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Coffee Break with Heather Turkington

6th February 2023

Q.1 – What do you do and why do you do it?

I am a Psychological Trauma Therapist in the Trauma Resource Centre in the Belfast Trust. I am an HCPC registered dramatherapist and I use this psychotherapeutic practice regularly in my work with clients. I work with people who have gone through one or multiple traumatic events at any stage of their life – mostly related to the conflict here.

Our patients experience symptoms which negatively impact their mental health a result of experiencing with these events. I have more than thirty patients on my caseload at any given time, and we work together to embark on a journey of healing, processing and dealing with the impact of the trauma, and improving knowledge of coping mechanisms.

This happens with a view to helping our patients to move forward in life with improved mental health and an ability to function without the unwanted symptoms that trauma can impose on people’s lives.

I do this work for so many reasons – the first one is that I adore it! It is such an honour to be able to hold space for people at any stage of their healing journey, and to be able to take that journey alongside them. One of the other main reasons I do this work is because it is addressing a need in our country specifically that has been here for a very long time. This work is vital in helping individuals – and collectively our communities – move forward with peace of mind and a new knowledge of their own mental health, promoting better relations and improved quality of life.

Q.2 – How do patients/service users benefit from what you do?

As mental health becomes less of a taboo topic in our society, it is vital – especially after the turmoil many have experienced over the last couple of years – that this need is addressed in an urgent manner, ensuring that the full range of therapeutic modalities are available to enable all service users to find the one that will suit them. Dramatherapy is creativity creates a space that precedes talking, encouraging a ‘bottom-up’ approach to mental health. In essence, the creative processing work provides a much needed explorative ‘safe space’ between the patient and their trauma if talking doesn’t feel safe, or requires a bit of additional help.

The patient’s healing journey is their own, but it often helps to have a specific space to process events or talk them through – time that is completely dedicated to them, with the aim of providing some of the basis of the work that will eventually see a reduction in symptoms and an improved ability to cope with and enjoy their life.

Q.3 – Tell us about a typical day at work?

I usually have about four sessions with patients a day. These are all around an hour long, and these hours consist of the patient and me working together, using a mixture of creativity and talking – whatever is appropriate for that patient that specific day in order to facilitate their healing journey. The rest of my time is filled with recording session notes, looking at referrals, conducting assessments to ensure people are on our waiting lists, session planning, team meetings so we can keep updated and connected with each other, and sometimes having extra training.

Q.4. – If one of your patients was sitting with you right now what is the best piece of advice you could give them?

I’m not sure about advice – because every patient is completely unique, so that might be difficult – but the one thing I would say to every single one of my patients is that they should be incredibly proud of themselves for taking the steps to go on their healing journey. Everyone’s situation is different, but the amount bravery it takes to start healing in this way is always admirable.

Q.5. – Tell us about the satisfaction you get from your job?

Being trusted with the responsibility of being present at some incredibly vulnerable moments for people, whether they are expressing their hurt, healing, or a little bit of both – is such an honour. I will never take that for granted. The therapeutic relationship with patients is a special and unique element of my work, and it is one of my favourite things about it. Those sessions where a patient comes in and tells you of progress they have made, or where breakthroughs are made, or even where a therapeutic relationship has softened enough that the patient feels able to trust you with hearing their pain and holding that space – they are all just amazing, and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it.

Q.6. –Tell us a little about your life outside of work?

I have a dog called Buddy, who I brought home with me from the time I lived in Australia. He’s the best.

I sing in my spare time – I released a single last year and play at different events and venues with various artists.

I love/need coffee, am vegan and I try to eat and live as healthily and as well as possible.

I am the co Vice Chair for the British Association of Dramatherapists and try to promote the benefits of our work as far as possible.

I adore traveling, live music, drawing and painting, running (in the summer!), a bit of yoga and wouldn’t say no to a good spa day!