The Oxford Development Centre celebrates 20 yearsThe Oxford Development Centre celebrates its 20th anniversary this month and to mark the occasion we interviewed Dr Claudia Herbert to find out why she created the service, how it’s changed over the years and her hopes for the future of the business. 

Can you tell us a bit about the service, it’s philosophy and what first inspired you to set up a private psychology practice?

When I first set up The Oxford Development Centre in 1997, the idea of a private psychology service was still very new and there were very few private services in existence. I began my work within the NHS and I found my work there very rewarding but I gradually decided that I wanted to start my own centre as I felt that I might be able to offer an alternative approach. Due to the inevitable resource restraints which exist within a large public infrastructure such as the NHS, people were being offered a limited number of sessions for therapists to work with them. The large scale nature of the service was also resulting in a very structured approach to therapy which focused predominantly on symptom reduction. Whilst some people clearly benefited from this approach, I felt that the majority of clients, especially those with more complex and deeper rooted childhood trauma, would benefit from a more in-depth, individually tailored and holistic approach. By setting up a private service I was able to offer clients therapy to suit their individual needs, based on the unique and personal circumstances of the trauma or other challenges they were looking to overcome.

Clients suffering from complex trauma, such as childhood trauma, as part of their instinctive human coping strategy, have often had to deny and suppress important aspects of themselves and have not been able to live those parts of themselves. This  can be very damaging to a person’s sense of wellbeing and often affects their functioning in relationships and other aspects of life. Our role has been to help clients re-establish a connection with these lost and unique qualities within themselves and help clients to integrate these enabling them to function from a more authentic self.

Another important factor which inspired me when setting up The Oxford Development Centre was the freedom this gave me to create a bespoke environment for clients to arrive into when they come to have therapy sessions. I wanted to offer welcoming, comforting surroundings which would immediately help a client to feel safe and cared for. I took a very conscious decision to step away from the clinical settings which tend to be the norm for many treatment centres.

I’ve always paid great attention to making sure that people are recognised as unique individuals who need to be treated with dignity and respect. This aligns itself with our philosophy to make our entire therapeutic experience feel less clinical and more personal. I think that the compassion and natural warmth we feel for our clients is able to shine through in this environment and it creates an empowering place from which to help people to find understanding and make peace with the challenges they have faced in their lives.

Our approach to therapy has continued to validate itself over the twenty years since the centre first opened. Through the success we have had in helping a diverse client base to overcome a wide range of psychological challenges we have been able to continue to grow and refine our approach to psychotherapy.  The result of this growth is a psychology Centre which, today, offers a wide range of treatments, all of which are tailored and layered to meet the individual needs of our clients.

How has The Oxford Development Centre changed during its twenty years of service? Have you seen the field of psychology in general changing during this time?

Over the years, we have helped many clients to live more meaningful and fulfilled lives despite the challenges and adversities they have had to face. Our therapists, who all commit to their own personal growth process as part of our philosophy, have developed greatly in their therapeutic abilities and conscious awareness too. Perhaps the biggest evolution within the field of trauma over the last 20 years is the growth in awareness of the importance of treating the body as well as the mind. Ever since Dr Bessel Van Der Kolk  highlighted this in his early work on the subject there has been increasing recognition of the fact that trauma, shock and stress is stored within the body, not just the mind. Without addressing the body’s responses to adverse challenges and helping it regulate, psychological recovery remains limited. It then may serve more as a sticking plaster rather than promoting fundamental, embedded deep-level change. This is an important awareness which we integrate into our therapeutic approach so that we now offer many body-oriented techniques which we tailor into our therapy programmes.

The range of therapies which we integrate into our treatment for clients has certainly grown over time as our therapists have become more skilled and our approach has developed. We are excited to be able to utilise the latest psychological practices, such as The Comprehensive Resource Model (CRM) and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. The addition of Yoga, and Craniosacral Therapy also provide a strong grounding for the body-oriented aspects of our treatment at The Oxford Development Centre.

We’ve grown in number too, we have more therapists now. This is important as it means we are able to help more clients while still providing the same level of in-depth psychotherapeutic work which we have found to be so effective. Our session lengths are tailored to each particular client’s needs but we’ve found that often session lengths of 1.5- 2 hours provide the most effective opportunities for clients to realise fundamental change in the situation they are working to overcome. A lot of traditional psychology practices have used a model of 50 minute sessions but, if a client has complex problems to deal with, this can cut their healing process short, often at a critical point in the therapeutic process.

What are your plans for The Oxford Development Centre’s future?

We’re very excited about the new service we’ve opened in Stroud, ‘The Cotswold Centre For Trauma Healing’. We have new premises there which we have recently been working hard to renovate and we’ve created an inviting and comfortable space from which to help clients.

We’re growing our team and we look forward to welcoming new therapists to join our service. We provide a holistic and integrative approach to our therapy and we look for therapists who carry the same open-minded, compassionate and respectful ethos in their work. As a result we have built a lovely team of individuals who genuinely care for the clients they are helping.

We’re also looking forward to incorporating new psychotherapeutic and body-oriented practices into our service as they are developed and researched. The newest possibility which we are currently exploring is a body-oriented treatment called Matrix Ryhthm Therapy.   It is not widely known about in England yet but is being used by Olympic athletes abroad as part of their healing process when recovering from injury. The treatment works at a cellular level to restore the natural rhythmic oscillation of the body’s cells and could prove to be an effective way to help our clients’ bodies recover from their embedded trauma.

Most importantly of all, we’re looking forward to many further years of being able to help clients to overcome the difficulties they are facing in their lives. It is a great feeling to be able to be engaged with such rewarding work and it inspires me to to grow The Oxford Development Centre and continue to provide a service where people can feel safe to engage in fundamental and life affirming change.