Updated: Mar 18
Jenny Oyston became a counsellor almost 20 years ago and worked in a range of settings, including schools, adult learning groups and the NHS. She taught counselling up to degree level and undertook specialised training on many subjects including bereavement, relationships and trauma. She worked in private practice for a number of years and was a counselling supervisor and she is now about to release her debut title that invites you to explore how you can take more responsibility for your own life by examining what makes you tick, why you behave the way that you do, and what motivates you.
TELL US ABOUT THE BOOK
When I started writing ‘Who Am I?’ the ideas were just bursting out. I have always been fascinated by what makes us behave the way we do, and how we relate to each other. I had been working as a counsellor for years and learnt such a lot about myself and about people in general during this time that I felt I just had to share it.
I strongly believe that before you can understand and relate to other people, you really need to know yourself, and be comfortable with who you are. The trouble is, that you may not know how to explore who you are unless you are lucky enough to be guided, as I was, by some wonderful people who have studied psychology and behaviour. Currently, I can truly say I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. So I began by looking back at how, over the years, I gradually came to this sense of peace and contentment. Counselling training and practice involves a lot of self-exploration and reflection as well as studying. Having done so much self-development, why wouldn’t I want to share some of the insights and understanding I gained? The obvious thing was to put it together in a book.
‘Who Am I?’ explains that we all show different aspects of ourselves to the world - and to ourselves. But how do you know what is real and authentic? What really gives your life meaning? What feels right to you, rather than what is happening because of influences which distort your true emotions and responses? What is hidden below the surface? (This can be the most interesting part – but it’s also scary!). As we go through the book together, we try to make sense of what has influenced who you have become today and take a close look at your behaviour, feelings and thoughts as they are now. We consider whether there are things you’d like to change, and during the last part, look at ways you could make these changes.
This sounds like hard work, and it’s certainly long-term; but it’s also enormous fun and ultimately provides you with a feeling of the capacity to take control, make good choices, and withstand many of the problems that arise in life. If you take anything from reading the book, I hope it will be that you gain a new sense of optimism and meaning that will continue for the rest of your life!
WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WHAT MAKES A GOOD BOOK?
The pile of books beside my bed includes a historical novel (for the book club – I don’t think I’d have chosen it if someone else hadn’t); a humorous autobiography; a psychological thriller (they usually don’t turn out as exciting as I anticipate); and a book about society now and the rise of woke-ism. My favourite books ever were the Lord of the Rings trilogy and a book called ‘Prehistoric Man’. (There’s a story to this last: I’ve just tracked down an original copy as my mum threw mine out when we moved house – I won’t say how many decades ago).
What makes a good book? For me, it’s about entering another world or about learning things I don’t know. I never want to stop learning and I turn to books to do this because of their permanence and because I can make them mine (highlighter pens are dotted around the place and I am a terrible margin-scribbler). They are all precious and when we start to burst out of our house it’s like losing a part of myself if I have to give some up.
WHAT IN YOUR OPINION, MAKES GOOD WRITING?
What makes good writing is an interesting question. Whether it’s fact or fiction, I like my writers to have a clear voice. Fiction writers need the capacity to look beyond the obvious and to create worlds that their readers can bring to life in their own minds. They are artists who use the medium of words to excite or inspire. For me, subtlety is preferable to shock, and depth more valuable than superficial playing with technique. If books can make me think, or question my own philosophies, I will find them irresistible.
When I write as a self-help author, I try to create a voice which talks to my readers and accompanies them as they explore and respond to the ideas in the book. I invite them to take new perspectives and delve beneath the surface of their experiences. Most importantly, I want them to feel valued and understood so they can develop their self-acceptance instead of trying to please other people. What I try hard to avoid is jargon and the kinds of glib phrases which are often mistaken for understanding. I am not a fan of so-called affirmations or labels and feel that a lot of so-called self-help sounds clever but actually misses the point!
I am a lark and I write best in the mornings, after which my cognitive capacity slowly declines! But my best ideas sometimes come at three o’clock in the morning when it almost feels as if my mind goes off on journeys of its own. There is always a notebook by my bed to capture these gems.
In addition to writing the book, I have written and delivered lots of courses on counselling topics, including How to Cope with Anxiety and Stress, Developing Self-Esteem and Confidence, Dealing with Difficult Feelings, etc. I am about to deliver a course entitled Kickstart Your Relationships which is based on my couples therapy training.
TELL US MORE ABOUT YOURSELF
I wanted to be an actress when I was young - well no, actually, a full-blown film star. That didn’t happen (although I have had a few forays into television). However, I am always attracted to creative, artistic types and people who are a bit unconventional. Mick Jagger was my hero, and the artist Salvador Dali. My husband is a musician, which enables me to enjoy music vicariously, since I have no talent in that area whatsoever. We live in a house full of guitars, some of which he made himself, and there is a constant background of eclectic sounds, but not much room to move around.
Our other companion is our beloved cat Nellie, who must get a mention. She is sitting next to my keyboard now, purring loudly.