Get to Know our Psychologists - Mark McMahon

This month we welcome Psychologist Mark McMahon to the team. We think it's important you get to understand a little bit more about our Psychologists, and their approach to therapy, so we asked him 10 questions. Contact us on 07 3852 2441 to book an appointment with Mark today and let's make a better tomorrow.

What led you to choose psychology or counselling as a profession?

I have always been very interested in the range of emotions that we experience as humans (as well as thoughts), and which drive our behaviour. I have been a listener and observer all of my life, and find that fits well with the values of trust, empathy and compassion when you are validating the lived experience of a person’s life. I like working with an individuals, or groups, where there is potential for actualisation, integration and greater wellbeing.

Which philosophical approaches have influenced your professional/personal development?

I was always very interested in Freudian and Jungian philosophy, which looks deep into our unconscious processes to develop a greater understanding of the self. As a practitioner I believe I take a humanitarian Rogerian approach to therapy offering unconditional positive regard – validation - for a client’s lived experience. Nietzsche has always fascinated me in regard to his challenging of existing social structures, and how we can think ‘outside the box’ to become free of unhelpful constructions. I also love the idea of Heidegger’s ‘boundary experiences’. I incorporate Eastern traditions of Buddhism and Sufism in my practice, and encourage clients to practice mindfulness and compassion for self, and other.

Which particular aspects of health or the human journey are you interested in?

I always emphasise a biopsychosocial – spiritual approach to the human journey. Whilst we practice mind, body and spirit approaches – connection to others (interpersonal, relatedness), and self (intrapersonal) is vitally important to our wellbeing and mental health – in fact, I believe that positive connections and relationships with others, is the most important aspect to our mental health. In therapy, I find nearly all issues can be traced to some form of connection with others and/or self. I love working with human potential and where there are shared goals for personal growth and actualisation (in line with a Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).

What method/s do you use?

A solid therapeutic alliance and good rapport is essential to providing effective outcomes for clients (up to 70% of improved wellbeing in clients is due to the therapeutic alliance with the practitioner). Bringing a non-judgemental approach, while providing ‘containment’, and a safe ‘holding space’, while building trust is a good starting place for therapy. I draw on an eclectic approach by exploring which modalities may work best for the client after formulating a suitable treatment plan. Modalities I utilise include ACT, CBT, IPT, narrative, existential, CFT, MI, problem solving, and psychodynamic therapy.

When do you think the client will start to feel that progress is being made?

As above – one of the most important components of therapy is the client/ practitioner relationship. Often, when clients present for therapy, it would be the first time they have had the opportunity to explore any issues that they are currently experiencing. Just by having someone to talk to, in a safe non-judgemental environment, can reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety by up to 50%. Most clients I have worked with have reflected that improvement in life outcomes begins with the initial engagement – if the practitioner is the right ‘fit’ for the client. If a client feels that a practitioner is not the right ‘fit’ for them – then it is important to talk about this in session, and the psychologist would encourage the opportunity for referral.

How has therapy made you a better person?

It is a complete privilege to sit opposite a client (as an equal in the room), and for them to share the intimate details of their life. The therapeutic space may allow clients to be vulnerable, and for the first time, they have felt safe enough to explore difficult issues such as trauma or addiction. This space allows a therapist to really listen, and to validate that client’s lived experience, and offer a supportive, collaborative and non-judgemental way forward. I do believe that as a therapeutic process, the dynamic created can also be a healing one for the practitioner, and I certainly have developed a deep sense of gratitude for the work that I am able to do, and the people I meet.

What do you like most about being a therapist?

Often clients can present hoping that therapy might give them a better understanding of their own lives. They may feel ‘stuck’, or not know how they have got to this point in their journey. Exploring past experiences can often allow a client to ‘join the dots’, and there is that wonderful moment when they can accept their current thoughts and feelings, which drive behaviour; and with that understanding comes possibilities for the way forward. I am also grateful that my clients share their life journey with me every appointment – a true privilege.

Do you ever have 'bad hair' days?

I don’t have hair! However – as a therapist you have to be very aware of ‘what’s going on’ for you in the therapy room. If you feel triggered by something a client has said or done – it is really important to examine your own processes. There may be some counter-transference i.e., the client reminds you of someone in your own life. As the great psychotherapist Yalom would say – it is important to take time to discuss this with your client, if you feel that it is in their best interest.

What do you think is the most significant problem we face, in the world today?

I think one of the most significant problems is disconnection with each other due to the use of technologies, that can be quite addictive. As with everything else though, technology can be used for both positive and negative outcomes – it is a wonderful way to maintain connection through a pandemic such as the recent and ongoing COVID-19. Another issue we face is the backlash to more individual freedoms, and there has been an increase in racism, homophobia and transphobia in recent times due to global right wing politics; so advocacy for social change is important.

Can you share the name of a book, film, song, event or work of art that inspires you?

I’m going to pick the art of the French impressionist Claude Monet – his ‘plein air’ paintings manage to capture so much light, and I believe that sometimes that is what we are doing in the therapy room – allowing the light to come in!

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