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First Psychology: Redefining mental health support

First Psychology has opened a new counselling and psychology centre in Newcastle, offering a wide range of therapy and wellbeing services.

Set up in Scotland 15 years ago by Professor Ewan Gillon, First Psychology now has a team of more than 100 highly qualified and experienced clinicians, dealing with a large variety of mental health issues and problems.

With such an extensive range of professionals at First Psychology’s disposal, those seeking help have the confidence to know they will be matched with the right professional for their particular needs. 

With particular expertise in working with men, the organisation has already started to make a difference to North East students and young professionals, who are tapping into services including counselling, coaching and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Here, during Mental Health Awareness Week (May 13 – May 19), Colin Young sits down with Ewan in First Psychology’s new Newcastle office, near Leazes Park, to find out more about the business.


North East Times: Welcome to Newcastle, Ewan. Please tell us more about yourself, First Psychology and the business’ expansion into the North East.

Ewan: Back in the early 2000s, I worked at Glasgow Caledonian University, set up a counselling psychology course and also worked independently, as a self-employed clinician, for the university, the Open University and various other institutions.

I was really interested in making therapy more accessible to people, particularly men, and it was hard, because therapy at that point was very stigmatised, awkward and uncomfortable. People didn’t know how to access it.

And these were the early days of the internet, so I was really keen to make it real in some sense – no couches, no paraphernalia, no tissues – just a couple of chairs, cups of coffee and talking about things that are difficult.

That’s how I sold myself.

I was relatively successful, and had more clients coming to me than I could deal with.

I wanted to help, and didn’t like saying no to people.

So, eventually, I set up more formally as a business, and from a small clinical practice have expanded to 11 sites across Scotland, with 150 different types of clinicians, because people need different things and we need to be as responsive as we can.

It’s a natural extension for us to move into England and a new audience.

And because Scotland and Newcastle are so connected, it was the obvious choice.

There’s such an affinity between the culture and the people here and in Scotland, and I learn that every time I come down.


North East Times: The challenges surrounding mental health have always existed, but are we becoming better at talking about the subject and finding ways to deal with it?

Ewan: Historically, therapy has been quite inaccessible and difficult for people to feel confident about accessing.

I used to work with men in senior jobs, who would say, ‘how do I get in your building without being seen?’, and I’d let them in through the back door and back out again.

It wasn’t that the need wasn’t there. It’s just there was nothing that bridged people into a service meeting that need.

People want different things. Some want to talk, get things off their chest, others want more practical help and ask for some tools and techniques to help them understand what’s happening.

I was really keen from the start that the information was suitable and appropriate, and really explained what therapy is and how it can work.

It was about addressing questions people were grappling with, which weren’t being answered by existing services, who tended to assume people knew what therapy was, and that they wanted to talk about their problems, when actually, a lot of people often don’t want to talk, they just want it to go away.

What interested me was how to reach out, and I think we’ve built our business in Scotland through people having a good experience and recommending us, because we’ve done a good job, and people come back at different points in their lives.

We’ve been able to help them figure out what’s going to work for them, which goes right back to how we answer the phone and deal with people.


North East Times: First Psychology has earned a reputation for being particularly good at dealing with men’s mental health. Is that an area you have focused on since the business was established?

Ewan: It’s a key feature of what we do because it is close to our hearts.

The majority of people who come for therapy are women – a third and two thirds split – and only ten per cent of therapists are male.

Men’s mental health is an area we’ve always paid attention to, because as an accessible service, we want to really encourage men to come see us.

Luckily, we’ve got clinicians who are really experienced in working with men in different ways; there’s a therapy for men page on our website, which can be more helpful, particularly with problem-solving strategies.




Men enter therapy at a much later point in their distress and often engage at a point which is much more difficult.

Depression for men, for example, includes substance or alcohol abuse, feelings of anger or aggression; whereas if you look at the diagnosis of depression it doesn’t contain any of that.

Mental health is framed and thought about in particular ways, so for us, it’s often quite important to look at it together and think about it broadly, which takes you back to start with the person.

My experience is younger men are learning different ways of existing and are increasingly more able to engage with themselves; it’s our generation that’s got slightly more to learn.


North East Times: You are based near the two universities in Newcastle. Is the current generation better at dealing with these issues?

Ewan: It’s really different now.

The millennial generation has become the therapy generation and, over 15 to 20 years, people have grown up in a different kind of relational environment.

There’s more awareness in schools, universities and businesses of the importance of emotion, stress and trauma.

The bizarre thing is that we talk about mental health as if it’s something that’s like an illness, that it’s detached from us.

But, of course, it’s people.

We just have emotions. And we have thoughts, ideas and ways of thinking about the world that can be sometimes difficult for us.

We all have bad days, good days and we all go through dips.

And sometimes, it can be helpful to get some help for those because we get stuck.

Culturally, there’s more awareness of mental health issues; the concern I have, though, is that it can flip and it becomes ‘everyone’s struggling with mental health’, and the seriousness of people really struggling gets diluted a little bit.

It’s about keeping perspective and not losing that appreciation.

We’re talking about the stresses and experiences of life that are really difficult and painful.

And why would you want life to be painful? Why would we tolerate that?

If we had a broken leg, we’d expect to get support for it.

It’s the same idea; why would you not, if you’re broken?


North East Times: And is business in general getting better at addressing the issue?

Ewan: There’s an appreciation and a growing commitment within business to understand people have mental health issues and to support them.

I would throw a caveat into that. A lot of the larger volume-based services around mental health and wellbeing do it in a very limited way.

But it is more accessible and more diverse; there’s different types of therapists and different ways of working, and that’s more visible.

Clients are more empowered to make choices, or what’s going to work best for them.

And that’s where we come in.

We develop, with clients, a shared understanding of what’s going wrong, why they might want to address particular problems in their life – whether it’s a relationship breakdown, mood, stress, anxiety, panic, behavioural problems, eating obsessive kind of problems, a whole range of things – and build a plan that’s going to help.


North East Times: How important is that first contact between a potential client and First Psychology?

Ewan: We have people who answer the phone, talk to clients and offer opportunities and different ways to explain what can work for them.

From the moment someone comes into contact with us, we’re trying to help them find the right thing for them, and we’re very focused on quality and really careful about the clinicians we bring in.

We have our own training academy now to ensure that when people come to us we will do a good job, in a whole range of ways.

We’re client-centred, which is about being focused on the individual first, rather than ‘this is what we do, and this is what you’re going to get, irrespective of whether you want it or not’.

We work with tens of thousands of appointments every year now, so we know what we’re doing.

When someone gets in touch, we know exactly how to respond and treat everyone’s experience as unique, of value and with great seriousness.

What drives us is being good clinicians and doing a good job, and helping people.


North East Times: How do people contact you?

Ewan: They normally contact us by email or through our website, or they phone us and we have people sitting by the phone all day, every day, taking those calls.

They get a person who will talk to them, help them and advise them; they’re not going to be waiting for a call back, or using an online booking system.

We like to speak to someone before they come in, so there is a shared understanding and they’re not wasting their money, and they understand what they’ve signed up to.



Join us on 23rd May for a unique fireside chat surrounding the topic of mental health in young people at Banyan Newcastle. In association with Newcastle Young Professional’s Forum and First Psychology. Tickets here.


May 13, 2024

  • Business & Economy

Created by Colin Young