Knowledge of the human brain is growing all the time and a few miles from Uckfield is a place where the latest developments are explored and shared to help people with psychological problems.
The Wealden Psychology Institute which is celebrating its 30th anniversary has its base in Whitehill Road, Crowborough.
It also has a centre in France and two farms, where animal-assisted therapy is offered, at High Hurstwood and Hadlow Down.
Expert witness work, both in the criminal court, and child protection in the family court, is another of its services.
The institute offers face-to-face counselling, psychotherapy and clinical supervision services, and runs accredited courses in psychotherapy and counselling with about 200 people a year attending its courses.
Joanna Beazley Richards and her husband John Baxendale run the institute, helped by a team of about 30 people including therapists, teachers and psychologists.
Trauma therapy is a specialism and they have run workshops in places across the world that have suffered trauma such as Osaka, Japan, hit by earthquakes and tsunamis; Chennai (formerly Madras in India) after terrorist attacks.
They also offer courses and supervision in Istanbul, Turkey, which only recently experienced bombings; Romania, with is troubled past, and in post-apartheid South Africa.
Joanna said the learning process was two-way. She and John have learned a lot from the people they have trained who were directly working with traumatised people, including survivors of torture and violence.
“This is not just a one-way process,” said Joanna. “We learn how to offer a service in incredibly challenging circumstances. In the Centre for Survivors of Torture and Violence in Cape Town, for example, resources are available for therapists to have just one session with each client. I feel humbled when I come back from places like that.”
Joanna founded the institute 30 years ago and John joined her when they married 11 years ago and he moved to Crowborough from the north of England.
John speaks five languages, including Romanian, which comes in useful when workshops and courses are run in Romania, as well as working with clients and supervisees.
He said knowledge of psychology was constantly evolving. While the basics might remain the same a lot of research is coming out into how the mind works, into neurology and the brain, and that research influences the way they work at Wealden Institute.
One example of a relatively recent model of therapy is Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) which has been proven to be useful, for example, in helping people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
EMDR allows work to be done on the processes of the brain and the nervous system, using the client’s own bilateral eye movements.
This latest knowledge comes through a new understanding of what happens in the brain during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) when sleeping when the brain ‘makes sense’ of events that took place the previous day.
John said: “If the process works we wake up feeling rested. The body knows that things that have happened are just memories and we move on and live a fulfilled life.
“When people are traumatised that doesn’t work and the brain is unable to process what has happened. They remain traumatised, and this can go on for years.
“EMDR uses eye movements to help process the information and alleviate the distress.”
Joanna said another area where knowledge had increased hugely was child development. Those who work with children now know much more than they did about the fact that children are more aware from a younger age than research would once have indicated.
Therapies now recognised internationally of being of value include some that have been taught by Joanna for years. She was teaching Zen meditation to people in the helping professions in the 1970s and 80s having trained in Japan.
“I started evening classes before anybody else,” she said.
Mindfulness, which encourages paying more attention to the present moment, is now a popular therapy.
Interest is also growing in Animal-Assisted Therapy which Joanna has been using since the 1990s and is now increasingly used by the military among others, to help soldiers and combat veterans.
The institute’s farms in High Hurstwood and Hadlow Down have donkeys, goats, lambs, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs and people can go there for therapy, even taking their own animals if they wish.
Clients are also taken out on horse drawn carriages though one of the farms, at Hadlow Down, has been hard hit since all the equipment for people with disabilities was stolen, along with harnesses and protective clothing including hard hats, a carriage and a trailer.
Joanna’s first psychotherapy and self-help group was started in Worthing in 1966 for people with learning disabilities. “Nobody at that time thought people with learning disabilities, such as Downs Syndrome, had problems.”
The Institute helped to create and run the first ever Diploma in Counselling course in the South East to be nationally accredited; the universities followed.
Joanna said: “Every client, every student teaches us something about life, problem solving and well-being. I feel rich beyond my wildest dreams because I have met such wonderful people, my colleagues here included. We have a fantastic team. I feel privileged and rich with all the learning from people. This place is all about people; understanding people and understanding psychology.”
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