Happy New Year!
2020 ended up as being an extremely stressful year, to say the least. The Covid-19 pandemic really didn’t help as apart from the physical aspects of the virus taking its toll, it has left us grieving those who succumbed to the disease; it has heightened fears; it has laid people low with a range of mental health issues; it has brought together family units and broken others down. Problems have always existed prior to the pandemic but the awareness has been more pronounced. There is hope on the horizon and help is on hand to help guide those who need it, non judgemental advice. I interviewed relationship & sex addiction counsellor Mig Bennett about her career as a counsellor specialising in relationship problems…. Hi Mig & welcome…
Hello. I’m Mig Bennett. I’m a counsellor with a specialised focus on relationships and, in more recent years, in sexual compulsivity. This is more commonly known as sex addiction, and, contrary to common misconception, it’s not about having a high sex drive!
What made you decide to launch your career as a relationship and sex addiction counsellor?
I became involved in counselling completely unexpectedly about 30 years ago. I suffered postnatal depression, set up a support group as I recovered and, as it took off I realised I needed more skills. So I took a basic counsellingskills evening class and the tutor was a Relate counsellor. He persuaded me to apply to train with Relate for whom I still work some hours. Now I also have a Private Practice specifically for relationship work and sexual addiction.
The sex addiction interest came from a colleague who trained in the area and to whom I went for help when I worked with a couple where a long history of visiting sex workers emerged. That learning, and my colleague’s encouragement led me to take a diploma in that specific area. It is very prevalent in our society but hasn’t really been acknowledged or addressed until the recent 20 or so years whereas gambling, drug, alcohol, eating compulsive behaviours have.
I guess your job isn’t an easy one as some people’s problems are not that easy to solve! What sort of reasons do people come to you for help?
Strangely, over the years, and I think other counsellors will agree, the problems presenting at my door come in swathes. I may have a period of seeing many affairs, for example. But, aside from sexually compulsive issues, the common relationship themes are:
loss of connection or relationship neglect (“we’re like flat mates”),
split agendas, often stemming from the above (one says it’s over, one is desperate to save it)
arguments and poor communication patterns (“we love each other but we end up having these same destructive rows”),
sex, (although this really comes into all scenarios it can be brought as the primary reason for seeking help)
differing attitudes to parenting children and step children
affairs, including emotional infidelity
When it comes to relationship/marriage/couples counselling, what approach do you tend to use?
I use mainly three therapeutic models in my work.• psycho-dynamic (looking at how significant figures from the past can influence us today)• systemic (focusing on how changing one partner’s behaviour will change the other’s)• transactional analysis (enabling us to look at our ineffective communication patterns and create better ones).
My clients don’t know that, of course. What I think my clients would say they SEE is that I listen and really try to understand each of them, by playing back and asking questions, and that I gradually encourage the other to do the same using these skills. I help them use different words and tones, and it can be quite lighthearted learning!
I look at why their pasts will be at play in their relationship today, which enables them to understand their reactions to situations and to each other. When we understand why we feel something we can spot our automatic reactions and change them.
I use a lot of visual diagrams, mnemonics and little tricks, like post-it notes which I find, as with school children, all help understanding and memory.
But maybe the most important thing I offer is the presence of a calm, warm, experienced third party in what can be a very heated, or very emotional, or very cold, or very tense meeting. I’m like a sort of stable scaffolding they can use to negotiate the difficulties.
As you have had over 25 years experience in this field, running your own private practice as well as with Relate, what is it about your job do you enjoy or gives you the most satisfaction? The downside?
It’s a great privilege to be trusted and have intimate elements of lives shared with one. That sense of privilege never leaves me. When people ask, “ how can you do that job?” that’s what I say.
The downside? Yes a couple of thoughts on that.
It’s such a concentrated hour, working online. I am exhausted and have to take care to create gaps in my day and know when I cannot take on more clients. Face to face work is less concentrated and I can be quite energisedafter a session. I use tennis as a mental and physical counterbalance to my work.
I also wonder, and in fact it’s been said, that friends think I’m silently seeing things in their relationships and wonder if I’m ‘analysing’ them!
Do you offer face-to-face counselling or do you operate online?
Both. With Covid my work has all been online. It was difficult for some to see how it would work, as a couple, but no one has bailed out! Sometimes a couple use one screen and sit together, sometimes they are in different locations, even different parts of the country.
Growing up, did you always want a “People related” career or did you want to pursue a completely different direction?
I always wanted to be a teacher and I was for some years, teaching children in the middle years, 8-12. Perhaps that’s why I love my flip chart, it’s my blackboard.
What are the common “problems” that new parents ask advice on and what do you suggest they should try instead?
Counselling isn’t about giving advice. The health visitor will give advice on sleep or feeding. When clients ask what to do, I suggest we try to work that out, together.
A lot of couple’s problems, especially sexually or with regard to feeling the relationship has shifted to ‘flat mates or siblings,” trace back to the arrival of children. It’s a life stage for couples. I get them to identify what they miss, what they would like to change and help them work out how that can be achieved. It’s usually about not having expressed their needs, not having understood that his, her or their angry comments are coming from a vulnerable feeling of sadness, loneliness or powerlessness. But the big one is often about finding TIME to be us.
As you are based in East Sussex, England, are your services available just locally or UK/ worldwide too?
Online I can be anywhere. Worldwide depends on that country’s counsellingstandards and I have to check I am qualified and covered to work with foreign clients. I have done so though.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
I’m very casual. My clothes wardrobe is always half empty. I wear a small range and cull what isn’t worn. Jeans and a simple top of varying degrees of warmth.
I dress outfits up with earrings, necklaces and a statement handbag. My current favourite is a bright red bag with diamanté studs from Steinmart in America. I’ve another Steinmart bag for winter, of an unusual geometric black and beige design; I have a mini version in red for evenings.
Shoes? Slip on coloured pumps in summer or fit flops. Boots in winter. I spend most on shoes and boots, bags and accessories. Aside from those, my attire may have cost under £20.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?
All charity shops. Marks and Spencer. Sainsbury’s. I spend a few weeks in Autumn in Palm Springs, California, and love Steinmart stores for accessories. When shopping, I head straight for footwear, handbags and accessories, then lingerie, then coats, then clothes.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
Flat, simple, knee high boots.
Boots or Shoes?
Boots! I love boots and have many pairs. All inexpensive (under £70), kitten heels, flat heels, over the knee, ankle. I have many red pairs, some fabric, flowery ones, animal print ones, silver lurex ones! When I LOVE a pair I buy two. Why boots? Maybe because I can look down and see and touch them and they are a bit ‘out there’ and sexy.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc
Thank you Mig for an interesting insight into your life as a relationship expert. As you probably noticed, most of the photos in this post are of two delightful cats, my beloved pets Leo & Bounty, who have a love-hate relationship! Bounty the kitten is very playful and adores Leo, who doesn’t always reciprocate those feelings – but they do have their moments! All the photographs are by Linda Hobden apart from the one of Mig, which I have published with kind permission of Mig Bennett.
© 2021, Linda. All rights reserved.