After-Hours Counselling for Expats, Nightowls and Early Birds (in English!)

After-hours counsellors and therapists in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo are hard enough to find for locals. And the few English speaking psychology services available in Sweden also tend to operate during business hours. Online therapy and counselling is a perfect way for expats in Sweden to fit in a private consultation before work or when settling down for the evening.

Your Body-Clock: Are You an Early-bird or a Night-Owl?

We all have our own body-clock, sleep patterns and energy rhythms. Some are early risers, getting out of bed at 5 in the morning and using the time to do their own thing or to arrive at the office before everyone else. Some are ‘night-owls’ (I work with a lot of night-owls) who stay up to all hours of the evening online surfing the net, using social media, sending emails watching tv or reading books.

There are times when our preferred sleeping and waking patterns seem to clash with work schedules or the seasons. Nowhere is this truer than in the nordic countries, which have such extreme differences of daylight between the summer and winter months. A lot of expats, for example, find they have trouble sleeping when they come to Stockholm. The extra light in summer can leave them feeling over-tired while the darkness of winter leads to restlessness. But if staying up later or starting the day earlier than the average person suits you, why not use the time productively?

During winter months, from October to May, I have consultations with my ‘night-owls’ starting at 9pm (21:00) Central European time and even later. For many of my clients, this is the perfect time to talk about what is troubling them or to find ways forward with what they are trying to achieve. But not everyone wants to stay up late. Earlybirds are welcome to book a time from the early hours of the morning in winter (even as early as 6am) up until 9am. Some people choose to go into work a little later in the morning in winter, and starting with a coffee and chat on webcam provides a good way to get focussed too. My online clients appreciate being able to talk with an English speaking therapist outside business hours.

The Advantage & Benefits of Online Counselling for Expats in Europe

Privacy is the first thing that comes to mind for many people when booking an appointment online. I’ve worked with many individuals in high profile careers and quite a few celebrities as well. Being able to discuss personal concerns with a guarantee of confidentiality is a distinct advantage of meeting with a professional therapist over webcam. There is no clinic to attend, no waiting room, no need to explain to colleagues and no way to be seen publicly. You can meet from an office or your own room at home. I don’t just work with people in Stockholm or Sweden this way, but expats in Paris, Geneva, Berlin, London, Madrid and Copenhagen as well as cities in Asia and the Middle East.

Meeting with a therapist online also means efficiency for the time poor and busy. Many of my clients in Stockholm have young children, and making an appointment at 9pm or later means they can put the little people to bed before we start talking. The advantages of meeting later in the evening extend to not having to cancel when something urgent comes up on the job and they have to stay back a couple of hours. The early birds say that having a counselling session in the morning helps them to offload some stress and emotion before they start work. Not having to travel to a counselling practice saves time.

Finally, years of working as a counsellor in person has demonstrated to me that crossing the initial threshold to the therapy room is the hardest step for many people. I know a lot of you who are reading this blog will delay coming to see me, sometimes for up to 6 months or more. You might even be unsure how to choose a therapist. My advice to you is to bite the bullet and start now. You will probably feel better sooner if you start sooner. Contact me now and let me know you want to make an appointment. Online counselling and therapy is convenient.

Online psychology: Accessing Experience, Intuition and Wise-Counsel

When I was studying mindfulness meditation, one of my Buddhist teachers explained a model of decision making that has been effective for me ever since. He said we can draw on 3 sources:

  • Our own Experience
  • Our Intuition
  • The Counsel of the Wise

I’d say the purpose of talk therapy is to help you connect with all 3. We can discuss what you have learned from your life to date. We can talk about your gut-feelings and what those are telling you (and how to make more sense of your emotions). And you are welcome to ask my advice or join me in exploring the advice of others. This can involve conversations about other advice-givers, self-help ‘sages’ or what I call Experience-Consultants: those who have already been through similar experiences and life journeys.

You don’t have to do any of this alone. Whatever you are struggling with – counselling for a relationship, for separation or divorce, mood swings, anxiety, ongoing depression or adjustment to life in Sweden – talking it through can help. No matter if you are in a large city like Stockholm or Malmo, or a smaller town like Lund or Umeå (or even another city in mainland Europe), you can access therapeutic conversations at a time convenient to you. From October to May, I am available late evenings and early mornings (between 9pm – 9am) from Sunday to Thursday, especially for the night-owls and early birds. Take a look at my online options.

If you want to know more or make an appointment, send me an email.

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What’s the Purpose of Talk Therapy? 5 Different Reasons to Turn to Online Counselling.

Recently I was reflecting on all the requests I receive for online counselling, coaching and therapy. I’ve been providing therapy consultations over webcam and offering email counselling for several years now, and I’ve heard a diversity of hopes and expectations over that time. Here are some of them.

Strategies and Tools

One of the biggest reasons people contact me is to ask for ‘strategies’ or ‘tools’. The tools or strategies (or methods or approaches) they are seeking could be about improving confidence or happiness, better communication, managing mood (e.g. ‘anger management’) or coping with stress. You might have already tried some approaches you have read about or been told about previously but remain stuck or need some coaching. Or you might be looking to try something new. One size definitely does not fit all (even ‘CBT’ – cognitive behaviour therapy – can be many things to many people and, despite the claims, it doesn’t suit everyone). People sometimes arrive with an expectation that a therapist will fix or treat their mental health problem but generally the approach is collaborative: we treat it together, in cooperation.

Working Through Stuff (or working out stuff)

Life can be complicated. Self-help books only take us so far. But a conversation is dynamic and can take us therapeutically further than reading a book or doing the exercises it contains. When people talk with me about dealing with family relationships, for example, they sometimes need to modify the approach they have been reading about to suit what is happening at the time. Sexuality is another topic that can take some working out. Categories like ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ or ‘bisexual’ can seem very fixed at a time in one’s life when sexual identity is changing. Some dialogue can assist when working through our  relationship with our body, desires, public identity and the gender expectations of us. Talking about difficult topics can also make it easier for us to express ourselves. The useful thing about online counselling is that you have the option of requesting some notes from the session or you can exchange therapy emails as a way of holding onto your progress.

Interested in making an appointment to work out something? Click here to send an email.

Letting Go and Acceptance

When something changes, like a relationship or job or even something to do with our bodies such as an illness or disability, the adjustment can take time. We can benefit from some therapeutic conversations. Some people describe this as ‘grieving’ but this word might not fit for everyone. In seeking resolution, counselling can take an interesting turn. For instance, when someone special or close to us passes, we might be thinking of meeting with a counsellor as part of ‘letting go’. However I often find the counselling process leads people to start recovering their relationship with a loved one, and bereavement turns to remembering and holding the deceased close. With death as in life, there are many ways to resolution.

Getting a Sounding Board or Bollplank

When we are looking for answers, having someone experienced to help us ‘bounce around’ ideas, or ‘bollplanka‘ as the Swedes say, can be helpful. Many tell me that they are looking for someone impartial, unlike a friend or relative who might automatically side with them or play ‘devil’s advocate’. In a therapeutic relationship, it’s okay to ask for advice or reassurance. Counselling isn’t always about providing this, but even if it is not possible in a talk therapy appointment, we can explore what you are seeking and how you might get it professionally or on your own. Some people find that one or two webcam consultations are enough to find direction. Others meet with me regularly, like once a fortnight or once a month, simply because they find it helpful to throw around ideas before making decisions.

Making Changes in Life

Speaking of decisions, at certain times of life it can seem like we are at crossroads. Should I remain in the relationship or leave? Should I continue in Sweden or return home? Should I follow my career or take any job, just to earn some money / get into the society? People tell me that making personal changes can be easier when they hear some other perspectives. There are some stories I can share from those who have given me permission. But it is also helpful to explore the subject. Seeing our situations as ‘stay or go’ can produce more stress and often leaves it harder to make a decision about what to do. In this respect, the self-awareness and understanding we get from talking to someone else can open up the possibilities beyond what we had imagined prior to talk therapy.

Meeting for Talk Therapy Online

If you would like to meet online, there are several options available. Webcam conversations over Skype mean we can see and hear each other in real time. If you don’t have access to a computer or prefer not to be seen, you can choose telephone counselling if you don’t mind the additional cost of calling a Stockholm landline (I also have landlines based in London or Sydney, Australia you can call). Instant Message chat provides a slower, more reflective opportunity for meeting in real-time with the added benefit of not being seen or heard. It is entirely text-based conversation. Or, if you prefer to write in your own time, you can choose email counselling where you write me an email and I respond within 72 hours. You then receive an email you can keep referring back to in future.

For more information including my fees and availability, please contact me.

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Counselling, Coaching and Therapy in Stockholm

counselling in Stockholm

Counselling, Coaching & Therapy in English

I am currently available for online (Skype) appointments and consultations via Email Exchange. If you would like to find out more about my online services including online therapy and webcam counselling, or for an update on my availability, please contact me. These therapy services are available in English throughout Sweden and in other countries. I’m not currently providing appointments in-person in Stockholm and do not have capacity to meet with new couples at present, however you are welcome to contact me as an individual if you want relationship counselling.

Ask a question or make an appointment now

Check my qualifications and experience

Read more on Forward Therapy Stockholm

Cost of Services and Fee Schedule

Relationship Counselling: Ending the Blame Game for Better Communication

How often have you been in a situation where your partner has blamed you unfairly or found fault with everything you say? Constant put-downs and negativity mean criticism is thriving in your relationship. Here are some ideas about how to nip them in the bud and start having better communication with your partner.

First up, let’s talk about language. I prefer not to use terms like ‘critical people’ or ‘blamers’. Anyone can fall into speaking critically of others. Criticism can take the form of always pointing out what is wrong, constant negative comments or picking fights. If it’s coming from your partner, it could be a sign of unhappiness of lack of fulfilment. But don’t take it personally: people who have been taken over by criticism are generally in a bad way!

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Criticism: You Can’t Fight Fire with Fire

When criticism and negativity becomes obvious, it’s time for action. But you can’t fight fire with fire. Imagine reacting to criticism with criticism… it doesn’t work does it? Most of the time when we are burning up with criticism we aren’t even aware of it. Pointing it out can just fan the flames. We need to be a little more strategic.

Start by checking your own reactions. To reduce the physical stress response, breathe deeply into your abdomen and relax your muscles as you listen to what your partner has to say. Accepting criticism is like receiving a gift that you don’t need. There’s no need to take offence. Just don’t catch the negativity being offered. If you react to criticism, you have basically engaged with it. And if you react critically, you have lobbed it back. Ever heard the expression ‘someone is going to lose an eye’? Once we are playing the blame-game, we have already lost perspective.

Non-Violent Communication


One way of changing your response to criticism is to indicate you have heard what the person has said and you need time to consider it. This way, you keep some distance between yourself and the remark. The idea comes from Non-Violent Communication or NVC, an approach developed in the 1960s that involves awareness, expressing feelings and asking for what you need. I recommend the above book ‘Non-Violent Communication: Practical Skills to Connect and Communicate Skilfully in Every Situation‘ that describes this approach in detail. With practice, anyone can improve their communication but it’s important to be assertive and have boundaries. If you are in a situation of physical danger or abuse, don’t stick around. Get out and get help.

There are a few simple things you can start doing now to change the existing patterns of your relationship. If this interests you, read on!

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A repeated scenario I have witnessed in relationships is one partner putting aside their own needs to try to meet the needs of the other. Which of course doesn’t work too well. It usually ends up with the self-sacrificing partner feeling resentful when their own needs aren’t met. But we can’t neglect our own needs!

Does this sound familiar to you?

The situation generally worsens when both partners suppress their feelings and ignore their own needs to try to make each other happy. Both can end up feeling trapped and not knowing what to do. At the same time, the solution isn’t just about looking after one’s own needs. When in a relationship, we have to find a way to be with the other person. We have to be aware of our own emotions and look after our own needs but remain conscious and sensitive to the other person’s feelings and needs as well. It’s not easy, but when both people are generous with each other, it tends to expand the sense of the relationship. If both partners are tight and mean towards each other, everything tends to get worse and worse.

From Blame-Game to Generosity

If you’ve ever found yourself ‘playing the Blame Game’ with someone, you will know the story. We can get caught in a cycle of blaming the other person or blaming ourselves for a silly mistake or the unpleasant emotions we are experiencing. Non-Violent Communication offers a way forward through taking responsibility for – and expressing – our emotions while empathetically listening to the other person’s feelings and needs. Partners can’t always meet our needs. We sometimes have find ways to meet them ourselves but still communicate them to our partners.

Finally, there is always the possibility your partner may be right, even if the way they are saying something is not ideal. Working out what to take on board isn’t always easy. I offer confidential appointments in English in Stockholm, online counselling over Skype and through email. Fill out my contact form to make a start on improving communication. To break the ‘blame game’ pattern in your relationship, contact me today through www.ForwardTherapy.se or call me on 08 559 22 636.

Swedish Culture Shock: 5 Practical Ways to Deal with Stress

man with stress

Providing counselling services for expats in Stockholm, I’m often helping my clients to manage and find ways to relieve stress. This stress might be related to cultural factors including the difficulty many report in making friends with Swedes or it could be to do with a close relationship or marriage. It can be associated with a combination of factors, for example work pressure, unfulfilled hopes or plans, perceived expectations or the adjustment to a new life in Sweden. The impact of stress isn’t always obvious.

People come to me wanting new ways to think or ‘mental tools’ for dealing with their circumstances. But regularly I meet people who so stressed-up, they can’t think so easily, in new ways or old. This article is about some very basic things you can do to manage stress. If that interests you, read on.

Stressing out? Ask for a consultation now!

5 Ways to Manage Stress

Here are 5 fundamental steps you can take to start getting back in control of the stress in your life. These tips are recommended by doctors, psychologists and major organisations like the British NHS (National Health Service).

1. Eat well.

When we don’t refuel our bodies regularly, our physiology can go into a stressed state and our more subtle cognitive (thinking) capabilities can be adversely affected. It’s much harder to problem solve when hungry, for example. On the flipside, using food to numb emotions can lead to overeating and unintentional weight gain. Aim for a balanced diet and regular nourishment.

2. Ensure you get enough sleep.

Sleep is regenerative and gives us a chance to let go of tension. It’s the body’s passive way of regularly relieving the effects of stress and becoming refreshed by allowing the brain to go into ‘quiet mode’ so we regain physiological balance. Of course sometimes stress can also interfere with sleep, in which case we don’t get the regular physical and mental refreshment we need. If your sleep is affected, develop a routine to support sleeping (google ‘Sleep Hygiene’). Sleeping tablets are not an ongoing answer, but if you are severely sleep deprived, you might need to discuss this with a GP. There are also gentle herbal treatments that some people find helpful.

3. Take regular exercise.

Exercise is a great way to shake out the effects of stress. When we exercise, we are directly working on our physiology and we can reverse the automatic stress response that happens to us when we are under pressure. For those of us from warmer countries, in the winter it can be difficult to find the motivation to exercise in Sweden and not everyone lives in central Stockholm or has access to indoor gyms and fitness centres. But even a short walk can make a difference and is better than nothing.

4. Put some structure in your day.

We all need to offset work with rest and play. Again, this can be difficult for expats without strong social connections. When we are trying to do the same thing for too long each day, the consequences are usually boredom, frustration and irritability or depressed mood. Everyone has chores they have to do (things like shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing etc), but without the balance of imaginative activities, our stress reactions can take over. Planning some exercise, social activities and time for creative interests around your work and non-negotiable commitments will help to make sure you stay on top of stress.

5. Talk about your problems.

It might sound like a cliche, but sharing problems and feelings really is a release valve for stress. It works differently for different people. Writing in a journal or diary can be one way of expressing thoughts and feelings but it doesn’t necessarily give the sense of a listener being present. Talking with friends can provide an outlet for emotions. However many English speakers tell me they find it difficult to make friends in Sweden and you might not have been here long enough to establish trusting friendships. Or perhaps you want to discuss something you feel you can’t share with a friend and need someone who you can be sure will remain impartial and maintain your confidentiality. That is where a counsellor comes in.

Some people tell me they just want to ‘dump’ what is happening for them, to ‘get it off their chest’ or make a confession about something they have been thinking about or doing. Others want a sounding-board (boll-plank in Swedish). Others want to have a good cry and to express how they feel. Some expats ask for help with decision-making or problem-solving. All of these are fine with me. The most important thing is: Don’t keep the problems to yourself!

Vulnerability to Stress and Building Resilience

Our vulnerability to stress and our coping skills for dealing with it can change with our circumstances. For example, people who have experienced trauma or child abuse when young sometimes have a heightened stress response to day to day events. But moving to a country like Sweden and adjustment to a new culture can involve a lot of stress as well. Building resilience to stress takes time. Don’t leave it too late to get help. If you are struggling with stress, make an appointment to discuss ways forward. If you are not sure, but think that managing stress might be a problem for you, contact me to find out how we might work together.

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10 Questions to Ask Your Prospective Counsellor or Therapist Who Works In English

Questions for Therapists

Have you reached a turning point in your life and want to find therapy in English?

Do you need counselling for relationship issues, stress or a break-up?

Or would you like to find an English speaking coach to improve life generally?

Here are ten important questions to ask your prospective counsellor or therapist. I’ve provided my own answers to give you a sense of where I fit according to these criteria:

1. How long was your therapy training?

My therapy training commenced when I started training as a counsellor in 1989 and it has not stopped since! Over the last 20+ years I have undertaken Bachelors and Masters degrees in Social Work, specialist narrative psychotherapy training through the Dulwich Centre in Adelaide, Australia and completed many short courses and workshops in a range of therapeutic approaches. These include CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy), mindfulness, psycho-education (including motivational interviewing), stress management, relaxation strategies, problem solving, anger management, therapy for adult survivors of child abuse and couples counselling.

A good therapist does not stop his or her education simply when a qualification is achieved. Professional development must be ongoing. Each year I attend a number of training activities and conferences and regularly share the outcomes of these with my clients.

2. Under which title, coach, counsellor or psychotherapist would you be allowed to work in your own country?

In both Australia and England, I am allowed to use all 3 of these titles: coach, counsellor and psychotherapist. In Sweden the title ‘psychotherapist’ (or psykoterapeut in Swedish) is a protected title and only practitioners licensed by the Swedish National Health and Welfare Authority – Socialstyrelsen – can use that title. I have not applied to be licensed as a psychotherapist in Sweden and instead refer to myself as a samtalsterapeut (counsellor) or narrative therapist in my work. Psychotherapist training in Sweden is limited to certain methods or approaches and applicants for a Swedish license must demonstrate compliance with particularly Swedish requirements. I have found that most of the people who meet with me are far more interested in the benefits of a therapist who speaks their language and understands their culture than they are in meeting with someone who fits precise Swedish requirements or works through the Swedish healthcare system.

3. How often do you have supervision?

I generally attend supervision at least twice a month and my commitment to supervision meets the recommendations of the AASW and BACP. Supervision for counsellors and therapists is not the same as supervision in a management situation. It means something completely different. It is about discussing professional issues in a structured way and ensuring the counsellor or therapist is taking care of their own well-being. It helps counsellors, psychotherapists, psychologists and social workers ensure their integrity and ethical practice. Counsellors and therapists in private practice will generally be paying for private supervision from a more or equally experienced person. I have such an arrangement with a more experienced practitioner and also engage in regular peer supervision with colleagues.

4. How long have you been practising?

I began practicing as a counsellor in 1989 and have worked across the community, government and private sectors over the years. Since 2005 I have been specialising in mental health counselling and therapy. I commenced private practice as a therapist and mental health counsellor in 2008.

5. What is your theoretical approach?

My practice is informed by a range of theoretical approaches. When undertaking advanced therapeutic work with people, it tends not to be helpful to be limited to a singular technique or method. In Sweden, counselling and therapy is dominated by Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT or KBT) and Psychoanalysis but there are many other ways of working together if these do not appeal to you. I am particularly drawn to dialogical and narrative practices and the work of a number of well-known therapists including Harlene Anderson, Johnella Bird, Art Fisher, David Epston, Michael White. If you would like more information about these approaches, I would be happy to send you some links if you email me for details.

6. Do you offer a 50 or a 60 minute hour?

My standard appointments are 60 minutes but longer appointments (75 minutes or longer) can easily be negotiated. I generally leave at least 15 minutes between appointments and, if I have more time available, I usually don’t mind if we continue a little longer if it is helpful to you.

7. What do the initials behind your name actually mean?

Currently the initials after my name are: BSocWk, MA, MAASW (acc.). They stand for Bachelor of Social Work, Master of Arts and Member of the Australian Association of Social Workers (accredited).

8. Are you an accredited member of a professional organisation?

Yes, as above, I am an accreditated member of the AASW in Australia. This accreditation means I have a qualification awarded by a professional association as a specialist mental health provider and can offer focussed psychological services under the Australian government Medicare program when I am meeting with clients in Australia (similar to the services provided by psychologists that are reimbursed by the government there). The AASW supports my practice in Europe and represents my professional interests, however unfortunately Medicare will not reimburse appointment fees unless we meet in Australia.

9. Do you have insurance?

Yes, I hold both professional indemnity and public liability insurance.

10. Are you registered for tax in Sweden?

Yes, I am fully registered with Skatteverket, the Swedish tax authority and required to invoice moms (consumption tax) on my services in Sweden. If you require your invoice made out to a particular company name, please advise me in advance.

Extra question: How old are you?

Some people want to know how old I am and I am quite open about my age. I was born in 1969 so at the time of writing this, I am 43 years old.

You can read more on the About Ash Rehn page. If you are interested in making an appointment, please contact me by email or phone. I’m happy to answer any further questions you might have.

Therapy for a Broken Heart, Separation or Relationship Breakdown

woman looking over mountains

How do you overcome a relationship breakup?

Dealing with heartache. Coping with rejection. Recovering after splitting up. These are subjects about which I am regularly consulted as an English speaking therapist in Stockholm. And I wish there was a simple solution that worked for everyone. The good news is that most people find it helps to talk over matters of the heart. It’s even better when the person you are talking to really listens and asks some questions or offers some perspectives you hadn’t thought about before.

Whether you have left a long term relationship or are struggling after a series of short romances that went bad, sharing the hurt and making sense of it can be part of getting your life back together.

More information about separation counselling in Stockholm or online

The Shock and Pain of Separation

How long does it take to heal from a separation?

There are no rules about the time it takes to recover from splitting up. In these situations it can help to throw out expectations about what is normal. Maybe you are dealing with loneliness or emotional pain and looking for coping strategies. And it can help to have some of these if you want to keep working, you have children to care for or you are just trying to hold your life together! But my experience is that coping techniques work best when they are adapted for each person. If they were the same for everyone, it would be easier to read a self-help book than see a relationship therapist.

“Ja visst gör det ont när knoppar brister”  Karin Boye, Swedish poet

A Coffee and a Chat, A Walking Companion or Making a Game Plan

Private counselling is an opportunity to speak in confidentiality about things that you might not be ready to tell anyone else.

The same approach to counselling or therapy doesn’t work for everyone. All kinds of people come to see me to discuss their relationship breakdowns – engineers, creatives, lawyers, psychologists, business people, researchers, teachers, athletes – and they are at all different places in terms of separating from their partners. Some people want advice about dating, some ask for CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy). Some are fine to talk (and sometimes cry) over a cup of tea or coffee. Others want to make a game plan about their recovery and I have a whiteboard in my room we can use for that purpose (you can even take a photo of it at the end of the session). And if you don’t feel like sitting still, you don’t have to; we can take a walk together and talk in the fresh air. I also work over webcam, so we can meet in Stockholm or online from wherever you are in Sweden or elsewhere in the world. My approach to talk therapy is flexible and responsive to the circumstances you bring to the consultation and your personal preference for the appointment.

Don’t let doubt or indecision stop you considering your options or getting your life back. Contact me now for more information about my fees and services.

Dealing with fears, feelings and emotions can be a collaborative process. Regardless of whether you have just separated from your sambo, are going through a divorce with your husband or wife, just adjusting to being on your own or ready to start dating again, conversations are therapeutic. Narrative Therapy offers an approach to talking about relationships that is quite unlike other therapy. People tell me that their friends always have advice but it is another thing altogether to confide in a therapist or work together to start feeling better.

If you are unsure, you are welcome to write to me using this email form, and ask me any questions. You can also call and leave a message on 08-559 22 636 if you would prefer to speak in person (let me know the best times to return your call). I look forward to hearing from you.

Counselling for LGBT People in Stockholm: 5 Reasons to Choose a Gay Therapist

Rainbow Illustration

Rainbow IllustrationWhen expats move to their new country, it can be an opportunity to make a new start. Sweden, with its relatively inclusive attitudes to lesbians and gay men, would seem like a natural choice for gay expats hoping to live their identity more openly. But coming out is often more of an ongoing process than a point in time.

 

LGBT expats in Sweden experience the same difficulties as other immigrants with adjusting to Swedish culture, climate and maintaining relationships. But some aspects of the transition to Nordic life are often unexpected. It’s been suggested that the ‘Law of Jante‘ has Swedes downplaying differences in favour of viewing everyone as equals. And living in a city such as Stockholm where being gay or lesbian is generally not regarded as anything unusual might also mean that it is less likely previous difficult experiences will be acknowledged. One way of getting recognition of what you have endured is to speak to a counselling therapist who is understanding and supportive of gay identity.

Coming Out

Coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is often discussed as if it were an event. But it is more likely to be a series of events or an ongoing process that continues through life. Some would say we never stop coming out. Even in Sweden, we have a society where the heterosexuality is still the considered the norm and the assumption that a person is straight often goes unquestioned. This assumption is part of what has been called ‘Heteronormativity’, a way of thinking that also suggests people fall into distinct genders (man and woman) associated with specific gender roles. The reality of life is, of course, quite different. Humans are as diverse as other species so biologically, sexually, gender-wise and in terms of identity, there can be much individual variation.

Making the decision to share your identity with others is a personal choice and needs to be treated as such. At the same time, the relief that comes with inviting others into your life can reduce anxiety and free up creativity. Talking about who you are and having an audience for your experiences is personally validating. Being able to be yourself around others is one of the rewarding aspects of living in Sweden that might be less possible in certain other places in the world.

Coming Out Later in Life / Gay and Married

For people who are older, coming out can be particularly challenging. I have spoken with many men who have decided, after years of marriage to a woman or having raised children in a traditional family, to explore other aspects of their sexuality and identity. Starting to identify as gay, bisexual or trans in your 40s, 50s or later can seem like entering a new world and an unknown world at that. If you are in this situation, it can be important to remember that you already know a lot about life even if the ‘world’ you are entering seems to have its own set of rules or conventions. Coming out after a straight relationship or later in life is a journey in itself. It can be helpful to have a gay counsellor to assist you to navigate the way forward.

Gay Relationship issues

Many of the individuals who consult with me at my practice at Hornstull or online are going through couples counselling, recently ended a relationship or are dealing with the aftermath of a break-up. It’s quite usual to have a difficult time when a relationship ends, and upset feelings can continue, especially when the end was unexpected or if you had been with your partner for a long time. If you are gay, lesbian or transgender, it can be therapeutic to talk about the feelings and to find a way forward with the help of a professional.

For gay people, finding a partner in a ‘heteronormative’ world is not always easy. Gay Internet dating has become one of the most common ways to look for and find love but some argue that it has turned people into commodities that are marketed. Not everyone finds it easy to ‘sell’ themselves to others over the net. In Stockholm there are a few gay venues, social groups and sports organisations. And many people meet their partners through work or friendship networks. Taking the first step or returning to dating after a break might involve some effort and motivation, not to mention support.

Family Relationships

Lesbian and gay expats in Stockholm and elsewhere in Sweden, even those who have settled into life here, sometimes have unresolved family issues that may or may not be related to their sexuality. In terms of sexuality, it can help to know as much as possible about being gay and gay life in case the time comes when questions are asked. Family members can take time to adjust to a new understanding about their loved ones and people tend to learn acceptance at their own pace anyway. For those who are struggling with particular relatives, geographic distance can be both a blessing as well as a barrier to resolution. Having the ‘sounding board’ of a gay therapist might make a difference when exploring options.

Dealing with Workplace Homophobia

I’ve just attended the Nordic LGBT Business Leadership Forum, an event organised in Stockholm by IBM to promote discussion about how organisations can maximise the power of diversity in the workplace and translate it to success in the market. Companies based in Sweden are generally much more inclusive of transgender, lesbian and gay employees than in other countries but that doesn’t mean homophobia and transphobia in the workplace does not exist here. Workplace equality and inclusion also means being able to talk freely about what you did on your weekends (if you choose to). Dealing with workplace harassment or simply feeling at ease with your colleagues can be dependent on a number of factors and it is important not to blame yourself if you feel uncomfortable. If your job is stressing you out, make an appointment to talk about it and get it off your chest so that you can work out what to do.

Finally, it is common for people to wait to come to see me until the point comes that they feel really bad about things. My advice is to act now instead of waiting. Often when you start discussing problems with a therapist, difficulties do start resolving themselves.

Counselling in English in Stockholm has advantages and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are always welcome at Forward Therapy Stockholm. Just contact me by email or leave a clear message on 08-559 22 636 if you are interested in meeting at my office, walking talk-therapy or online counselling.

Anxiety and Regular Therapy in Stockholm: Temporary and Ongoing Solutions

Image of a man with stress associated with cultural adjustment

Person with Anxiety at work in StockholmInternational relocation to Sweden is a major life change for most people, particularly if it is the first time they have moved somewhere English is not the first language. But for a person with persistent anxiety, the stress of finding accommodation, dealing with visa issues, trying to make friends and maintain relationships can make pre-existing worries feel much worse.

How can regular counselling appointments help Anxiety?

The advantage of building a relationship with a professional therapist or counsellor is that when things go ‘pear-shaped’, you have someone who knows you and can work in ways that suit your background and personality. Uncertainty coupled with the frustration of being in an unfamiliar place can lead to mood swings, irritation and sometimes a sense of despair or hopelessness. It can be reassuring to know there is someone in Stockholm or online who is willing to listen and help you through the transition of settling into life in Sweden or assist to deal with anxiety over the long-term, if that is what you want.

Sometimes I am asked the question: Which is better, brief counselling or ongoing therapy? The straight answer to this is that they can both be helpful in their own ways. It really depends on what you are looking for. ‘Counselling’ is often the term to describe a series of appointments with a particular goal in mind like getting strategies to make it easier to talk to people at parties or ways to manage mood swings after a relationship break up. Sometimes particular methods like CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) or breathing techniques can be employed to meet specific objectives. Counselling appointments can also be a means to access health education or relaxation techniques. A series of counselling appointments might last 6-12 sessions over 2-3 months.

The word ‘therapy’ is usually used when people describe a process that takes place over a longer period, for example, from several months to a year. Therapy for anxiety can involve talking about previous life experiences and retelling these in ways that reflect new understanding or reveal skills and abilities that may not have been previously acknowledged. Or it can mean developing new approaches to fears or worries, putting these into practice, refining and modifying them over time while checking in with a therapist who helps monitor progress or maintain a sense of achievement. Of course some people choose to continue with their therapist even beyond a year. In this way, a therapeutic relationship can be akin to meeting regularly with a personal trainer, nutritionist or accountant. Ongoing therapy appointments aren’t just about solving problems. They can also be a way of maintaining your overall well being.

These are generalisations of course. You can attend therapeutic appointments with me in Stockholm or have coaching and counselling over Skype webcam for as few or as many sessions as works for you. Both approaches are more than just listening, and ideally are more than just being given skills or techniques by the therapist. Counselling and therapy work best when they are a collaborative process where both you and I work together.

What happens in Anxiety Therapy?

The answer to this question really depends on you, your preferences, experiences, hopes and expectations for the appointments.

I don’t work from a manual because people are not machines. While some of us have common experiences, we also have unique histories that require unique outcomes from therapy consultations. You might be someone who responds well to cognitive strategies and being offered new ways to think about distress and uncertainty. Or you might be looking for tools to modify your behaviour in  situations when nervousness takes over. Perhaps you just need a sounding board, to have someone hear what you are going through and ask questions so you can explain and understand your worries. Or maybe you just want to talk and get something off your chest?

I work with anxiety and depression every day. I’m used to meeting with people who feel nervous and don’t know what to expect from the appointment. When you come to see me I will do my best help you to feel comfortable and talk freely. You can talk to me in English and take a break whenever you need. What you say to me is confidential and I am bound by ethics and membership of my professional association to maintain your confidentiality. The only exceptions to this are where there is a high risk to a person’s life, when a child is in danger or if the law orders me to report something in particular. But even in these circumstances I will always try to discuss my concerns with you first.

There isn’t a set time frame for anxiety treatment. Adjustment to living in Sweden and culture-shock tend to require shorter term approaches than fears, hang-ups and suspicions that have been carried around for years. My intention is to provide you with a space where you can put down some of your psychological ‘baggage’, go through it with me, and decide what is useful and what isn’t. Together we can try to make sense of whatever is confusing you or holding you back so you can go forward. Hence ‘Forward Therapy’.

Trust develops as we get to know each other. If you have had difficult or unhappy memories of therapy appointments in the past, I welcome you to share these with me to help me provide you with effective consultations.

A Word about Drinking Alcohol and Stress

It is very common for expats to seek help for problems with drinking too much. Alcohol can enable people to relax and unwind, particularly when they are finding their job (or unemployment) stressful, if they feel they are not meeting the expectations of their partner or having other relationship issues. Unfortunately, drinking can also lead to the other extreme, a total absence of control, anger and more regrets. But even when people are struggling with drinking they don’t always want to stop completely. I will work with what you want to achieve in terms of your alcohol use and what you are aiming for, whether it is just a reduction in how much you drink, changing when or under what circumstances you drink or ceasing drinking completely.

We can meet in-person at my office in Stockholm, for Walking Talk-Therapy on Kungsholmen or over Skype webcam. If you would like to make an appointment, please contact me by email or leave a message on 08-559 22 636 for me to call you back.