us are bigger or better than trauma and it is much more helpful to acknowledge the impacts than to push it down and pretend as though everything is okay when it might not be.

 

K: As part of your interest in working with those who have experienced trauma, you have been trained in EMDR. I am curious as to what sparked your interest in that type of therapy.

 

D: I think so much of traditional talk therapy can be very cognitive, very logical, when it is often the body and the emotion it holds on to that are really keeping track of what's going on. Some of the processing sessions I've had have been revelations for people, both for me and for them. I also love how it's that one therapy where the client does all the work. I steer the ship, but the clients are the ones processing and guiding me through their emotions. I'm just there supporting them as they are doing the work, their brain is doing the work. The brain knows where it needs to go. Sometimes it just needs the right condition or a safe setting, a trusting therapeutic relationship to give it a little nudge in that direction.

 

K: What do you do to create a safe and trustful environment to explore those emotions?

 

D: I think it is important to just really get to know the person first and I try to be very transparent, be open that we're not in a rush here. Sometimes people come in looking for these really urgent strategies but slowing them down and trusting the process can be very helpful. I like to take the time to show that person that I am trying my best to understand their world. Explaining the way therapy is going to look, what to expect, what not to expect, checking with how they are going, being open to any feedback, both constructive or otherwise, is really, really important to creating a trusting environment.

 

K: So, what does a typical EMDR session actually look like?

 

D: Early on in our initial sessions, I'm often trying to listen and look for themes in order to see what might be best for us to focus on in upcoming sessions. By the end of the first couple of sessions, I like to share that insight with the person, and I'll start to prepare them for the next couple of sessions and what trauma-focused therapy might look like for them. I will also make sure to take some time to explain trauma, memories, positive and negative memory networks and then prepare them for the EMDR processing as well. This involves explaining the bilateral movements that we utilise such as tapping and using finger movement to guide the eyes side to side whilst processing memories.


K: I’m hearing that you do a lot to prepare the clients for the sessions as well as making sure to create a safe space and comfortable environment throughout the sessions, but I am curious about what you do to make sure that they are feeling safe and supported as they go back into their daily life after EMDR and in between sessions?

 

D: I always do my best to ensure that we leave at least 10 minutes at the end of each session to gently guide the client to coming out of the trauma and back into feeling grounded within the present day. With EMDR, if we get into a place where we are deep into processing but we're running out of time, that's when we will start to slowly ground, regulate, talk about it and make time to debrief to make sure that they are able to get back into daily life as safely and as regulated as we can before picking up where we left off in the next session.

 

K: With all of that in mind, who do you think could benefit from EMDR, and what might be some of the limitations?

 

D: I think that almost anyone can benefit from EMDR but especially those who experienced any sort of childhood adversity, experienced or witnessed an acute traumatic event, or people who just feel like they are on edge a lot of the time and not really sure why. Anyone who feels like they're very anxious, doesn’t feel connected to others, feel like they're isolated or not being understood may have experienced trauma and could benefit from exploring whether they are experiencing an ongoing trauma response. In terms of limitations, those who are particularly dysregulated, in terms of their current ability to tolerate uncomfortable emotions, it's not a limitation as such, but they might require a little bit more prep work before we get to the processing. This is simply because it's so important that safety is secure in the room which involves making sure that we have appropriate distress-tolerance skills, grounding techniques and relaxation strategies.

 

K: As a male psychologist, I'd imagine that you often work with male clients, so I am wondering how you find being a male psychologist supporting other men as well as women?

 

D: Currently I do tend to see more male clients which has not really been caused by any effort on my part but it's just the way things have fallen. I think some male clients may prefer to speak to another bloke for a bit of familiarity in that sense. I am so open to talking about emotions, I love talking about emotions with other men to model that it is okay, we all experience emotions and identifying and validating emotions is such a key part of trauma. For me it’s the same when I work with women, I find it just as fulfilling talking about and validating emotions and nothing really changes in that sense. Some female clients have told me they’re more comfortable with a male over a female, just like some men would find it much easier to connect with a female psychologist. I think they’re both representations of how the client-psychologist fit is really down to the individual.

 

K: Yeah, I think there's something profound about two men almost just looking male mental health stigma in the eye and choosing to have those conversations despite the societal expectations placed on them to suppress their emotions. In terms of modelling, I can imagine that it can also be helpful for female clients who may have experienced trauma in relation to male figures, to work with a male psychologist like you. In doing so, they may be able to experience feeling safe and supported in the presence of a male whilst processing prior experiences in which they may have not felt that way.

 

D: Absolutely, I also always make sure to acknowledge that and yet, I also understand that some female clients may prefer to speak with a female psychologist which is completely okay.

 

K: With all your understanding of EMDR as well as working with male clients and female clients, I'm curious to hear what advice you would give to someone who feels as though they may have been impacted by trauma and what would you say to them and anyone considering doing therapy for the first time?

 

D: The first thing I would say to that person is that you're not alone in what you're feeling. It may feel so isolating, it may feel like no one understands, but from my working with trauma, I have come to understand that the similarities in the presentations in terms of the shame, the guilt, the negative self-image, all that sort of stuff is very common. I think some people come into therapy thinking that they are in the ‘too hard’ basket, saying “No one can work with me, I'm broken, I won’t get better”. I like to try to change that perspective quite quickly by saying that I've seen these emotions before, and I've worked with these symptoms before. I make sure to acknowledge that yes, you've experienced trauma, but we can work with that. There is a part of you that has been traumatised, but there's also a part of you that's a funny friend, that's a really great son or daughter, there's a part of you that is an amazing worker. Your traumatised part is just another part of you, and we can work with that, we can process it.

 

K: It really does seem like such a beautiful thing to empower people to realise that often their traumatised self is their younger self and that their present-day self now has so many more tools and resources to take care of that little version of them who's still in there hoping to be heard. What a privilege that you're able to be in a role where you can support people to disentangle themselves from the past so that they can feel empowered to move confidently towards the future.

 

D: Yes, exactly. It is really such a humbling thing. It's such a privilege. People share their stories with me and might say ‘you are the first person I've ever felt comfortable telling this to’. To hold space for that vulnerability and in turn have that person provide that trust in me to work through it together is an amazing thing.

 

K: It really is.


 

INLIGHT PSYCHOLOGY | BONDI JUNCTION


Dave Norton is a highly skilled and attuned psychologist, working at Inlight Psychology in Bondi Junction. Dave has a particular interest in trauma, PTSD, men's issues, veterans, anger and emotion regulation difficulties. Dave utilises EMDR, as well as Schema therapy, CBT, DBT, ACT, Mindfulness, and trauma-informed therapy.


If you would like to learn more about Dave or 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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