Holistic Centre for Body, Mind & Spirit

The Journey to Here

“This is my vocation. This is what I am.”
So says Sonia Manning, founder of Anam Cara and the irrepressible energy behind its development into a unique holistic centre. Sonia opened Anam Cara in 2008, and has poured a lifetime of experience and learning into creating this place of respite, understanding, compassion, self-education and healing.
Asked to trace her journey back through her life, Sonia identifies an experience in childhood that was an early signal of a curiosity and spirituality that would drive her professional life. She says:
"I spent part of my childhood in Malaysia and I can still remember clearly opening my eyes in the morning after my first night there and being greeted by extraordinary sunshine and an assault on all the senses coming from the streets below. I got up and walked out on to the balcony and straight opposite was a Buddhist temple painted in exotic colours and covered in weird statues of gods, and there were monks walking around in their saffron robes. I was nine years old. I had come from rainy, cold, grey, industrialised Yorkshire with its winter coats and black and white TV and been hit by this explosion of colour, light and other-wordly people. Spiritually, even at that age, something awoke within me."
Back in the UK Sonia went through school and on to college to do Business Studies but soon dropped out. She tried a year in retail management but kept falling foul of the system, which encouraged conformity but not creativity and enquiry. She soon met her husband and had two children. She helped her husband run his business while she brought up the children and it was in this period she learnt a lot about management, teamwork, people and business.

Difficult times

Towards the end of this period, however, Sonia suffered a major psychological crisis, to the extent that her doctor gave her the choice of going into therapy or being sectioned. As a consequence of this crisis, she and her husband subsequently divorced.
So it was that aged 30, she was recovering while living with her sister and no idea what to do next. She got a job in the NHS working for the family health services, and gained a great insight into the lives and work of GPs and how they managed their practices. She was promoted to manage an A&E department; she comments, "I did it for a year but it was a chaotic, difficult, harrowing experience." She moved on to another management role in health services but it was at this point she had a recurrence of her illness and another major crisis. She became very ill. Indeed she suffered a major trauma that once again prompted her doctor to give her the stark choice: go to therapy or be sectioned. Sonia takes up the story:
"I went reluctantly back into therapy. Subsequently I came to understand that the second crisis came along because I'd never fully resolved it the first time. I had done enough to appear better and I'd become used to keeping a lid on things, almost running a parallel 'normal' life alongside my life full of crises. But the second time around, the seriousness of the illness made me realise I really had to confront this situation and tackle it full on this time.
"As I started to speak to my therapist, I felt the excruciating pain of the story I had to tell and I became physically very ill. And for the next five years, I remained both mentally and physically dreadfully unwell."
However, Sonia recovered and it was as a result of her experiences in therapy that she decided to retrain. She chose Keele University, renowned for its psychotherapy degrees, and loved every minute. Her defining moment came in the final term. She explains:
"We had looked at various humanistic approaches and theories but at the very end we learnt that the Eastern view of spirituality and philosophy had started to become seriously considered and explored, and had begun to be integrated as part of the Western therapeutic process. Eastern philosophy was becoming more mainstream and was gradually finding its place as a complement to traditional Freudian, Jungian and other humanistic approaches. This led into psychosynthesis, a discipline that just immediately clicked for me; it seemed to be a calm, mature and intelligent response to the combining of the two philosophical traditions.
"I immediately knew this was the direction I wanted to go in. Suddenly I was taken back to my awakening on that balcony in Malaysia, when I had been thrown into a rich, cosmopolitan world that awoke and energised me. Now I felt again that elemental thrill as I could see my natural, honest and true way of life opening up before me and the opportunity to be more myself than I had ever been."
Sonia began to practise as a psychotherapist, working from her home, and soon had a steady stream of clients. She worked hard and after four years was able to fund her psychosynthesis training programme in London, which she studied for the next five years. At the same time she set up, with two colleagues, a charity working with under-privileged young people, and she also secured a placement working for a GP practice as a therapist. It was a busy time, certainly; but also happy and free. It was a time of professional development and personal exploration. By gaining knowledge from other practitioners and also thinking a great deal for herself, she was all the time learning about the human condition - and her own.

Growing spirituality

Sonia continued to study psychosynthesis and wider Eastern philosophy and techniques as she ran her practice, and was experiencing an increasing number of spiritual episodes that left a powerful impression on her. Her work broadened to encompass more meditation and wider spiritual activities. However, she also found herself doing more and more business coaching as well as work with staff across Birmingham's prisons, within several civil service departments and the police force, and with various other organisations and businesses. Engaging and interesting as she found this range of work, her first love remained the psychospiritual approach.
Having now settled into a new home in Sutton Coldfield with her new partner, her own children and her step-children, she found herself not only running her practice and working with her various other interests and businesses, but also raising four teenagers. There were not enough hours in the day and after five years, she chose to end her studies and focus full-time on her practice. So why the focus on psychosynthesis? Sonia explains:
"Psychosynthesis uses Western psychology to understand how the mind works, alongside Eastern philosophy to explore the more profound and spiritual side of human behaviour and the search for meaning. I often see creative, intelligent, curious people who are just struggling, feeling lost, stuck or confused, and this approach allows them to work with their creative self to access their deeper being. As they do this, my job is to be their companion and to lead them through the doubt and difficulties, through the transition from unconscious to conscious, when people really get to know who they truly are as a human being. The therapy room is a special place, a uniquely safe environment where people are not judged and should have no fear of judgement – and this creates the free space where personal discoveries are made."

The birth of Anam Cara

Despite enjoying her work with clients, Sonia remained dissatisfied. There was still something missing. She says:
"I was becoming increasingly frustrated at only working with part of the person. The foundations of the way I work are based on Buddhist principles and I sincerely believe that the personal development of all people is not only beneficial for themselves but also for the greater good.
"Holistic treatment is so effective because it works with the mind, body and spirit. I was directing clients to other practitioners I knew and trusted in order to continue their programme of care but then there came a point where it made more sense to set up a centre and bring practitioners to the client rather than the other way round. I didn't want the frustration of seeing clients brought to this great point of self-awareness, only for the impact of this moment to be diluted by having to go here, there and everywhere to continue their development. When someone is on their journey, it's so important to be able to act at the right time, in the right way for that individual. Growing self-awareness often creates new thoughts, feelings, tensions and questions that need to be dealt with, and I wanted to be able to provide the necessary next stage of the programme myself.
"It was also an opportunity to create a totally new practice, offering a unique service, where I could establish the standards, ethos and shared values. It was the practitioners' absolute commitment to shared values and total dedication to the client that I was determined to have as a thread that runs through the business. I don't know another place anywhere that has such a desire to work together and a willingness to actually make it happen, not just hope for the best. So on these principles, Anam Cara was born."
From that moment in 2008 to the present day, Sonia has chosen each and every one of the practitioners who work with her. She turns down dozens for every one she takes on. So what makes a practitioner right for Anam Cara? Sonia says:
"The starting point is: this is not about us, it's about the client. So anyone joining Anam Cara needs to leave their ego at the door and focus entirely on the wellbeing of our clients. I will only take on people who are qualified, experienced and established. Having undergone a disciplined process, they must know themselves and be at ease with themselves, and remain interested and committed to continuing their personal and professional development. Sound self-knowledge is essential in order to work effectively with clients. They must be open-minded and curious about the human condition and they must handle clients with great care and compassion. And they must be willing to share in the Anam Cara approach, which demands absolute integrity, and total trust and respect between all practitioners as well as between practitioners and their clients."
And what of the client, what should the Anam Cara experience be like for them?
"They must be understood," says Sonia. "Nothing is more important. People often come to us as a mystery to themselves and we will help them to own their story and to live their life. They will be made to feel safe. They will be supported and nurtured, respected and cared for. They will trust us implicitly, which will allow them to be free to flourish. This is why I created Anam Cara and this is why I do what I do."