Interview Questionnaire

Published in Therapy Today June 2012

Why did you become interested in counselling / psychotherapy?

Being bullied at school (because I looked like Billy Bunter) taught me to puzzle out people’s motives and develop a strategy for self-preservation. Later, I found that people tended to confide in me so I joined the National Marriage Guidance Council when I was 27 (there being nowhere else to study in the early 70s).

What gives your life purpose?

Life is purpose. I cannot separate the two. Being alive seems to me to predicate trying to understand who you are. I value psychotherapy as a unique extension of this. What else do I believe in? Banging the drum for psychotherapy which I’ll defend anywhere. Realising you only get one life. Those I love.

What is your earliest memory?

The utterly blissful comfort of being pushed in my pram up the hill in Wigston Lane, Aylestone, Leicester by my mother.

What are you passionate about?

Romance; playing the piano; classical music especially; writing; history; mending things; growing things; test matches.

Do you always tell the truth?

Do you? Naturally I think one ought to lie if a man with a gun says: “Which way did your daughter go?” and it would be impossibly cruel to tell others exactly what you thought about them always. But in my professional work I go to the ends of the earth NOT to lie because you only have one reputation to lose. I wriggle.

What has been the lowest point in your life?

Where do I start? 1) My sister’s multiple sclerosis. 2) My stepson’s incurable ataxia. 3) The stillbirth at eight months of our first child. 4) Another child’s despair. 5) Not knowing myself what to do after university (having turned my back on an academic career in America). 6) Two years’ romantic heartbreak…

How do you relax?

From the age of 18, it’s been jogging – which I claimed to have invented and for which I got arrested in 1966 because the police didn’t understand what a youth man was doing at midnight fleeing down the Banbury Road in Oxford wearing a black tracksuit. (They ordered me to stop: I told them “The entire point of the exercise was to keep going”. I was arrested). In recent years my knees are such that I have to ‘jog’ on a cross-trainer or bicycle.

What keeps you awake at night?

Just me – I have never needed a lot of sleep and quite frequently play the piano (on headphones) in the dark. My mother made insomnia romantic for us. She never went to bed before four. I don’t, however, have a tragic view of experience, bear malice or dwell. Life’s full of unavoidable unhappiness but you need to cope.

What makes you angry?

I ration my anger because it is too easy to become a cartoon complainer. In no special order:- celebrity culture; booze culture; pointless ugly windmills;John Prescott’s dislike of the English language; children being hit (I belong to “Children are unbeatable”); animal sentimentalism; the pillage of pensions and savings by this and the last government; the stigmatisation of sex by religion to control believers; the waste of hope and purpose symbolised by the existence of the underclass.

Which person has been the greatest influence on you professionally?

Kenneth S Kitchin, my English teacher, who encouraged me to strive and compelled me to think.

How do keep yourself grounded?

Try digging potatoes and getting above yourself. The spuds always win. Also by remembering that the world’s most famous people in 1883 are now almost universally unknown.

What are you reading for pleasure right now?

“Oblomov” – the story of a man who cannot be motivated – and hence teaches us an enormous amount about how to make decisions. And too many books about the collapse of civilisation during and just after World War II.

Do you fear dying?

I fear not dying. I’ve no ambition to wear out a second and third set of hips. I see death as a quite dangerous friend you need to humour till you’re ready.

What would you have written on your tombstone?

Wanna swap?

What do you feel guilty about?

I would feel guilt if I’d committed murder but I don’t feel guilty for my nation’s history (before my time) or for my (small enough) carbon footprint (makes no conceivable difference to any balance of outcomes) and I actually consider the doctrine of original sin repellent.

What makes you laugh?

The incongruousness of politicians pontificating. (EG Peter Mandelson saying one thing with his mouth and the opposite with his eyes, as if we couldn’t tell. George Osborne ditto).

Where will your next holiday be to and why?

On the River Great Ouse starting at Ely because my partner will kill me if I don’t go.

If you could change anything about society what would it be?

I’d pay teachers what bankers get if they undertook to make every school as mentally rigorous as Eton and Westminster.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I’m happy so long as my brain holds out and at least one other person likes me.

Do you believe in God?

Never have. I was an atheist even when a ten-year-old choirboy.

What’s your most treasured possession?

My computer – I feel privileged to live in the age of this magical invention and sad that my Dad didn’t.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Probably my kids surviving their childhood.


Phillip Hodson is a BACP Fellow and Spokesperson for the Profession giving about 80 press interviews a month. Phillip pioneered radio counselling in Britain and was Britain’s first national newspaper agony uncle. For six years, he answered children’s problems on BBC1’s “Saturday Superstore” and “Going Live!” He has written 13 books on subjects ranging from the composer Richard Wagner to Sex. He has lectured in psychology at two universities and made award-winning management-training films about the use of counselling techniques in the workplace. He has practised as a psychotherapist for over 30 years but still hasn’t perfected it.

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