the free psychotherapy network

free psychotherapy for people on low incomes and benefits

Paolo Plotegher

I trained as an art psychotherapist and I am a member of HCPC and BAAT. My way of working as a therapist is empathic, non-judgmental and exploratory: I believe that developing trust and empathy within the therapeutic relationship is fundamental in reaching the therapeutic goal of exploring life, emotions, relationships. Whether within art therapy or talking therapy, I consider central the potential of collective creativity and non-verbal communication to repair damage, process traumas and nurture healing, whether this is done by reading images together or by welcoming dreams and free associations into the process. I believe that psychotherapy should be empowering and emancipatory rather than normative and normalising: it should help society and its institution to shape themselves around people, and not the other way around.

Before training as a psychotherapist, I taught art, philosophy and critical studies in academia, experimenting with the radical pedagogy of Paulo Freire. Through a PhD research in schizoanalysis and the work of Deleuze and Guattari, I developed a practice of community self-organising, exploring collective forms of healing that bring together a care for the body, the natural environment and for socio-political contexts.

I incorporated those experiences within the psychodynamic approach of my training. As an art therapist I have worked in therapeutic community settings and with homeless people with substance misuse, and I have gained experience with a range of conditions from depression and anxiety, to psychosis and complex post-traumatic disorders. I have worked with users of diverse class, race and ethnic backgrounds, LGBT+, cis and transgender, and others with chronic pain and disability.

I understand the task of psychotherapy as enabling individuals to re-connect with themselves, with people around them and with the different contexts they inhabit. Neoliberalism isolates people as individuals, sets them in competition against each other, and make them responsible for their suffering. Austerity measures and social cleansing have been damaging lives by destroying communities and deepening segregation. I see in psychotherapy the potential to counter the effects of neoliberalism: isolation, self-obsession, competition, hatred for yourself and others.

I believe psychotherapy can help us to face today’s fear of the “other”, the fear of the different within and outside ourselves which, in our challenging socio-political conditions, pushes us towards hatred, abuse and oppression, in the relation of men and women, white and black, native and foreigner, straight and queer, normal and pathological. A therapy that has at its core the relationship between therapist and users, addressing difference of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, age and ability, can begin to address this fear of otherness and its consequences.

Neoliberalism dries out our ability to feel and experience emotions collectively. Our emotional life is filtered by social media and we are encouraged to feel as individual consumers. Emotions are transformed into digital information or get buried within our bodies, generating more suffering. Psychotherapy can help us to bring emotions back into our collective life, starting from the interpersonal relationship developed within the sessions.

Psychotherapy can and should be a tool, amongst others, for socio-political change: it is crucial for psychotherapy to be made available free of charge for those who are oppressed by structural violence, who do not have the means to pay for it, who would not benefit from the “cost-effective” types of therapy offered today by the NHS.