A new start after 60: ‘I became a psychotherapist at 69 and found my calling’

Having worked as an architect and photographer, run a bookshop and brought up four children, Bryony Harris has always sought new challenges. But becoming a therapist, she says, felt like coming home

At 65, Bryony Harris withdrew her pension in a lump sum and enrolled on a psychotherapy course. “I like that I used my pension to train for a new career,” she says. Now, at 74, she has a thriving psychotherapy practice in Fredrikstad, Norway. “I just knew it was the right time, and I felt equipped to do it. It was the very best thing I ever did for myself.”

The four-year course was on the north-west coast of Denmark, where for a week a month Harris was “among sand dunes with this amazing empty wild beach right outside”. Getting there from southern Norway meant an 11-hour trip by road and ferry. “It always felt like coming home,” Harris says. “I was a sponge, soaking up this stuff.”

When she first arrived, she realised she was at least 20 years older than everyone else, but was never made to feel any different. Her experience was transformative, “a calling”. Practising psychotherapy, she says, “helps me to understand the word ‘vocation’.”

And yet Harris has had many careers over the decades. At university in Kingston upon Thames, London, she trained as an architect, and after she qualified and married, worked as one “for short and long periods” while raising four children.

Next came a stint as a photographer on a community arts project, then teaching photography, then working in a refuge. “The world offered more possibilities than I had ever realised,” Harris says. She regards these moves as gradual shifts rather than reinvention. “I have never made a decision such as ‘I’m going to stop doing that and do something else.’ It’s always been a gentle progression.”

How does one progress gently from architecture to photography? “Oh, you’d be amazed. Via a bookshop, actually,” she says. She and her husband had a dream to open a shop specialising in books about folklore, mythology and tradition. The shop, in Hatherleigh, Devon, is “where the seeds of therapy were sown. Because in a small independent bookshop, people open up and talk.”

Mind you, Harris also says that her “therapy side was lurking in the background” when she taught photography. In Norway, she worked at a refuge for people who had experienced abuse. In her 40s, she had a short period of counselling. She no longer recalls exactly why, but it must have been decisive because when she turned 60, she resolved to write letters “to people who had been hugely influential in my life and probably were never aware of it”. She searched for her former counsellor, but couldn’t find him.

In 1991, Harris and her husband separated, and six years later, while “in a bit of limbo”, some Norwegian friends asked her to house-sit. She went with her youngest child, who was then 13. She learned Norwegian, freelanced as a photographer and stayed.

“There were many reasons why I moved to Norway. Some were to come and find something, and some were to put distance between things,” she says. “I think deep down, I knew I wouldn’t come back.”

Harris is very can-do. The best psychotherapy course was in Denmark, so first she had to learn Danish. “I really love a good challenge. Sometimes you can feel very stuck, but that is how I have lived my life,” she says.

As a child, Harris’s parents liked moving. She had nine homes before she went to university. “Now, I have no desire to uproot myself.”

Her flat looks out over an estuary, and she has lived there longer than she has lived anywhere. Each week brings fresh calls to her practice. “It feels very rewarding. I like that notion, that one is actually able to give back as a result of a long life.”


Paula Cocozza

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
A new start after 60: at 63 I finally paid off my debts – and ditched the credit card
After overcoming her addiction to drinks and drugs, Suzy Morrison realised she also had an unhealthy relationship with money. Two years later she was solvent – for the first time in her life

Paula Cocozza

13, Feb, 2023 @7:00 AM

Article image
A new start after 60: backpacking in the Himalayas, I found the courage to change my life
After two decades of work, work and more work, Ann Halloran decided it was time to leave her comfort zone. And it all began with a broken walking stick

Paula Cocozza

29, May, 2023 @6:00 AM

Article image
A new start after 60: ‘I didn’t want to be an invisible old lady – so I became a yoga teacher’
After decades in hairdressing, 65-year-old Sharon McAllister was ready for a change rather than a rest. And her yoga classes are just the beginning

Paula Cocozza

25, Jul, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
A new start after 60: ‘I became a vegan at 82 and found a new sense of freedom’
Frances Day says she was ‘very much the old-fashioned wife’. But after her husband died she found herself getting bolder and allowing her thoughts to travel

Paula Cocozza

20, Jun, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
A new start after 60: I survived cancer – and learned to respect my amazing body
For decades Sylvie Boulay agonised about her weight, happy when it fell, miserable when it rose. After two brushes with death, she has finally found peace

Paula Cocozza

30, Jan, 2023 @7:00 AM

Article image
A new start after 60: I became a mother at 62
In her first year at university, Martha Einerson gave her son up for adoption. Forty-three years later, he got in touch

Paula Cocozza

03, Oct, 2022 @6:01 AM

Article image
A new start after 60: ‘I won MasterChef – and finally learned to believe in myself’
Life as a retired banker bored Irini Tzortzoglou, so she decided to enter MasterChef. She trained hard, won the competition and now works as a chef, writer and public speaker

Emine Saner

18, Apr, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
A new start after 60: I ran a 100km ultramarathon at 70 – despite my arthritis
Ken Campbell says he never liked sport, but then one day he kept his wife company on a trail run and discovered the joy of being out in the wild

Paula Cocozza

11, Dec, 2022 @2:00 PM

Article image
A new start after 60: I became a busker at 79¾
Laurie Horam always considered himself unmusical. But when his son gave him a harmonica, the retired civil servant discovered a natural talent – and a new way to express his emotions

Paula Cocozza

13, Aug, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
A new start after 60: ‘I became a trapeze artist at 65’
Nikki Kenward had a troubled childhood with little opportunity for play. But in her 60s she entered the world of the circus, where ‘anything goes and anything is possible’

Paula Cocozza

20, Aug, 2021 @5:00 AM