Cyprus Mail
Life & Style

Creating a safe environment

By Alix Norman

It usually takes me years of skirting around someone to decide if I even want to go for coffee with them. While you extroverts are busy facebooking the masses and forming instant connections, us introverts are quietly writing and rewriting an innocuous status update about what we had for dinner. And even then, it’s unlikely we’ll post it. It’s all about being safe, you see, about being able to trust other people not to hurt us; and for me, this usually takes a long time. Which is why I am so surprised by Sotos Michael.

Chairman of the newly formed PanCyprian Association for Psychotherapists (PAP), Sotos is not at all what I expected. I’d assumed that psychotherapists were dry, factual people, given to making sweeping pronouncements about exactly why your life is a complete mess. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sotos is one of the warmest, most nurturing of listeners I have ever met; so comfortable to be around that I overrun my allotted hour, and end up discussing my many worries for most of the morning! And despite being bang in the middle of town, his quiet verandah feels like a peaceful countryside haven. But then I’m pretty sure that Sotos creates a sanctuary of calm wherever he goes.

“For psychotherapy, you need the personality of a listener,” he explains. “Have you ever had an older person in your life – an uncle, a grandma – who listened to you, cared for you, whom you felt warm towards?” he asks gently. “That’s the role of a psychotherapist. To create a safe environment where the client can begin to talk, feel they can be listened to and begin to find out who they are.”

Unlike psychology – an academic profession – or psychiatry – which involves medical intervention – psychotherapy is a very human experience, which comes from understanding oneself and one’s vulnerabilities. There are a number of approaches to the subject, and Sotos himself follows the psychoanalytic approach, dealing with the dynamics of the psyche, with the conscious and unconscious processes. “People get caught in the unconscious as if it’s something mystical,” he explains. “But it’s nothing like that, it’s just different levels of consciousness.”

Seeing my look of puzzlement, he gives me an analogy: “Say you’re born with a home that has an infinite number of rooms, but in the process of growing up you shut the doors, developing only two or three of the rooms. Then you get married, have a child – and the situation now demands the operation of more of the rooms in your house; more is being asked of you emotionally than you can give. You could become depressed, turn to alcohol, have an affair… you don’t open the doors because you can’t face the pain. And that’s where psychotherapy comes in: opening up the doors has an element of anxiety, safety and surprise. And it’s the psychoanalytic psychotherapy which provides the safety factor.”

This analogy resonates with me, as Sotos no doubt knew it would. And it’s a process he too has experienced. “I lived in the UK for most of my life,” he reveals, “and my first training was in engineering. But with the birth of my two daughters I realised there were emotional demands being made of me which I couldn’t meet.” On entering therapy, the process made so much sense that he began to take courses in the subject himself, eventually spending many years in the long process of becoming a qualified psychotherapist.

“A professional psychotherapist needs to have a minimum of seven years of training,” Sotos explains. Divided into two parts (a university degree in a related profession or the equivalent, followed by a minimum of four years specialised training, including over 1,400 hours of theory, practical experience, constant training supervision and personal psychotherapy) it’s a long process. And then there’s the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) that will always be part of one’s career.

While the profession of psychotherapy in Britain is regulated by professional organisations, in Cyprus these rules and regulations are not yet in place. And it’s this that the PanCyprian Association for Psychotherapists (PAP) is working towards: “It’s about Cyprus and the wellbeing of the people here; we aim to properly inform the Cyprus public with regards to what psychotherapy is about,” Sotos explains. “The public need to know that there is a register of professionally trained practitioners who are following a CPD programme, who abide by a code of ethics and are accountable to the organisation for any transgression of this code.”

With 27 founding members, PAP is working towards providing the public with a reputable psychotherapy organisation: “It’s no good having a code of ethics and a disciplinary procedure if you don’t apply it,” Sotos says. “There is a need to bring Cyprus out of its isolated, island mentality to make it part of the European community, this rich pool of culture in psychotherapy that goes back 100 years. PAP is a member of the European Association for Psychotherapy (EAP) and six out of eight psychotherapists who hold the European Certificate for Psychotherapy (ECP) in Cyprus are founding members of PAP. The rest of our full members hold similar qualifications. We’re building the right regulations and the standards of professionalism that will allow the public the confidence to know they will be listened to.”

It seems to me that in the same way psychotherapy is all about building a relationship of trust between patient and practitioner, PAP is aiming to build a relationship of trust between public and psychotherapy. And if Sotos is anything to go by, it will be of huge benefit to the community. Three hours – and much personal discussion – later, I leave with an incredible feeling of peace. Of strength. And of surprise. I just completely trusted a stranger with my deepest worries! And yet I feel totally safe. And that, I think, is the beauty of psychotherapy.

For further information about the PanCyprian Association for Psychotherapists, visit www.papsychotherapy.com or call 22 660630

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