Interview

©studioregard

Désirée Kogevinas, an integrative psychotherapist based in Geneva and also often working in London, provides therapy for individuals including adolescents, extending her services to couples and families. Her areas of expertise encompass trauma, family conflict, relationships, addiction, grief, anxiety, and depression.

I first connected with Désirée over an exploratory Zoom call. Unlike typical virtual interactions that often commence with a hint of awkwardness, Desirée put me at ease straight away. During the interview I saw someone who could one minute be very high energy and the next quietly just observing, with her kind yet extremely sharp eyes that not much escaped. She explained to me what this was because human nature fascinated her, and that it was also innate since her childhood, and a state now part of her called hypervigilance (I had to look it up: often a result of trauma, it is a state of being overtly alert to potential threats and dangers). Her charismatic and heightened energy is simultaneously very calming. It’s no surprise that Désirée, with her thriving practice in Geneva and London, stands as a vanguard in the realm of holistic mental health.

Intrigued by our initial interaction, I decided to set up a virtual coffee chat to delve into Désirée ‘s insights on addiction recovery, relationship therapy, family dynamics, and trauma reduction and healing. Here follows her perspective on therapy that transcends the traditional approaches we have grown accustomed to:

1. Your journey in mental health has been quite unique. Could you share more about what led you to become a therapist?

My first meeting or crossing with mental health was quite young, for I grew up in a family where mental issues were prevalent. There were horror stories that frightened me as a young child, and I was terrified that the “mad gene” would be passed along to me.

My own journey through addiction led me to understand the correlation between addiction and mental health. Addressing trauma and slowly learning what it feels like to create a safe environment within myself was like discovering daylight after living only in the night.

Thanks to recovery, I had discovered I had a passion for 1:1 connection and trying to help people in my private life. One day, I did a recovery coach training. I loved it, but I knew it was just the beginning for me. It felt like an awakening to my calling: to what gave me purpose. I remembered a far-off dream I still think of sometimes to do exactly what I do today – except at the time, it was laughable, an impossibility.

I was ready and I retrained from a career in communications to one of therapist, first focusing on addictions, and then expanding to my areas of interest: trauma reduction and healing, mainly early developmental trauma but also Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), family therapy and moving from dysfunctional dynamics to healthy communication, group therapy, couples therapy, working with adolescents, love addiction and love avoidance, sex addiction and healthy sexuality, grief counselling, mediation, positive psychology, enhancing self-esteem, setting boundaries, creating joy, etc. My work is based a lot on Pia Mellody’s Post Induction Treatment Therapy (PIT) and the Healing and Re-Parenting Model.

My passion for helping coupled with my curiosity and my passion for learning means that I love my job more and more, if possible. I enjoy it so much; it doesn’t feel like work!

2. How do you tailor your approach to the unique needs of individuals, couples or families in your care?

As an integrative therapist, I integrate several therapeutic modalities that will work with the uniqueness of the individual. Two people sharing a similar problem, may need a different approach. Put it this way: I don’t provide “cooky cutter therapy”.

I always offer an assessment to gather basic information and explain how it works. The key point for me of this assessment is to hear from the potential client their goals. I wish to understand if they are aware of their problem – awareness is key in therapy, though denial can be worked with. For denial is a powerful defence mechanism to help the individual ignore and thus survive their reality. Often, it is a survival mechanism that kicks in when the person is very young, to protect them from the unsafe/insecure environment they are growing up in. Next I wish to hear their goals, indicative of what stage they are at: any stage, any goals, no goals – it is all perfectly fine. My priority is to listen, understand, be relational and respond to the needs I am hearing with care in my heart.

3. Client autonomy, allowing clients to lead their healing journey, seems to be a key aspect when you speak of your work. How do you balance guiding clients with empowering them to take ownership of their personal development and recovery?

This is a good question. Again, it depends entirely on the client, at what stage of their therapy we are at, and even at what stage of the session. I follow my intuition a lot, I will check things out with the client too.

I challenge my clients, I try to bring things to the light and ask them if they are interested in exploring this. I do not push them in areas they do not wish to go to. First, I believe they have been pushed around enough. And second, we work on boundaries a lot, and the relationship between us is built on trust. It is based on respect.

I value the client’s feelings, values and vulnerability that begin to emerge in therapy. I support the client, I walk alongside them as they discover themselves and life, I may shine some light along the way.

4. Building a strong therapeutic alliance is crucial. How do you establish and maintain a meaningful connection with your clients, and why is this relationship essential for the healing process?

Three words: empathy, honesty and transparency

It’s back to building trust, isn’t it? For many people, learning to trust someone can take time, and that’s okay. As a therapist, I work very relationally, which means I’m “there” for the client.

I often address this issue early on: I encourage the client to tell me if there’s something on their mind about therapy, or if they’re angry with me around a certain issue. I can certainly take it and keep the therapeutic space safe, and the client and I remain relational throughout. The client learns that – they can be emotionally intimate and vulnerable with a safe person.

5.  Do you have any guidance or encouraging words for individuals who might be considering therapy but are hesitant to take the first step?

Are you asking me as a person or as a therapist?

I would provide appropriate self-disclosure to help individuals feel less alone around this or like a failure. Because I can relate on a personal level. I maybe did very few sessions of therapy in my 20s and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. There were childhood things I just did not want to look at. I refused. And I didn’t approach therapy again until…
…. well into my 30s.

©studioregard

So I would say, no matter what, don’t be hard on yourself. If you feel part of you wants to do something , but actual psychotherapy feels too much right now, that’s fine. Don’t push yourself. There is a realm of alternative holistic therapies (some better than others, check out the sources well). Think of the type of activities you enjoy, for example do you like doing things alone, or with groups?
You could also seek advice from someone you trust, like your GP. Gentle holistic therapies include breathing work, meditation, massage, yoga and tai chi.

6. Which unique perspectives do you bring to aspects like addiction recovery, family dynamics, and trauma healing through your holistic and person-centred approach?

I suppose my own experience added to my skills. My skills are my training, my qualification, and how much I learn on the job, in supervision, and constantly reading and learning from esteemed colleagues. And my experience? I obviously don’t speak about myself during therapy, but aren’t we all the sum of experiences, good and bad? That is what makes the uniqueness and beauty of you and I sitting here at this very moment, 3:36pm in Switzerland on Tuesday 2 April 20 December 2024. Isn’t that amazing?
I have this intense desire to connect that sometimes I’m not even conscious of I think. It’s not with everyone though, that would be quite troubling. The other day, a new patient told me slightly surprised she could feel I cared. I believe patients are like children: highly vulnerable hence highly sensitive to their environment – they notice and feel most things. Well, she was right.
I believe so much goes through the body. We know trauma is stored in the body, and that it can dysregulate the nervous system. I am very much into a holistic approach as this can help regulate the body once more. I do a bit myself, so I can do guided visualisations for example, but I love an MDT approach, and I will refer out without hesitation to someone with expertise in EMDR or Brainspotting for example.
In therapy, be it during psychoeducation, trauma reduction, psychotherapy, I will often bring it back to what the patient is feeling emotionally, how old they are feeling and what is going on in their bodies. Answers are telling!

7. Can you share a success story that highlights the impact of therapy in your practice?

Yes, with pleasure. A lovely person, I really can’t say much on the off-chance they read this. The person was rather young, talented, smart and kind, from a privileged background. Yet years were passing, in and out of treatment, the individual was riddled with childhood and adult abuse, sabotaged by grief, incapable of emotional intimacy, layered with C-PTSD from different ages.
At the start of therapy there was no change, they tried to manipulate and do their usual. Behaviours like this are coping strategies no longer useful for an adult, I challenged them pointedly sharply whilst continuing the work with love and gentleness. I also learned the hard way to really hold boundaries professionally. Change began happening and I slowly guided them through the trauma work, we worked together for a few years. The person is well and content today, I believe and we have both moved on.