What did you want to be when you were at school/growing up? If it was different, why did you change your mind?
I found it hard to decide and was always changing my mind. I applied to do Law at university, but then realised that actually I was passionate about English and Philosophy so I became an English teacher instead. Although I loved teaching English, I realised the aspect I enjoyed most was building a relationship with the students and helping them with the emotional support they needed. This made me decide to retrain as a counselling psychologist.
Can you describe your work/what you do in one sentence?
I work collaboratively and compassionately to empower people to work towards their individual goals.
What three qualities do you think you need to do your job well?
Compassion and empathy. Eating disorders are mental illnesses, they are not about food but a way of managing difficult feelings. Therapists need to understand how brave clients are in attending therapy and working towards recovery, and also non-judgmental.
Patience. Recovery from an eating disorder is never linear and there can be many ups and downs. Patience and understanding are vital in order to ‘sit alongside the client’, managing and learning from these ‘blips’.
Resilience. It is challenging work. It is important for a therapist to be self-aware and recognise the impact their work has on them. In the same way that our clients are brave in asking for help, it is important that we also ask for help when we need it.
Name three areas you enjoy most about your current role?
The part of my job I enjoy most is forming therapeutic relationships with clients and helping them to achieve meaningful changes. It is such an honour and privilege to be in a position to help people.
I also love the variety. In any given week I might be facilitating individual and group therapy for clients, running a carers’ group to help support the loved ones of our clients (a safe space where carers can share their experiences, successes, and problems), or presenting to my peers, other professionals or the media on topics such as eating disorders or body dysmorphic disorder.
The fantastic team at Orri. The work we do is challenging and it is vital to be able to have inspiring and supportive colleagues to talk to, and debrief and laugh with.
Why would you recommend your career to a young person?
I would recommend psychology to anyone who wants to make a real difference in people’s lives. I am constantly inspired and moved by my clients and no day is ever the same. I would highlight the sheer variety and breadth of the field – I have had the opportunity to do clinical work, research, and media work (including appearing on live TV) alongside my counselling work. It is also a career that offers flexibility, enabling me to bring up my two children alongside working – and being a mum has enhanced my work and being a psychologist has helped my parenting.
What has been your biggest career disappointment or challenge and how did you overcome it?
Eating disorders are very serious illnesses. It can be extremely challenging to hear about people’s difficult experiences and feelings and this can have an impact on my own wellbeing. I manage this by engaging in regular supervision so I can talk openly about the impact clients have on me. I also regularly ‘check in’ with myself. I try hard to engage in self-care activities outside of work – it’s important to practise what I preach in this respect!
What was your best career move?
Leaving teaching to retrain as a psychologist. At the time this was a really difficult decision as it required me to do a two-year psychology conversion degree. I then had to do a three-year doctorate in counselling psychology. This was really hard work and taxing. But now I am able to go to bed every Sunday night excited about work on Monday, and I don’t regard those early years as wasted. My training and experience as a teacher have been invaluable in my therapeutic work with clients and it enables me to work creatively with young people and adults.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever got from a work colleague?
To always be yourself. Whilst knowledge and techniques are important, the most vital part of therapy is the human connection and the therapeutic relationship. So don’t approach therapy in a robotic way, but try to bring in your personality and self to therapy.
What do you do to relax/de-stress?
The pool is my happy place. No matter how I feel before a swim, I always get out feeling better and with new ideas. I also love spending time with my two children who keep me on my toes!
Dr Joanna Silver is Lead Psychological Therapist at Orri, a specialist eating disorder treatment service. After completing her Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy at the University of Manchester, she took a teaching qualification at the University of Cambridge and worked as an English teacher. She then retrained as a counselling psychologist and graduated with a diploma in psychology from London South Bank University in 2008. She worked as a locum at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge where she assessed patients as having significant psychological factors underscoring their obesity.
Joanna completed her doctorate in counselling psychology at City University, London in 2011. Since then, she has worked as a group facilitator for body dysmorphic disorder at the Priory, Southgate and as a counselling psychologist at Altum Health, a private clinic for eating disorders. She was lead therapist for eating disorders at Nightingale Hospital in London before moving to Orri. She has also written a variety of academic papers and worked closely with a range of media organisations including The BBC, ITV, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Glamour UK, Harper's Bazaar and Psych Central.