- Dr. Jenna Daku
I'm a psychotherapist, but it's not what you think...
By this I mean, I don't subscribe to the idea of being a 'blank screen' - as Freud once suggested. As a result, I've had to find a way of merging my personal identity with my professional values in order to be as authentic and transparent with my clients as possible. After all, how can I support people to find the freedom to be themselves if I don't allow myself to do the same?
In my personal life, I spend as much time as I can in and with nature, as this is where I feel the most 'me'. I enjoy hiking, walking, and spending time with animals (especially dogs...). I also travel, read, write, cook and dance as much as possible. I thrive when I am learning so I strive to try new things that push me out of my comfort zone. My most recent endeavour is photography, and I'm hoping to fill this blog and website with as many of my own photographs as possible. Ultimately, I feel free to be myself when I am surrounded by people and things that inspire my creativity and tap in to my core, and this is what motivated me to create Freedom To Be Therapy.
I approach therapy from a psychodynamic perspective, meaning that I look at how past experiences continue to affect you in various capacities right here and now. In general, we live in such a busy and hectic world that it's easy, and often encouraged, to push down our feelings in order to return to being productive. This leads to problems, however, when those feelings resurface in destructive and damaging ways. I will support you to go back and revisit the feelings that have been pushed down in a safe, warm, and confidential environment. Together, we find ways of expressing those feelings and creating meaning from past experiences so that you can find freedom from self-destructive behaviours and live your life to the fullest.
How I got here
Since I'm on the topic of how the past shapes the present, and in the spirit of avoiding the 'blank screen', I'd like to offer you a brief outline of my professional story and how I got to where I am today.
Before I moved to the UK to study psychotherapy, I did a degree in psychology and worked as a mental health worker in my hometown of Victoria, British Columbia. There, I worked with individuals suffering with severe mental illness living in the community, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I supported them on a practical level with their daily living activities, encouraged them to socialise, and provided support with their medication. Sometimes, whilst in the midst of an acute psychotic episode, clients would act out in destructive and violent ways, sometimes towards me. Although it was intimidating at first, these experiences helped me to gain some valuable crisis management tools and to challenge my ideas of empathy and forgiveness. I found that the best way to support someone with severe mental illness is to see beyond their illness, and engage with them on a human level. This meant sometimes telling my clients how I felt, forgiving them when they'd upset me, and trusting them regardless of their forensic or behavioural histories. I wanted to model acceptance, unconditional positive regard, and compassion, and in doing so I forged some beautiful connections with people who felt labelled and isolated. I worked in this context for almost five years, and I learned a lot about the Canadian mental health system and the shortcomings of mental health support services in general. My role was limited though, and I wanted to have an opportunity to engage on a deeper and more emotional level with people who suffer with mental illness in order to understand more about their experiences. As you can imagine, this led to my interest in counselling and psychotherapy.
In addition to my mental health work, I also volunteered at a police based Victim Services agency for two years. I was the first point of contact for survivors of crime, trauma, and abuse, which meant that I was exposed to some heartbreaking situations. Again, my role was more practical: to ground and sit with traumatised individuals and offer them practical information about their next steps whilst providing emotional support. However, whilst surrounded with that level of distress, sometimes all I could do was to allow myself to cry with those I was there to support, or sit in silence and hold their hands. These moments of vulnerability showed me the importance of trusting my intuition, and taught me that I don't need to put my emotions or my 'humanness' aside just because I'm in a professional context. These lessons and experiences have shaped my identity as a psychotherapist, and I have always found ways to bring my self in to the therapeutic space.
Throughout the past five years I've worked in various contexts, from generic counselling services to short-term mental health therapy. I've gained therapeutic experience working with a range of issues, including: anxiety, self-harm, trauma, abuse, depression, bipolar disorder, identity and relational difficulties, and work-related struggles. However, I specialise in offering holistic and integrative therapy for eating disorders. My Doctoral research focused on exploring the meaning of eating disorder recovery and the most effective approaches to treatment. Unfortunately, I discovered that there's no easy way to address easier. Rather, successful eating disorder treatment is tailored to the individual, and must dig around underneath the symptoms and behaviours of the illness.
I'm very fortunate to have spent the past 18 months working for The Recover Clinic, a specialised holistic outpatient clinic for eating disorders in West London. There, I've refined my skills and passion for supporting individuals with eating disorders. I've found that for some, it means drawing heavily on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques to tackle symptoms that can feel out of control, whilst for others it means trying to understand and find freedom from underlying trauma. For most, it involves a range of interventions to uncover the person that exists underneath the eating disorder. As a result, I've adopted an integrative approach that includes Mindfulness, CBT, positive psychology and psychodynamic techniques.
I want to take what I've learned in all the facets of my professional experience throughout the past decade and offer it to as many people as possible - which is why I've created Freedom To Be Therapy. Going forward, I will use this blog as a way of passing along information and encouragement to anybody struggling with eating disorders or other mental health difficulties. In the process, I will give some insight in to my world as a psychotherapist and as a human.
Stay tuned! xx