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Panagiotis Parpottas
Careers and professional development, Emotion, Health and wellbeing, Trainees and training

One on one: Dr Panagiotis Parpottas

We dipped into the Society member database and spoke with Dr Panagiotis Parpottas, Assistant Professor of Counselling Psychology, European University Cyprus in Nicosia, Cyprus.

11 November 2022

One lesson learnt

In our work we are identified as someone’s Psychologist or therapist. Many say that ‘I will visit a psychologist to help me solve my problems’ but in reality, we are truly just the vessel to help people make sense of their experiences. We cannot be helpful to others if others are unable to work too, and we cannot help if we don’t understand what help stands to them.

One challenging thing about my work

Is to tolerate and work with the uncertainty of not knowing, even when we think we know. As a Counselling Psychologist who works therapeutically with clients, I believe that this challenge provides the space for in-depth reflection for both the therapist and the client. Let’s begin with the therapist. Even though numerous theoretical frameworks and robust research findings can guide our practice, therapies cannot be fully applied from a handbook or in a manualized way. There are moments in the therapy of some clients, where even the most experienced therapist is uncertain how to proceed, or interventions do not work as planned. This is quite different from other occupations where straightforward ‘formulas’ exist and guarantee success. In our case, interventions need to be constantly adapted according to the person you have in the room. Monitoring the therapeutic process and showing flexibility in tailoring interventions to the client’s needs, might be the answer to our expectations, or misconceptions, that our costly training has provided us with all the necessary tools which definitely work for everyone. To build this momentum, we truly need to tolerate and work with the element of not knowing. Hence what we know, can become in the end something that we don’t know and something that we need to re-discover in the uniqueness of the therapeutic relationship.

As concerns the client, we always say that the only one who knows their life is the client. Even though this is partly true, there is much more complexity in such a statement and I’m not implying that the therapist knows what that is. What I’m saying is that only by uniting forces, the client and the therapist can discover those hidden and unknown aspects of the client’s life. For example, what a client brings us in the therapy room is only a gist of their ‘reality’ which is mostly influenced by their interpretations, while a larger part of their story remains hidden and unknown. Our work as therapists is to help clients unfold their story in a safe space and jointly understand their state of mind aiming at a corrective emotional experience, which will then lead to meaningful connections of their whole experience. By assuming that the therapist or the client simply knows, makes me really wonder if we need therapy(ists) or clients. Therefore, I believe that we cannot practice therapeutic psychology without the element of not knowing, which can be quite challenging and unsettling but at the same time a very fascinating aspect of the therapeutic process.

One book

Even though this book uses specific technical and theoretical terms, is well-written and easy to follow. It’s a book which integrates research, clinical observations and theory all blended with concepts from psychoanalysis, neuroscience, mindfulness and mentalization. Precisely for these reasons I believe that this book is very accessible to non-psychologists and non-professionals too. I’m referring to Dr David Wallin’s Attachment in Psychotherapy. A very inspiring book which helped me enrich my clinical practice and even my personal therapy.

One thing that psychologists could do better

Whatever the reason is which drives someone to study and practice psychology, we must be able to thoroughly grasp and understand it. I truly believe that even if you are an applied or a research psychologist, we must invest and do a lot of work on ourselves, using personal therapy and constant self-reflection. More importantly, we need to detach ourselves from the ‘Persona of the Psychologist’ who knows everything and strives for recognition, and become that well-grounded practitioner who is truly devoted to that core of science of exploring, studying and understanding psychological phenomena.

One thing that psychologists should be proud of

Our history in psychology is so rich and can be a source of valuable ideas.

One hope

Not to manualize Psychological science and therapy.

One thing that you couldn’t do without

Sounds cliché but my reality tells me that being physically and mentally healthy is a privilege that we always need to strive for. Therefore, health is very important for me.

One way I ensure my own work-life balance

Spacing out: a mixture of daydreaming, mentalization and meditation. I find this very refreshing and relaxing.

One regret

The times where I got lost in the moment due to stress and anxiety.

One cultural recommendation

The ability to grasp multicultural theoretical concepts and agreeing with clichéd statements such as ‘I accept everyone’, does not prepare us to work with cultural diversity. Leave home, meet people other than those of your culture, be curious and open-minded to explore new ideas, value what other cultures have to offer and reflect upon your biases.