Dr Jessica Bolton is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, chartered by the UK’s Health and Care Professionals Council, registered with the British Psychological Society since 1998 as well as an Experiential Dynamic Therapist, Teacher and Supervisor Accredited by the International Experiential Dynamic Therapy Association (IEDTA).
“I undertook my first degree, a BA in Experimental Psychology, at St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford between 1995-1998 and went on to work as a research assistant at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford for two years until 2000. During my time in Oxford, I worked with inspiring researchers and clinicians, and learned to respect the meaning of psychological symptoms as well as to honour the clients who trusted us to help them on what sometimes felt like impossible journeys’. It was even more inspiring considering that they in turn helped others by taking part in research studies during these difficult journeys. The clinicians I worked with videoed their work as part of their supervision, development and training – they also provided a superb opportunity to share the way that therapy can support change when training others. As a young assistant psychologist, I watched as many videos as I could, in awe of moving, appropriately challenging and highly attuned cognitive behavioural therapy. During this time, I saw the power that cognitive behavioural work can have on psychological disorders.
I undertook my doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Sheffield and subsequently worked in Adult Mental Health services in the UK NHS in Yorkshire, Warwickshire, Coventry and Walsall. During my clinical training and my years working as a psychologist in the NHS, I met clients who were experiencing more complex difficulties than those I’d met in Oxford, and I was working with clinical teams who had less resources, less supervision, less training and less opportunity for reflection and support. The challenges ahead were apparent from my first few days of clinical training, challenges which reflected more closely my early experiences, where I had personal experience of watching people close to me who wanted to get help and were somehow unable to make full use of what was offered.
I was lucky to learn about another inspiring model of therapy, called Experiential Dynamic Therapy, during my doctorate which I then trained in as soon as I could after qualifying. This involved setting up an organisation to network with others and bring teachers into the UK, as we had only one practitioner of EDT in the UK in the early noughties! EDT integrates an understanding of:
- psychodynamics (psychological forces that underlie human behaviour, feelings, and emotions and how they relate to early experience; especially focused on dynamic relations between the conscious and the unconscious),
- attachment theory (relationships developed in childhood influencing relationships in adulthood)
- & neuroscience (the science of the nervous system)
Experiential Dynamic Therapy uses active and psychoeducative methods, as well as regulating anxiety to ensure that clients can work in their zone of proximal development. The model is flexible in its delivery – hence, my knowledge of cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, compassion focused therapy, dialectical behaviour therapy can still be used when it will be helpful within this therapeutic model. The emotional emphasis – on the facilitation and expression, and the integration and valuing of emotions – and the dynamic emphasis – where healing and destructive unconscious forces are closely attended to – is where EDT really offers something special. These skills are hard to learn, but vital for helping those clients who may have tried a variety of treatment methods, from medication to CBT, counselling to long term psychoanalytic psychotherapy.
Learning about emotions is what I expected from psychology as an 18 year old, which shows my naïveté at that time. In reality, emotions have often been sidelined from psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience and much of psychotherapy for many decades. It was painful to find how little emphasis was on emotions and the science of emotions during both of my degrees. In addition, the lack of integration between human experience and psychological disorder; psychology and psychiatry; human and animal models was very confusing to me. It was EDT that started bringing these worlds together for me, followed by learning about a branch of neuroscience called Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) and of course, Panksepp’s Emotional Systems – these built bridges that normalise mental health problems as well as showing ways through the darkness. On this website, I want to share these ideas in ways that are easy for people to understand and relate to.
In 2013 I took the difficult decision to leave the NHS. I have since worked to set up Thrive Psychology Psychotherapy Psychoeducation Ltd and have worked training NHS Clinical Psychologists – as part of their doctorate training and post qualification training. Thrive is a social business – supporting clients at a level they can afford, offering consultation to my local schools and health services, and developing open access material via this website.
Finally, it feels important to share that despite being a psychologist, I am first a human being, with the same emotions and innate emotional systems as everyone else, helping me to survive and thrive. Of course, I have experienced all the emotional systems I describe here, both at moderate and hard to bear levels, experiencing their healing and destructive powers. My increased passion for sharing ideas about emotional systems come after a difficult time during 2013 when I experienced multiple traumas and bereavement. Any doubts I had about taking a risk and sharing my ideas were put into perspective when facing the fragility of life, the destructive and the healing power of emotional systems… by which I mean internal emotional systems and external emotional systems – i.e. families, work environments, social networks and communities.
Balanced, active, regulated, ‘online’ emotional systems, much more than rational thinking, ensure we live our life well with healthy psychological and physical well being, no matter what cards we are dealt.”