07 Jul 2022

Interview with Donna Breen CBT & Online Counsellor

In episode 4 of the ICHAS Podcast, our guest is Donna Breen. Donna works as a CBT and EMDR Psychotherapist in the South of Ireland, heading a team of 6 therapists providing services to an array of clients struggling with a range of presenting issues, generally referred from local GPs, EAP programs, and many more.

She is a mental health and trauma-informed advocate for those in distress with over 10 years of experience working on the frontline. Her experience spans many demographics. She has been working with multinational companies for over 6 years, developing and delivering talks, seminars, and webinars for various companies along with working as a tutor delivering workshops to schools, third-level colleges, and community groups. Here, she has learned to work with and deliver impactful, empowering, and educational talks which help equip employees with the practical skills they need to live a fuller life.  Workshops on Cybersafety, Social Media Detox, and her online sleep programme are the most popular choices.

During the talk we discuss:

  • How she got into counselling and psychotherapy
  • How she set up her own practice
  • Advice she would give to anyone going down that route
  • The range of services that her practice provides

Below is the full interview:

Q: Thanks for joining me today. I suppose if you want to maybe tell people just a little bit about your practice?


My name is Donna Breen and I run a practice here in Tipperary. So we’re about 50 minutes from Limerick and we have a team of therapists that work here. So we do a large array of different things here, but I suppose a lot of our work historically would have focused on counseling and psychotherapy. So we would get a lot of referrals from local GPs community groups, and just a lot of private referrals. So the business has been in operation since 2014 and it’s grown over, over the last number of years, people have been affected, you know, in many different ways by lots of different life events. But we just see a massive shift and a massive change in the number of people that are willing to come forward and make contact with us in comparison to what things were like when we started out.


Q: Recently you did a workshop recently for students even kind on how to set up their own practice what’s been your own experience from setting things up back in 2014? That’s eight years ago now.


Yeah it’s amazing it feels like a different world. I remember, I used to, like go around to events, and I used to have a banner stand on my little table and people wouldn’t even make eye contact with me, they wouldn’t even look at me, it was so strange. They wouldn’t talk it was like it was almost like they wanted to avoid talking or addressing the fact that I was a mental health professional, it was like they had this kind of image built of what we should be like, or that they shouldn’t be seen talking to us. And that has just drastically changed over the years, I suppose it really kind of got me to sit back and that’s why we kind of had a movement with social media. That’s why I started having a presence on social media at that time because I just felt the stigma was so high. But that has flipped 360, which is just amazing.

So in 2014, it’s almost like they didn’t want to talk about mental health and that it was the elephant in the room in terms of just people were uncomfortable with talking about never mind even thinking about discussing it with someone.


Yeah, absolutely I think of the fact that you know, it was in a public place as well like mental health would have naturally at that point been something and it still is for a lot of people. But it would have naturally been something that was discussed behind closed doors away from the world, not something that you publicly had a conversation about or something that you publicly inquired about.

So yeah, I think that that definitely was a huge, huge seismic shift. I think a lot of that comes down to the public health campaigns that have been run over the last number of years, obviously, Darkness into Light. People, I think, have taken a lot of insight from those walks in terms of awareness and understanding and opening up and knowing where to turn. So like a lot has got to be attributed to that as well and just mental health professionals being out in their communities being involved and just breaking down that stigma. So the people who see that we are just normal people like everybody else.


Q: So with the benefit of hindsight, if you could go back to maybe talk to yourself when you’re setting up the practice were there any particular areas where you just be like, okay, you need to know this as soon as possible?


Yeah, I think for me,  I was very young when I qualified like so I’ve been doing this a long time, but I would have been 21 I think when I was fully qualified and accredited, so that’s really, really young. So I think I would say to myself back then, that’s irrelevant. What’s relevant here is the work that you do with your clients and the difference that you make in their lives. I would have found it quite difficult because I felt like a bit of a lone ranger to be honest, because at that age, you know, so many of the therapists that I would have interacted with or worked with or tried to collaborate or anything like that would have been so much older than me. You know, and then there’s also a piece where, you know, maybe it wasn’t that normal for somebody should be so young. So people can get, like a little bit apprehensive or a little bit nervous about your ability and question what you know you do or you’re capable of doing. So I think I’d go back and say, look, just stick at it, you will be grand, you know, it will work out, things will change, and people will begin to start to talk about all this stuff. There is a need for what you do, what you do is really, really important and can change people’s lives, and not to give up on that just to keep at it. So that eventually, people will change their mindset, and they will start to seek out the support that they need.


Q: You mentioned graduating at 21. What would it be in your even your experience of ICHAS as a student?


Yeah, you know, it was very lucky, I suppose, in a way, like some people will say lucky or lucky. I think life is all about perspective. But like, I would have worked in bars when I was very young and like I had that experience. So like, by the time I went back to college, I was still only 18. So like, I’ve taken a year out and went back and I was only 18. But I had a hell of a lot of life experience. But I knew that this was what I wanted to do like I was gone more I was dead set that was just, you know, I saw as, yeah, that’s just where my mindset was at.

But looking back, I felt so privileged to have the facility of the college because, at that time, they were the only college in the whole country that would take me and accept me for who I was and let me train irrespective of my age. To me that was so important. Because without them, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity to do that and I don’t think many people realize that there are a lot of doors close to you. When you’re young when you’re not of a certain age, particularly in this industry, a lot of doors are closed and that was something that ICHAS never did. They never closed the door on me, they welcomed me with no discrimination, no judgment, nothing and they just let me do what I want to needed to do. That was to get my education.


Q: Through the workshops you’ve been doing and through your own experience what advice would you have for others who may be going down the route of setting up their own practice?


Yeah, I think just to stick with it. Like it does take time, people always think, oh, the first year in business is the hardest. I don’t agree with that at all, I actually think two to five years is the hardest because you’re not the new person anymore. So you know, you’re not the shiny new Penny anymore. But you’re not yet fully established to where you want to be. I think that’s very, very difficult. So I would say just stick at it. Another thing when you’re starting a private practice for me, like I always had other jobs and other roles part-time, which I think definitely buffered things out and definitely helped. You know, and it allowed me to focus on certain aspects of the business that I couldn’t focus on, maybe I might have been a bit overwhelmed if I just went 100%,

You took the pressure off yourself, all your eggs weren’t in the one basket.


Yeah, that’s my point and what happens then is when you do that you’re in a state of stress, you’re going into your clients in a state of stress, you could be snapping up people, you could be getting frustrated with people, you could be getting annoyed with people and burning bridges that you don’t need to be doing. You know, so I think that’s definitely something I would suggest.

Now that’s not for everybody, everybody has their own way of doing things. But that’s just from my experience, I would always say try to maybe have something else part-time, that gives you like the socialization interaction with other people, you know, the teamwork, that sort of stuff, because private practice can be very lonely too. It can be very isolating, particularly for me, for example, before I had the team I worked rurally in Tipperary and I could go six weeks without meeting another human that’s not a client, so not to discard the importance of having human connections as we say to our clients all the time, but we are also clients too. You know, so those two pieces are to try not to work in isolation. And if you can when you’re starting out to stick at it, and then to try and have maybe something part-time


Q: You have a couple of different programs and services are provided, like for example the sleep program and even in the last two years, I’d say, when you mentioned the human connection, a lot of you would probably have had to go online to.


Absolutely, like, you know, I was so lucky. That’s another thing. Like when I started out, I remember I, like I love online counseling, I think because of my age, I just grew up in that generation where it was just normalized for us. But I remember so many other therapists, and they were so apprehensive and so nervous and when I’d say I was doing online counselling, some of them would nearly you know, they get a wicked shock. But then when COVID hit so much my practice had been online for years, it was completely seamless for us, you know, there was no transition at all, it was just like, okay, we can’t do face to face, we’ll just do online.

Yeah, and there was just no issue like, but I suppose the thing with online is, it’s great because we have clients from all over the country. We’ve got clients, you know, all over Ireland that just could not get to us and what we found here, particularly in the practices, a lot of times in counseling, it’s about you as a person. So the person either likes what you do, or they don’t like what you do. So if somebody finds somebody that they really connect with, they liked their message, they like what they do, they would be more likely to wait and see that person online, then go and see somebody local to them that they just don’t feel they’ll be able to connect with. So that’s been a huge aspect.

And then obviously, with COVID, all of our counseling services had to go online. But we have a whole range of online offerings as well I do loads of different webinars and I have been doing them for years, with companies all over Ireland. So there’s a whole range of different suites of programs that we offer to corporate clients around the country. So like, we just don’t have, I suppose that apprehension of online, and it’s something that works really, really well for us, and we love doing it.

So there’s that then we have the sleep program, and we’re developing a number of other programs at the moment the reason we’re developing them is just that our waiting list is actually quite long and with that we feel people are able to start and get working on issues, you know, whilst they’re waiting to engage in therapy. So it’s just been a natural progression. It’s a logistical situation where we just feel we can, provide those services to people and they’re finding them fantastic because some people just need a little bit of education. Some people don’t need long long-term counseling and even with that, it cuts down the amount of time that they have to spend in therapy. So it frees up space, and everything is moving all the time and it’s just really convenient.


Q: You mentioned there kind of with the corporate work as that evolved over time too since you started to kind of say, even corporations, business employers are starting to realize I can’t run the staff into the ground, and especially for two years where people were kind of highlighting that they were almost they were living where they work, was kind of that divide that was between their work life and the living life really got warped because of people working from home.


It absolutely did and I suppose we again, we’re very, very lucky because I’ve been doing corporate wellness for I’d say probably six of the seven years. So like I’ve been doing it a long time and I absolutely love it. It’s just a whole other aspect of our business, but so interconnected with what we do as well. So yeah, so like a huge amount of the COVID stuff and so we would have done a lot of webinars on working from home. Now we’re doing a lot of them when working from home, but from a hybrid perspective, you know, so protecting your mental health, and when working from home, you know, as I said, from a hybrid point of view, we do a lot of webinars around cyber safety and cybersecurity for parents. So in relation to the mental health impact of internet use on children’s mental health. So that’s a really, really big one at the moment.

So as I said, like we’ve been doing it for about six years, but just the amount of offerings we have, has just grown and grown and grown. So we have a mental health series we have a stress series we have time management, goal setting vision boards, really a lot of them we use as kind of team building activities as well where we can go into companies, and we can really just defuse a lot of the stress for the employees within the organization and just give them the space to work on the business rather than just in the business all the time.


Q: The big thing at the moment has been the hybrid approach. If you had to give people one tip when it comes to hybrid?


I think it’s to get that space and to, to utilize and enjoy that, that that time where you do go into the office, like make it an event. I know that might sound mad, but like to make it something so like to get up to get dressed, you know, in your more formal clothes, whereas like for a Zoom, you might have, a professional top and a tracksuit on.

Now I’m not speaking, you know, in a judgmental sense. But, you know I think it feeds into us not separating work in life, then that’s where I’m coming from, from a psychological point of view. So just to make it like a little event, when you’re going in, you know, put on and have your podcast in the car and make the most of that time or, you know, in the train, maybe say hello to somebody talk to somebody, all of those small little things. Maybe on the day or the two days, the week that you’re in there, you know, make a commitment to yourself that you’re going to sit down and maybe have a coffee with somebody that you haven’t seen in a long time.

So all of these things that a year ago, we would have been so grateful to be able to do, we’re now getting a little bit nervous and a little bit apprehensive about it. But sometimes with that stuff, it’s about acclimatising yourself to that situation again, but a certain amount of it is pushing through the fear that we have been taught.


To learn more about Donna Breen CBT & Online Counselling check out her website today.


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