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Interview: Getting to know Matthew Campling & The Secondary Victim

We recently had the good fortune to have the opportunity to connect with Matthew Campling - playwright, director and producer ahead of the opening of his production of The Secondary Victim.

Written by Matthew a former Psychotherapist himself, The Secondary Victim explores the growing world of blame culture within psychotherapy in private practice. Inspired by real life experiences and with insider insights into an increasing problem for the profession, this new production explores the vulnerability of counsellors in the age of accusation.

Matthew took time out of his busy schedule to let us get to know him and his work a little better.

Did you transition from Psychotherapist to your work in the theatre or was this something that you have always done alongside your therapeutic work?

The latter. In my 20s and early 30s I had six plays produced. Then when my work as a therapist took off there was a 20 year period when I did not produce any plays. After I stopped working as a therapist, in 2014, I was actually surprised that my inner workings suddenly began to express themselves in a theatre context again. I wrote five or six plays very quickly, one of which, One Last Mad Love, I did as a workshop presentation at The Jermyn St Theatre in 2015. I then wrote, directed and produced two plays at The Etcetera theatre, Camden: Abominations (2016) and The English Heart (June 2017). And I have others, already written, waiting for a theatre, in the pipeline!

In a sense, you are really pushing the boundaries of a somewhat maligned therapeutic conversation with this play. Do you have any concerns about people's reactions to it?

How interesting that you use the word 'maligned'. I wrote the early drafts of The Secondary Victim in 2015/6 so it was before the current focus on sexual misconduct. What I've focused on in the play is a weaving, unpredictable line of development so that the audience is continually asking itself where is the truth? Is either side in possession of the whole truth? I found that by the time we reach the climactic ethical review scene what we are watching is a thriller. And that is only the first climactic scene so the play always remains embedded in what is necessary to really extract all the drama, and therapy, in the situation.

This Secondary Victim is based on your own harrowing experience, we wondered why you chose to cast a female in the lead role rather than a male?

Having a complaint made against me was not so much harrowing as extremely distressing. From the beginning, I decided to write a play that was definitely not about my own experience, but which reflects a growing trend in therapy - and as it turns out, in the world generally. I knew that my protagonist would need to be a woman in order to fully distance myself from my own experience. Having settled on a female protagonist I then had the opportunity to explore the other aspects of that casting. Particularly how my therapist's marriage would be affected by the complaint. It becomes a lot more crucial for my therapist, Ali, when we bring in her husband who is perpetually jealous and insecure - and affected by a heart condition. It makes her reactions much more complex because she has so many elements to hold in her mind when she responds to what is happening.

We hear that you are hosting a Q&A session on the 21st November with Terri Paddock. Are there any questions you are hoping to be asked? Or perhaps hoping not to be asked?

Do you mean hoping not to be asked anything about me? I can deal with that simply: 11 allegations were made against me and none were upheld - anything more than that is locked in confidence. In terms of what is asked at the Q and A I hope it will be about the general situation. I've always been interested in the ongoing dialogue in Therapy Today magazine, which goes to all members of the BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) about the desire to be an outstanding, flexible therapist, and the need to protect oneself ethically at all times. Where one explores and where one chooses not to go becomes an internal question for the therapist. And here I consider some of the people who I had therapy from when I was in training. Frankly, I think some people hide too much behind not saying or doing anything, leaving me as the client to struggle through while they just watch me. That's not my idea of effective therapy. My therapist characters are fully involved in their clients world - as Carl Rogers advised when he said 'when I am most myself, that is when the therapy is most effective'.

We notice the play runs for a short season, do you have any plans to take it on tour?

All plays at The Park theatre are for a four-week period. I am hoping that the combination of an outstanding cast, a play that works (so everyone says!) and the suddenly highly topical nature of the play will mean that a producer will want to take it forward to a West End theatre. There are no plans to tour, but again I would always be open to approaches from another producer.

Given that you worked in private practice for 20 years, do you ever miss your work as a Psychotherapist?

Oh yes! I worked specifically with eating disorder recovery, and I had very good results, since my original model or recovery was based on my own experience of having had anorexia, and in the absence of other help, having to cure myself (this was in Durban, South Africa, in the mid 1970s.) But having done it for so long, I wanted to return to my first love: writing for the theatre. However, I am presenting two workshops called Using Counselling Skills in Your Everyday Life at the Park Theatre, on our set but during the day (10-2pm): one is for the general public, on Wednesday 22nd November, the other is for the acting profession on Friday 1 December. You can get more details from the Park Theatre website: Creative Learning Classes.

We also began our three-week rehearsal period last Monday 23rd October with my giving a half-day presentation to the cast and creatives on counselling and psychotherapy. I explained the different approaches and we all got involved in practical exercises. So I think I will continue to be involved in the therapy world, just not running a full-time private practice.

The Secondary Victim runs at the Park Theatre from 14th Nov - 9th Dec

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