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Karen James: My Therapy, My Advice—Overcoming Your Psychological Pain and Insecurity

Karen was inspired by a need for a career change, so she took the leap out of her comfort zone.

She pursued a career in psychotherapy, with the greatest success and surprises awaiting her on what proved to be a path of self-discovery.

Her therapy helps people welcome change that shifts the psychological stress of managing internal pain. This usually finds association with our inaccurate constructs based in a lack of internal security. The arising combination of psychological pain and insecurity makes it impossible to succeed. You are left overwhelmed no matter what level of success you aim for.

The therapy that Karen is a part of is taxing; however, the experience rewards her even when it stresses her at times—it reveals sides of her character that presents Karen with ongoing challenges to sharpen her perceptions. A chain of reactions that ensures that Karen’s engagement with clients is as sharp as can be.

Karen encourages internal validation, a healthy environment, and teaches us the shortcomings of prevalent traditions today. Along with her advice on how to overcome these shortcomings in a practical way, this interview provides keen insight to questions most therapists are never asked and therein rarely answer.

It dismantles the false and insecure constructs that we fabricate. In innocence we believe that if we achieve our dreams and desires, we will be fulfilled. This is an example of a false and insecure construct, because in reality psychological pain becomes a huge distraction.

—Karen James

What inspired you to pursue a career in psychotherapy?

I felt I needed a career change and becoming a therapist seemed like a natural progression for me. At the time I had visions of supporting others to craft a greater vision and to become the best version of themselves, but little did I know I was about to embark on a path that took me on a trajectory of self-discovery.

Training to become a psychotherapist required a level of introspective work that I wasn’t quite prepared for—one year of therapy is a requirement. I referred to it as my ‘life disruptor’ because it requires honest self-enquiry to understand aspects of self that might evoke some painful findings.

My divorce was hard and painful, it was going to take a lot of emotional and physical recovery. I understood myself enough to know that my therapist would need to be courageous and knowing.

At the time I had started reading Irvin Yalom’s Loves executioner—Irvin had a way of being brutally honest about his feelings toward his clients, sometimes outrageously offensive—honesty doesn’t have to be offensive; it can be firm but kind. I experience it’s value so it’s a philosophy I use with my clients. It contributes to an expansive mind and heart, if you are blind to your own limitations, you will have a stagnated rather than a growth mindset.

The power of my emotional recovery was a transformational experience, so much so that Irvin asked if he could include my experience in his new book. His approach to me was the opposite to how I understood his work in Loves executioner—it was a special experience.

I was able to access a side of me that I had buried for years and refused to acknowledge. The journey of a transformational experience can show you skills that are applicable to life and business. I realised how my experience might empower others, but I also realised how exposed I would feel. I didn’t feel I was ready to open myself to the world—not yet!

However, inspiration was here – I had experienced the power of therapy and seen how I could use my experience to support others. We all have a genius inside but sometimes we benefit from a pair of fresh eyes to uproot our talented genius. Coupled with my training as a therapist I use personal experience to support women to unleash their emotional limitations to success.

How does therapy help people create positive, lasting change in their lives?

It dismantles the false and insecure constructs that we fabricate. In innocence we believe that if we achieve our dreams and desires, we will be fulfilled. This is an example of a false and insecure construct, because in reality psychological pain becomes a huge distraction. The life of business and leadership requires your full attention. It is almost impossible to succeed when you are laden with unresolved pain.

It is about understanding the distraction. I would say disappointment and failed relationships are the two themes that underpin most of my clients’ work. I call them the pillars of my work, because, on closer inspection they form the constructs of a client’s experiences, beliefs and outlook.

It is an extension and representation of deeper psychological wounds that are often projected onto current experiences.

When clients realise how these constructs have been subconsciously influencing perception and decision-making processes it is a rewarding experience because it’s the moment when deep and meaningful work starts.

My 1:1 therapy programme provides an avenue to dismantle these constructs because it opens a way to understand the complexities of cognitive distortions and internalised pain. When psychological wounds are healed then a positive and powerful energy is created, one where clients can re-align with their true position of greatness.

This journey of realisation is very much an individual process, for some women the need for emotional support requires deeper work before they are able to really assess the impact, but these moments of realisation have been truly rewarding and inspiring.

The other side to the coin is that doing this type of work can sometimes feel weighty and interactions may reveal sides of my character that need sharpening. In terms of my own progress and development, it keeps me on my toes because I am sometimes presented with opportunities for introspective work.

The interplay of any therapeutic work has the potential to uproot deeper levels of consciousness, and this is why personal therapy is a requirement (even for qualified therapists). That is how the process works—it requires accountability, partnerships, and I am constantly reminded of the importance.

I call it ‘sharpening perception.’ It is a powerfully instrumental and supportive engagement.

What do you think are the key elements that make a successful therapy session?

It’s my ability to remain authentic and non-judgemental. Some of my private clients are extremely wealthy and/or are public figures—and even though I have established a successful and financially lucrative business, my clients can sometimes trigger my past financial struggles.

Authenticity, it keeps me engaged with what is presented in the privacy of our sessions rather than how I perceive them through my personal lens or the public lens of the media. This ability to switch gears and engage with the reality of the moment is a skill that is vital to therapeutic work, but it is also vital to creating successful outcomes.

It is about being objective rather than subjective, both of which have a trajectory of completely opposing outcomes.

I believe it all boils down to a set of fundamental truths that sit at the heart of authenticity: for true healing to happen, it requires a level of humility.

Humility equates to vulnerability, it means ‘letting go’ which might feel redundant in the fast and competitive world of leadership and business. The thing is, the opposite is true, for healing to happen psychological pain and confusion can only be met with raw vulnerability.

It is a requirement in this process, and it is the difference between success and failure.

One thing that therapy has taught me about this type of work is you soon learn that if you want to be successful you have to be brutally honest about your relationship with yourself first. My earlier experiences taught me this and if clients don’t feel you—they won’t return.

It’s about learning to overcome negative experiences. Negativity can create trust issues. For some it’s an expectation that they bring to therapy. I use my own personal therapy to ensure my energy is stable and unaffected that way I am able to engage fully regardless of what my client is experiencing.

Then there is the issue of confidentiality. The idea that clients feel stepping into my room means 100% trust and confidentiality has much importance. I have a responsibility to all my clients that their identity and personal lives remain private—where my clients spend time in the public eye, this presents a new and important part of the experience for them.

What kind of qualifications did you teach? Of these, which was the most valued to you as a teacher?

For several years I delivered counselling and psychotherapy training programmes ranging from entry Level up to Degree qualifications.

I soon became disillusioned with the limitations of standardised training. Whilst there are added benefits (recognition from employers and potential clients), you are also faced with the limitations of systemic practices and a colonized curriculum.

Traditional approaches might support an assessment framework but do not necessarily teach critical thinking or support marginalized groups.

In 2023 I established Counselling Enterprise as a way of addressing these limitations, alongside my personal 1:1’s. I now deliver training programmes to organisations. They teach the best form of education: self-inquiry-based learning and the art of self-validation.

These two aspects of my training are necessary to understand how to think critically and increase worthiness to make helpful choices. I strongly believe it starts at the top and by helping organisations you are helping individuals to shift from limitations to a place of empowerment. It is self-accredited based learning and is an idea that should be shared globally.

2023 is a year of expansion for Counselling Enterprise. The programmes have been offered to therapists and organisations who realize the value of this life enhancing skill.

How do you foster trust and connection with your clients in private practice?

Trust and connection are vital to the therapeutic relationship, but you need to understand it to experience it. The harsh reality stands: about 80% of my clients, despite achieving success, their lives continue unfulfilled and desperately unhappy.

At the point of entering treatment, there is a certain realisation that empires or positions as CEOs of established brands do nothing to restore trust and mend disappointed hearts.

Sadly, what society presents as a credible philosophy for success crumbles under therapeutic scrutiny.

So, when a client has been let down it is important to establish an environment that communicates that others see, hear, and value them—without judgement, that they feel environmentally safe to trust again.

Teaching clients the value of internal validation is another way of doing this. It is self-accrediting, sustainable and they are able to assess where their strengths and weakness lie.

So, when future challenges or points of failure arise, they already have the resources to hand. Having the confidence to trust your process is a game changer because—when you trust yourself, you trust others and it will help to establish better connections and create more positive experiences.

There is also a fundamental principle in motion: you can only give to others what you have been able to give to yourself.

What have been some of the most rewarding experiences that you’ve had while working with clients?

That’s a difficult one! I could say there is always something rewarding with each experience but equally I value different things in each client.

The moment a client realises they have overstayed their welcome with me is memorable and triumphant!

How do you stay motivated and inspired when counselling difficult cases?

After a day of working with clients I change gears! I listen to music; I touch base with love, and I replenish spiritually. Allowing myself to let go of the day is a chance for me to trust that my work has been thorough.

This allows an opportunity to settle my mind and review from a new landscape—that regardless of the struggles my client presented that day, I have been instrumental in their restoration of hope, and they will eventually find their way.

If you achieved everything you could hope to in the next decade, what would be your most precious achievement?

My view of what equates to a ‘precious achievement’ has changed with age and my life experience. Successful entrepreneurship was my number 1—but what I know of human nature, we soon outgrow our experiences to search for the next ‘thing.’ This is where I am now.

Through my 1:1 programme I already have a taster of how inspiring it is to see a client’s transformation, but to share my ideas globally to reach millions of people would be an awe-inspiring achievement.

I guess the idea of enjoying the day when I feel settled enough with my achievements. The day when I reflect on my contribution and the impact is evident on a global scale. That would be a precious moment for me!

Karen can be contacted:

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