Vienna, the epicentre of Counselling and Psychotherapy, the birthplace of therapists connecting. Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud, Josef Breuer, Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, Victor Frankl and many others all started their journeys in the city. The city full of culture, beautiful architecture, and wonderful food.
In February 2023 I found myself on a solo trip to Vienna, it had come from being locked in
at lockdown, feeling lonely in my job as a therapist and wanting to push myself out of my
comfort zone and connect to the world. The trip was fantastic and I wrote a blog about
it. Several months later I had an idea, what if someone arranged for a group of therapists
to go back to Vienna, could I offer this? When I passed the idea by my friend Danielle
(one of the wisest souls) she said “yes, do it, you’d be great at it”. So I did, I started planning, not particularly thinking anyone would book on. By the end of 2023 the trip was sold out. In February 2024 the trip was completed.
I left on Thursday morning two days before the start of the weekend, I wanted some time
to myself and to be honest I needed a break. I found myself excited, looking forward to
human connection. However, when I was sat on the plane imposter syndrome entered my
mind, I had to remind myself who I was, how far I have come, and that the ghost of my 12
to 23-year-old self is no longer me, through therapy, I escaped the script that society and
I had written. I was on the plane, I was, I am capable, and I was on my way.
When I arrived in Vienna city centre there was a familiarity to the place, I had only been
there once before, yet the city felt like it connected with me. Somehow, it just felt like.
My first stop on the way to my hotel was to the Queer bookshop Buchandlung Löwenherz with pride flags hanging outside, it is one of those queer spaces where you know you can feel safe. The shop was full of queer literature lining the walls in many languages, connecting many cultures and groups of people. I picked up the book Queer Berlin, documenting how before the Nazis, Berlin was one of the queer capitals of the world. After this stop I was soon walking around again, and after checking into my hotel I had a few hours of work, followed by a restful solo dinner.
On Friday the attendees of the workshop started to arrive and the WhatsApp group began to buzz away. I was expecting 11 therapists from all over England, people who had never met before, yet already people were chatting, invites were being sent out for dinner connection was being made. I spent most of the day teaching online, teaching Counselling Theory to a group of trainees while sat in Vienna, Wunderbar. After final prep for the weekend ahead I went to meet up with Pete. We connected on Instagram about a year ago and had messaged regularly, now it was time to connect, in real life! It was lovely how immediately we connected, chatting about life, work, gay and queer identity with a beers in a pub.
Later in the day I had some personal connection in my personal therapy, there was such an energy about me, was it about being in Vienna, or maybe that beer earlier in the day? My therapist, being the guy he is was excited and curious about my trip and encouraged me again to explore what doors I unlocked for myself to get me here, many! With a therapeutic energy in my step, I then I took myself to see a Mozart Ensemble, something I hadn’t experienced before, but wow, what beauty, my senses were delighted by sound, colour, the feel of century old walls, smells of beautiful perfume and tastes of sparkling wine. Although after this I was exhausted and in need of rest before the meet up the following day, like a kid a Christmas I could not sleep.
Saturday came around and it dawned on me again that this is something I had set up, another business idea that ended up happening. I felt responsible, excited for connection, fearful, anxious, all of it.
It’s funny how anxiety and excitement, for me at least are indistinguishable.
As soon I had locked my hotel room door, I bumped into one of the workshop attendees Vauna, connection. We walked together to the meeting point and there I was. Stood at a statue in Rathauplatz, with my clipboard in hand, one became two, three then twelve. With hellos shared we headed off to Café Landtmann this was one of Sigmund Freuds favourite cafes, the place that he sat over 100 years ago. We could all tell why he liked it, the beautiful environment, large windows, tall sealings and traditional food. We were treated like royalty, in a private room drinking tea, coffee, eating brunch and getting settled. I had in my bag some ice breaker activities, some question cards, I don’t know why I expected it to be quiet. In fact, there was immediate connection. From what I remember there was not one quiet moment throughout the weekend. When I looked around the tables all I could see was joy.
With full belly’s and highly caffeinated blood, we started on a walk through a beautiful part of town before arriving at the Alfred Adler Institute. I didn’t really know what to expect with this part of the trip, I had booked a private lecture as the building isn’t open to the public, yet I wasn’t sure what they were going to say. When we arrived greeted by smiling faces of the facilitators we were treated to a lecture on Adler and his ideas. What a man! Someone who felt Psychoanalysis needed more flexibility, another person who Freud fell out with for not following the crowd (my kinda guy). Someone who could see the importance of family dynamics, the importance of connection. It’s a shame that (at least in my circles) Adler doesn’t get a lot of publicity.
As the lecture ended one of the facilitators shared with us a case from her own practice, do you know what happened through her work with the client? The client discovered connection, to herself and to those around her.
Following the lecture everyone had some freedom and many went on their own way. Others came along to a café Coffee Pirates for more coffee and cake, Vienna do know how to do cake! I had a little work to do but every time I looked up all I could see was connection.
Can you fall in love with a moment?
I couldn’t help myself, I put my laptop away and dived in, not wanting to miss a word.
As the day progressed, we met up again for the next activity, the Victor Frankl Museum, the founder of Logo therapy and a Psychoanalysis who survived three years in four concentration camps during World War Two. A man who survived, endured, helped people to discover meaning, help people learn that, yes, I can survive this. Did you know he posed three ways to help discover meaning? Well, one of them was “by experiencing something or encountering someone”, that sounds like connection to me.
By the late afternoon we were exhausted, we had time to head back to our hotels, rest up before we met once again. This time at Figlmüller Bäckerstraße a beautiful traditional Viennese restaurant one with a huge queue out the door, but being organised we had our table booked and were whisked upstairs to a smaller space that was very fancy. We were once again treated like royalty. Wine flowed, a lot of wine actually, it was one of those places that someone kept on coming and topping up our glasses before they finished, hey I’m not complaining. I was sat next to Lesley and Jo and I felt like I could talk with them, connect with them for hours.
We had traditional Viennese, Austrian food with portions that rivalled the states. Again, when I looked around the table there was no silence, there was no awkwardness, it was just non-stop communication and connection. By the end of the day some went on their way, others including Natalie, Sarah, Pete and I managed to fit in one more cocktail, one more opportunity to connect.
Five hours of sleep later and it was Sunday. Was I exhausted, yes, was I still full of energy, yes. Life is full of contradictions, two truths living side by side.
I was excited for this day. I had planned and saved the best for last. By 9.00am we stood outside the very grand, very beautiful, very meaningful, Sigmund Freud Museum. The place it all started. Our host, our guide on this private, out of hours tour was fantastisch! She toured us around the rooms Freud worked in, the rooms where he practically invented psychoanalysis, connected with countless patients. The rooms he lived in, the house he raised his six children in with his wife Martha. The house that would also become the private practice of his daughter Anna Freud.
We were shown one of the rare videos of Freud and his family, many of us had the impression that he was somewhat a man of action over feeling, yet do you know what the video showed? Him sat there, family and friends around him, having a laugh, relaxing, reading books, playing with his grandchildren, connecting. I had been to the museum the year before so for me one of the best experiences was that I spent most of the time basking in the joy of everyone else on the trip, watching their experience. No one had been there before and there was an energy in the room, an energy of content, happiness and connection.
It dawned on me that soon it would all be over, I felt happy and sad that this was, as life is, fleeting.
After a small fortune was spent in the gift shop another walk was needed, another cafe with some Apfelstrudel and more coffee. Finally at the last meeting point at the beautiful Café Central (another of Freuds favourite places to go) we had lunch, cake and coffee and started to close the day. When I looked around the tables I could see tired faces, but the kind of tired face that said:
“I had a good time, I have lived”.
Soon I realised I was avoiding the end. I needed to settle the bill and say goodbye. Natalie gave me a postcard with thank you notes from everyone, I had to put it in my bag to read later, I wasn’t ready for that. A short goodbye was had in the end, I didn’t know what to say, I could only feel. Twelve strangers came to Vienna, people who at best had messaged here and there on Instagram. People who did not leave as strangers, they left as friends and colleagues, they left as people who took a risk, had a blast and connected.
By the following day I was full of emotion, shattered don’t get me wrong, ready to be a hermit for a while yes. But somewhat devastated it had come to an end. Yet I guess it hasn’t, these connections don’t have to be temporary, I can only hope they will be permanent. I spent the morning sending CPD certificates, because at its core, this weekend was for professional development. I had one last lunch in Café Landman, a Café who knows how to be a café. One last walk around the city, one last train ride, then I boarded the plane.
Once again struggling to articulate how I felt but loving the ability to feel. To feel is human.
When I look back at the blog I wrote last year, on my solo trip I was looking for connection and to step out my comfort zone, and I got that. Funnily enough I had written how I had a group of therapists with me in my pocket via Instagram.
Actually, what would we do without Instagram, even with its faults.
This time however, although I still had connections in my pocket I had them in real life too, they were in front of me, I spent two days speaking to them, we hugged, we laughed, we ate, we drank, we learnt, we lived, we connected. It wasn’t easy for any of us to say yes, to push through discomfort, anxiety and fear but without pushing through how do we live?
What have I learnt on this trip? What did we all learn as a group? That connection has a power that is hard to explain. That connection can, does have a huge positive impact on our mental health and if therapists in private practice can connect, can feel, hopefully that helps our clients connect and feel too.
I would also like to invite you, the reader to consider your connections, are they satisfying and meaningful? Is there anyone you would like to connect more with, or reconnect with? Or are you looking to make some new connections yourself, if so, how?
Will I facilitate this weekend again? Let’s see what the future brings!