Juliet Grayson has been a sex and relationship therapist for 25 years. She spoke to NICHOLAS THOMAS about her passion for helping others find "their truest selves"

"I WAS born in West London and moved to Chepstow 12 years ago.

I was already a therapist and had a private practice down in London, and when I moved here I started working down here – I just love it here in Monmouthshire, it’s so beautiful and the Wye Valley is just absolutely glorious.

I used to teach horse-riding, and what I noticed in the people that used to come to me was the way they treated the horse was often a metaphor for way they related to their partner.

South Wales Argus:

Juliet Grayson

So if they were really strict with the horse, they were often quite tough on their partner. And if they were kind and a bit too gentle with the horse, then they often were very soft and over-compliant with their partner.

I used to talk to people about that, and people used to tell me I was a really good listener, so I decided to go off and train.

So 25 years ago I trained as a counsellor, and then I did four other trainings. One was working with couples and sexual problems, and that’s what I specialise in now.

Another training was called the Pesso Boyden System of Psychotherapy (PBSP), and I just loved it.

It’s the most powerful kind of psychotherapy that I’ve come across. You do it in a group, and four people will have a session as a client, but everybody who is there witnessing the work benefits from it. I find it very powerful with my clients, so I decided to write a book about that method, and let people know a bit more about it.

That book, Landscapes of the Heart, was nominated and has now reached the final of the national People’s Book Prize, a UK-wide competition decided by public vote. It would just be lovely if a Chepstow author won it, and at the moment I’m 30 votes behind the leader. Voting closes on April 30.

Basically it describes my work as a psychotherapist and how I work with couples. There are six couples who come to therapy, and it describes an early therapy session, a later session with the same couple, and a section about the theory I was thinking about while I was working with them.

It’s as if you were sitting on my shoulder, listening to my inner dialogue about what I’m noticing and what I’m experiencing as I work with this couple.

Couples who see me can have a wide range relationship and marital problems,such as poor communication skills, like somebody getting very angry.

I see couples where one parent has a stronger relationship with their daughter from their first marriage than they do with their current second partner – so the partner’s jealous of the relationship between the child and the father.

I see people with sexual problems, or issues related to sexual abuse that people have suffered as children.

The thing with relationships is that we’re all supposed to know how to do them, but we never get any training about how to have a relationship and be happy. It’s a really difficult thing, to know how to sustain a relationship over many decades, so I love helping people to do that.

One comment that one of my clients, who was starting up a new relationship, made was, 'Don't do anything in the first 30 days that you’re not willing to do for the next 30 years'.

I think that’s a great little phrase, because it starts people off with realistic expectations.

What sometimes happens is people give too much in the first part of the relationship, then they pull back to what they want to give, and the other person then feels cheated.

There’s another little model which I just love, which is about the three phases of a relationship – the ideal, the ordeal, and the real deal.

The ideal is the romantic phase that we all have, the ordeal is the power-struggle phase that seems to happen about a year or 18 months in, when you start arguing more. If you’re lucky you get past that into the real deal phase, when there’s sweetness, working together, and a harmonious relationship.

That’s what couples therapy can do. It can move people from the challenging phase of the relationship to that sweet, real-deal phase.

First of all, I trained to be a one-to-one therapist, and then I did a further training to become a couples’ therapist and work with sex and relationship problems, so I built up to it gradually.

But actually, I think my whole life has been a preparation to be a couples’ therapist. In a way, I was watching my parents’ relationship when I was a child, and I was learning a lot about what didn’t work.

I’ve had a failed marriage, so I’ve explored what does work as well as what doesn’t work. I just think everybody deserves a good enough relationship and a good enough sex life.

Most couples leave it two or three years too long before they start couples’ therapy, which means their problems are really entrenched by the time they come to see me.

It would be really good for couples to come along early on in their relationships, and just get a few pointers to stop them getting into bad habits.

It’s much easier to change things if you catch them early. Having said that, the vast majority of my couples – more than 90 per cent – stay together. They usually decide they want to work through [their problems] and find a way to make their relationship work.

I think people think a therapist can read everything in the minds, and of course that’s not true, but you learn over time to tune into the energy behind what they’re saying. You’re listening to their words, but also to the way they’re saying it. There’s a lot about that in the book – I’m 'reading' whether they’re wholly behind what they’re saying, or whether there are two different messages being delivered. So being able to read people in that way is a really important skill.

[Nowadays] there’s an issue for many young people with learning about sex through pornography. They get an unrealistic expectation of what a relationship is about and what will happen, and what could and should happen with sex, intimacy, and making love.

I’m seeing people who have a problem with that – getting addicted to pornography rather than choosing to be with a person, and then bitterly regretting it five years down the line.

It would be great if sex education in schools were so effective that young people weren’t going online to find out more information.

I’m very lucky because I love what I do, and I feel very privileged to be allowed a window and an insight into people’s most intimate lives. I run personal development groups in Chepstow, and if anyone’s interested in learning more they can contact me on my website, www.therapyandcounselling.co.uk

I’m passionate about helping people be who they really are. I guess that’s my underlying passion, to help people be their truest, fullest self.

I grew up feeling shy and unable to communicate well. It’s been a long journey for me to connect to my true self and find a sense of contentment, and I love helping other people to find that contentment for themselves.'