Name – Irina Aron
Dual nationality: Russian and Bulgarian
Intercultural Communication Consultant, Associate Professor in Intercultural Communication, Psychotherapist, Relationship Design Coach
Countries lived in:
Russia, Bulgaria, UK
I have also spent extensive periods of time in the US (both East and West Coast) for family reasons and for my studies.
Who is Irina Aron?
I was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, I come from bilingual and multicultural background having a Russian Jewish mother and Bulgarian father.
From age 27 to 45 I was an academic, educator, senior university administrator (Vice-Dean for International Affairs at the second largest university in Bulgaria, Associate Professor in Intercultural Communication. A wife and the mother of a daughter and a son.
At age 45 I left my country, my empty nest since my children have left home by that time, came to London, and embarked on a new relationship and a new career. I continued teaching at the University of Kingston’s Business School, London, though the MA Translation and Intercultural Communication program which I set up almost 20 years ago.
I am an Intercultural Communication Consultant who offers Intercultural Communication Consultation for businesses, families and individuals. I am a psychotherapist and coach, who focuses on developing my clients’ Relational Intelligence. I call the modality of my work ‘Relationship Design’.
I have my Psychotherapy Private Practice in London and I am Associate at Colbun Psychology, which is a Multilingual Psychotherapy Practice, the Kusnacht Practice in Zurich and the Mind Field World – an International Practice based in Washington DC.
What is your personal story? What made you chose this career path?
By the time I was 30 I had two children, had completed my PhD, and started a university career. I loved my university work with young people, teaching intercultural communication to international students and mentoring them about their educational choices and decisions. I loved traveling the world in my role as an educational administrator and lecturer. This was an exciting time since the European Union was expanding and I felt honoured to make a contribution to Bulgaria’s incorporation within the European Higher Education structure.
After 25 years of academic career and 25 years of marriage I changed the country (the language and culture I lived in), changed my man, changed my profession, changed even my computer system – switched to MAC …
At the age of 45 I chose to retrain as a psychotherapist and coach because of the visceral need to reassess what was really important for me. I was lacking skills and knowledge around self-care, I got carried away by the endless opportunities for new projects and I became quite severely burnt out.
My learning skills and my genuine interest in people’s personal histories helped me to build my new career as a coach and psychotherapist from scratch. I became a member of the British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy and joined its Coaching Division. After 5 years of working in the NHS where I learned a lot from brilliant mental health professionals, I joined a Multilingual Psychotherapy Private practice in London and a high-end Clinic in Zurich.
I gained a lot of self-knowledge while training in coaching and psychotherapy. However, I was so taken by my studies and got so involved in developing my new career that I was still unable to slow down enough and take good care of myself. Hence, when I went through a crisis in my personal life I received quite severe incentive to do so. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through operations and treatment. It has been an amazing path which I consider to be a blessing in disguise. It made me take a whole year of rest and learn about healing traditions and meditation practices. I was trained in psychoanalytic thinking and with my new understanding of the body as a short cut to repair and wholeness, I now added some somatic modalities to my professional practice of coaching and psychotherapy. I sometimes feel that my personal experience is a communal property. Everything I go through in my life helps me better understand the people I work with because I understand them with my skin.
Your question is about my story in its relation to my career path. I realised I have prioritised my professional life for decades. It hasn’t been easy to combine motherhood with my professional career but I feel extremely lucky to have had the support of my family in raising my children. They are now young adults, both established in what they love doing and now I am the grandmother of a thriving three year old boy. At this stage of life I am even more aware how important it is for me to balance my personal and professional life.
From Russia through Bulgaria to the UK – what is the most valuable lesson that you have learned growing up in a bilingual environment?
The most valuable lesson from growing up in a bilingual environment which I carried into my life in English – my third language ‒ was not to assume that I fully understand what the other person means, even if I understand the words they are saying.
I believe that this lesson helped me to become a good therapist. When I work with a person I am on journey to learn their personal language, to understand what meaning they ascribe to words. This is for me a very exciting process, since this learning helps me to respond to my clients and my patients in their language so that they feel better understood.
When I relocated to London in 2008 I thought I knew English but immersion in London life brought huge daily language and cultural fatigue. 15 years later I can see how I kept learning English through osmosis and I am endlessly grateful to my best teachers in English – my partner and my clients and patients.
Different parts of one’s personality can appear when we speak our different languages and I experience this in my personal life and in my work with bilingual clients. We express ourselves differently in our first/second/third language and I enjoy working with clients whose languages I speak. However, even if I don’t speak my client’s first language, I know about the challenges of expressing oneself in another tongue and this creates additional rapport in my work with those who come from complex cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
Your journey is impressive and empowering. What was the hardest decision you had to make in your career?
I left Bulgaria at the height of my academic career. Leaving a university position with a secure future ahead, as well as my international academic projects and networks, felt like leaving the world as I knew it.
With so many years of experience how would you define “a healthy brain”?
I don’t believe we can separate physical health and mental health. Research shows that the human nervous system is very complex and we do have analogues of our brain associated with our heart and our gut. There are sensory neurons, motor neurons, ganglia and neurotransmitters there and this means that information can be processed, stored and accessed. Speaking about health in general, I would say that we feel our best when our reasoning, emotions and instincts are in harmony.
It is also important to remember that health in general is a continuum – it is dynamic and fluctuating. Understanding this helps to remain healthy – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. To stay healthy we need to normalise times when we are down and remind ourselves that these times are temporary.
You are a professional with a vast academic background, how did this help when establishing your coaching business?
My academic background has helped me throughout my retraining and developing my new career. I know how to read educational documentation and this has helped me choose the best schools for the kinds of psychotherapy and coaching I was interested in. I was also able to create my own curriculum by selecting courses from different, highly respected institutions – the Tavistock Centre, The Anna Freud Institute and The HeartMath Institute.
The languages I knew have also helped me to carve out a niche within my profession. I have been invited to join prominent multilingual practices where Russian-speaking therapists were needed. My academic background and diverse life experience have also given me the confidence to work with people who are in the public eye.
What is the most common problem you help your clients solve?
Living and working between countries, languages and cultures comes with challenges for one’s identity and adaptability. The most common problem clients come to seek help with concerns their relationships – both with themselves and their personal and professional relationships with others. Often my clients are in intercultural relationships where English is not the mother tongue for at least one of those involved. I help them to improve their communication skills and here we come back to language. We need to see what underlies the visceral need to express ourselves and to be understood in our relationships.
In the end it comes back to the relationship with oneself. As women we are still conditioned to look for the ‘One’ but some women have become more daring and are exploring how to get their needs met through more than one relationship. I have witnessed women transitioning from being frustrated to being empowered by taking responsibility for their own happiness and giving themselves permission to explore different ways of relating.
Your coaching model is quite unique as you combine different methods with intercultural experience, on a solid base of academic knowledge. Who is your “best client”?
My ‘best client’ is a woman who lives and works between countries, languages and cultures. She wants it all – the power job and womanhood. She travels for work and for pleasure and is involved in intercultural relationships. She seeks to sustain strong relationships while living an intense professional life. She needs someone whom she respects and trusts to be her confidant. Someone who listens to her and reflects back to her while she is working out how to balance her personal and professional life. She needs someone to hold a space for her when she feels vulnerable and at risk of disconnecting when facing the fear of intimacy and availability. I am supporting her to design the relationships and the life she loves.
I have enjoyed working with women in our all seasons of life. Interestingly, most of the requests for therapy and coaching I receive are from women between the ages of 30 and 35. My guess is that it might be related to my personal story. Looking back I can see that this was the time when I most needed support and guidance around wanting to have it all – the womanhood, the motherhood, my dream profession…
Tell us more about your “Relationship design” course. Who is this course most suitable for?
First of all, I think about relationships as an ecological system. It involves the relationship with oneself, with others, and with every aspect of our lives – place, time, body, money. Sustaining relationships is an art and a craft.
The assumption behind the Relationship Design thinking is that we can be creative, intentional and deliberate about our relationships. This does not take away the spontaneity and unpredictability of the co-creation which happens in a relationship. Relationship Design involves taking responsibility for learning about our relationship patterns ‒ we make time to explore what makes us happy with another. When we are mindful about our part in relating, we are better prepared to be a conscious co-creator in the relationships we want to have in life.
The idea behind the Relationship Design methodology comes from the 4D or Double Diamond model developed by the British Design Council in 2005 ( https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/our-resources/the-double-diamond/ ). The model presents design thinking as a process that involves four steps: Discover, Define, Develop, Deliver. When I read about it in one of my daughter’s books on design, I thought that it could be successfully employed in exploring human relationships. The first two steps – Discover and Define – are about revealing the habitual patterns in our relating. The third one – Develop – is the step of re-patterning. What do I want instead of what does not work in my relationships? Or, what do I want more of from what works already? The fourth step – Deliver – is about experimenting in a relationship with a partner. When defining these four steps we are mindful that the process is not linear. The idea of iterations is very important – we try what we want to develop in our relationship first in the safety of the group and then take it out into the world of our real relationships.
The Relationship Design thinking informs my work with individuals and couples and I also hold small groups ‒ the so-called Relationship Design Circles‒ twice a year. I run them in March/April under the heading Spring Cleaning and in November/December End of Year. These small groups are eight week containers where we follow the four steps of the 4D design model. Working on relationships in the Relationship Design Circle has the advantage of belonging to a small group and I have heard some amazing stories from those who have taken what they have learned from the Circles into their desired or/and real relationships – inspirational!
Do you think having a social network only for women is useful? If so, why?
I am convinced that having a social network for women is very useful. I believe in transgenerational exchange between women where energy, wisdom and knowledge can be transferred. I felt most backed up and supported through life when I joined my communities of powerful wise and passionate women.
How can IWC members get in contact with you?
The best email to get in touch with me is: firstname.lastname@example.org. I am relatively new to Instagram and I enjoy its potential. My user name is @irina_aron.