Psychotherapist Gavin Sharpe set up his practice on the French Riviera and later in Monaco almost seven years ago, but it was his first appearance on Riviera Radio’s breakfast show in 2020 that catapulted him into psychotherapy stardom.
He was invited back again and now he has his regular Wellbeing Window every first Wednesday of the month where he speaks about aspects of human nature and the hurdles we may encounter on this incredible journey we call life.
People pleasing, addiction, infidelity are only some of the topics covered, while more are available on his website in the form of podcasts, and “one of the things that gives me most pleasure is when someone tells me: I cannot afford therapy but I love to listen to your podcasts. I have had this quite a lot.” He tells me over the coffee at Costa Coffee on Larvotto Beach.
He doesn’t really give interviews and doesn’t like to talk about himself. “If you go back to the origins of therapy and you look at, say, Sigmund Freud, he believed the therapist should be a blank screen. You would lie down not facing your therapist. I do not share much info about myself. When clients come to me and ask me ‘are you married?’ Or ‘do you have children?’ I don’t answer the question very often and I am more interested in why they are asking me and what does that mean to them if I were to be a parent or married.”
As Gavin puts it, Monaco is a bit like a goldfish bowl. “It is impossible to be anonymous. But I came to terms with that.”
In other words he can go for a walk in the morning and bump into three clients. In London, where he worked previously, he never met any of his clients outside the therapy room at all.
“What I always tell my clients during our first session is that everything is confidential and will always stay that way including the fact that I work with them. ‘If I see you out and about, you are very welcome to come and say hi to me but I will not come and say hello to you. I will respect your privacy and your confidentiality.’”
Apart from goldfish bowlness what is a unique aspect of working in psychotherapy in Monaco? – I ask.
“There is a high concentration, of course, of wealthy people. Sometimes Monaco gets bad press. I don’t think that problems are any different. I think we are all human beings and we are all trying to find our way in the world but there are some things unique to Monaco: A lot of women seem to be in relationships that are power-based and controlling and I have seen more of that here than in London.”
“I have seen quite a few women who moved to Monaco because of their husband — the breadwinner. He continues with his work but she has given up everything. I am told that it is really hard for women to break through the friendship circles in Monaco because of the perception that you need to look a certain way and be a certain way. And quite frankly sometimes men are putting pressure on the women.”
“I’ve had female clients to whom the men said ‘I think it’s time that you got surgery…’ There is a lot of emotional manipulation and emotional invalidation and money is often used as a weapon. The women don’t have the same options as the men and they feel trapped.”
This is what led Gavin to start his women’s group. “I have been doing it for almost five years and after the pause I will start them again. It is to give a place to women that in many ways feel gaslighted.”
The term is used to describe the process of manipulation by making someone question their reality. “It is an attempt to undermine the person’s self-esteem and I see a lot of that. And of course you work with a lot of people who – because of their wealth – carry a certain sense of entitlement.”
He is no stranger to wealth himself, in fact after qualifying as a lawyer in London, he set up a legal recruitment company which in 15 years grew into an international success. “I think I didn’t really know it at that time but I was probably lost, I was a workaholic, I was not living a very healthy lifestyle and I certainly had no idea what a soul was. I was just trying to fulfil somebody else’s dream but it wasn’t mine.”
“I realised one day when I was doing a presentation in front of hundreds of people and it was going really well but I thought to myself I cannot bullshit anymore. The business had changed, it had become exclusively about the bottom line – the profit – which on one level every business is about. But if that becomes more important than your staff and your values, then you’ve lost the plot. For me it was time to go.”
He was just about to turn forty when he decided to go back to school. “When I originally set up my business 15 years earlier, I had done a course in psychotherapy. I had always thought it was fascinating. I was interested in self-development, why are we here, this sort of existential stuff and so when I sold my shares in my company I thought this is my time… From the moment I started, it was like coming home.”
Gavin simply loves therapy and believes we can all benefit from learning more about ourselves, especially couples.
“No-one teaches you how bloody difficult relationships are. We only find out when we are in them. Every couple could benefit from couples counselling. Because there are certain things we often don’t talk about: money, power, even sex. To make it more complex, we are forever evolving … and all those taboo things are going to change for us – we are humans and we change, if we cannot find a healthy way to navigate these issues in our coupleship, how will we survive the inevitable bumps on the road? I often teach my clients that we all argue- that’s the sign of a healthy relationship.
My work doesn’t teach you not to argue. I teach my clients how to argue more effectively. And how to address what gets stuck. That’s the skill!”
Gavin’s first ever event in Monaco, The Good Life, is also all about relationships – our relationship with ourselves, the ones we love, and with life itself.
I ask him why The Good Life and why now?
“Because the time is right. People want to talk. We have all gone through this strange thing called the pandemic and we are all trying to make sense of what that was about… At the same time we have war in Ukraine, the threats of nuclear war… everything that gives us a sense of security and grounding feels more tenuous. And as human beings we are hardwired for connection. We need connection. And I think this is the time to come together.”
With the therapist Dufflyn Lammers, Gavin will focus on his definition of wellbeing, on how we mistake wellbeing for happiness and how happiness is a bad measure of where we are in life.
“I want to talk more about authenticity because I think one of the keys to wellbeing is found in this fundamental question: Can I be me? What stops us is fear. Fear that I am not good enough, fear that I am not worthy. That’s why we are trying to spend the first half of our life trying to fit in – because we are so fearful that if we don’t, we will lose our attachments. There is this famous quote by E E Cummings which is that one of the hardest things in life is to show up as ourselves in a world that is trying to make us someone else. And of course the world does just that!
Look at the peer pressure, look at Monaco! We cannot compete and pretend, we have to accept ourselves as we are and if you have got a yacht, fantastic! Can I come on your yacht? But I do not need to feel inadequate because I don’t have one.”
A one-day event, The Good Life runs from 10:00 till 16:00 at Monte Carlo Bay and includes lunch. Every attendee will go home with a wellbeing kit full of tools for the good life. All proceeds of the ticket sales go to charity: Child Care Monaco.
Gavin promises it to be fun for “anyone who is curious about life, their self-development and asking the question: Where do I go from here? Because sometimes we don’t ask this question until we are on our deathbed and that’s a bit late.”