Case history – Katherine

A bespoke treatment plan individually tailored for a single client.

Katherine, 59, Health and Educational Psychology consultant, New Zealand


How did you find The Bay?

Having a psychology background, I was very particular about what I was looking for. I didn’t want group therapy because I was at a point where I knew I needed individual therapy. For me, it was very much a private process, it’s only now 5 months later that I can be public about it. I wanted a retreat. I had been seeing a psychologist in New Zealand but I knew that monthly or six weekly sessions were too slow, that getting better would take forever. I needed somewhere that was private and peaceful. I actually found The Bay through Google.

How was the initial contact with The Bay?

I rang them and I immediately felt listened to, loved and understood. It is not at all like that with many other centres. It was also important to me that the team were professionals who knew what they were doing. I read up about their qualifications afterwards. I wanted it to make sense on an academic level. I felt that my conversations with John, the founder, and Judy, the consultant psychologist enabled me to step through gently and in a connected way. They also found a way for me to go very quickly. Within two days, I was there.

Tell me about being depressed?

My husband and I had sailed on our yacht from New Zealand through the pacific islands for five months and then to Australia where one of our sons lives. On reflection I had become really anxious before and during the sailing voyage, even though I am usually a confident sailor. It was once we came here to Byron Bay that I started to feel extremely unwell. I’ve had bouts of depression in the past but I’ve been able to go through them and carry on with the help of a psychologist. But this time, I found myself in a hole so deep that I couldn’t climb out. I didn’t want to be here any more. I felt as though I was a burden. I could hear my family saying they loved me but I couldn’t feel it. It had been building up for three years or more. I also had digestive issues and had been severely restricting the food I ate which meant I ended up malnourished too. I had had anorexia in the past. By January 2019, I wanted to disappear and die yet I heard my family say they didn’t want me to go, and I was able to just reach through the blackness and sought support.

How did the programme start?

I decided to go for two weeks because that’s what I could manage financially, and I also knew that I was going into this process with a certain amount of self-knowledge. They warned me that the first three days are tough and they were. This is an intense period of letting go. Basically I’d been holding on to so much, just to basically function in my life. This was an opportunity to slowly let go of the holding on and in. Which is frightening and difficult but I knew it was an important part of the work. Layers were peeled back in a gentle way. This was a time when I could begin to take a peek at some of my deepest fears and inner guilt and shame I guess. It was an exhausting period.

So you saw the psychologist for sessions?

Yes, we did two hour sessions daily at the beginning. This was when so much of what I’d kept down came to the surface. During that time, I told her things that I’d never admitted to even myself. This was very significant for me.

You mentioned compassion-focused therapy?

I hadn’t been aware of it previously but The Bay team practice it and it was the key to my recovery. Mostly importantly, they teach self-compassion which was vital for me. I realized that I had become my depression. Their compassion-focused therapy and other techniques allowed me to feel gently held and then I could lean myself into that feeling. It was incredible. At last, I learnt to start to be kind to myself. Before this, I had always castigated myself if I thought that I didn’t achieve perfection in work, or as a mother, and that being depressed was pathetic, and that I was weak. Outwardly I was successful, and confident, and people couldn’t see how I was inside. I couldn’t see what was inside either. I didn’t want to look at my imperfections. There were thought patterns and behaviours that I needed to unlearn but the most deeply affecting was the kindness, I felt from the team there. And also they provided a structure to support this self-kindness and the work I began to do through the therapeutic sessions.

What did this structure look like?

There were guided meditation sessions where as part of it I learnt to go to a place or a person that I loved, and feel that feeling. This is a practice so I started doing this. This is a way of opening my heart and staying there for a while.

And breathe work. I learnt to notice and breathe deeply and find the love there too. In these places, there were no judgements or expectations. It was all about making those baby steps.

There were also sessions of yoga and chi-gong which I still do, and massage and acupuncture – these modalities are your choice and they weave these in around the psychology sessions. There is also a GP who kept an eye on my general health while I was there.

Food is a big deal for me and they prepared my vegan and special diet meals with such care and love. I really appreciated it.

Another tool was talking to my younger self in a kind way. I realised the profound effect of some experiences events I’d experienced as a teenager, and later. I always blamed myself, I thought I was fat and no-one would see me as attractive. I drove myself to achieve higher and harder. Through the therapy here, I realized that I was not to blame, that this had nothing to do with me. For eight years afterwards, anorexia was a big part of my life.

I also learnt to be kind and compassionate to others without them necessarily knowing about it. I am taking this kindness and compassion out into the health sector through the consulting work I do.

How did this two weeks change your notion of self?

I didn’t think I had any value when I arrived at The Bay. I was sad and I got to express my sadness but also to realize that my sadness wasn’t all of me. I did a lot of journaling during this time and when I gradually realized that the depression was not all of me, just a small part, and then I could open up to other feelings again like joy, gratitude, love.

You also mentioned never being left alone?

Yes, there is a carer present 24 hours a day in the house/retreat centre. What so special is that this carer – they change every 12 hours – is sensitively alongside you rather than feeling like security. It was a very beautiful experience. They are always somewhere in the house but not necessarily right there with you, but always there if you need them. They also have meals with you. The therapy process itself is a very solitary, individual experience – it has to be – so this was wonderful. These carers didn’t know anything about me or my history, which I also appreciated.

How were you afterwards?

Being at The Bay changed my life. I don’t know if I’d still be here without them. Afterwards I could feel all my feelings again. I felt joy and laughter, and curiosity. I understood how precious this is. I started drawing again. I decided to take time out to be gentle to myself, and not work for a while so that was a big decision. I also decided with my husband to stay in Australia to continue the journey in wellness, and to be nearer our son and his family for a year. There is a transition time where you keep in contact with the team and I have appreciated that. I’ve been doing sessions with the psychologist from time to time.  I also still do yoga, chi-gong and journaling. And the breath work. To embed the practice of compassionate self-kindness. I am able to be a lot more present with the day as it is. To accept myself as I am. Today.

Gradually, I am re-wiring my brain, heart and spirit so that I am able to have a well life. I’m relishing my family and friends. And the possibility of adventures to come!

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