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There are times in life that we all struggle with personal problems, difficult thoughts and feelings, and with how we try to make sense of our lives. We can turn to friends and family for support, but sometimes friends and family may not be the best option. For example our friends and family sometimes have their own bias about our lives, they may offer advice that is right for them but not right for you personally, or perhaps you may be too shy or embarrassed to talk about an issue that’s bothering you with them.

This is where counselling can help.

Counsellors are trained professionals whose role is to help you to:

  • explore your problems in an unbiased way
  • uncover your strengths and skills to help you come up with your own solutions to what may be bothering you
  • offer a safe and non-judgemental space for you to open up about your thoughts, feelings and sense of purpose in life
  • develop strategies for dealing with life’s problems,
  • increase self-awareness, a deeper understanding of one’s life, and of the patterns and behaviours that shape our personality
  • provide a confidential place for you to explore more deeply what is important to you in your life
  • assess whether your problem may need the help of other professionals such as doctors, psychologists or social workers
  • assist you with skills and techniques for dealing with feelings of anxiety, depression, panic, stress and other uncomfortable experiences

Counselling is a conversation or dialogue between you (the client) and the counsellor. The counsellor will use evidence-based skills and techniques to help you explore more deeply the issues you wish to address in your life and to help you find a greater sense of meaning, purpose, vitality and agency. Always this is done at a pace that is comfortable for you, and directed by you, as you are the expert in your own life.

Counsellors have a strict code of confidentiality. This means that what is discussed between you and the counsellor is completely private except in very specific circumstances relating to whether your or another person may be in danger. This confidential environment can be a relief for many clients, to get things “off their chest” that they may feel too embarrassed to reveal to others.

WHAT CAN COUNSELLING HELP WITH

Counselling has been found in studies to help with a variety of problems that people face in their day to day lives. A comprehensive list would be pages long but some of the more general issues people seek counselling help for include

  • Anxiety, panic, stress and worry
  • Depression, low mood, meaninglessness and despair
  • Coping with the impact of a difficult health problem
  • Grief and loss
  • Relationship difficulties, breakups and divorce
  • Difficulties with interpersonal skills such as confidence, communication, anger management and relating to others
  • Problems to do with alcohol and other drug abuse, or addictive behaviours such as gambling
  • Sexuality and identity issues such as coming-out as same-sex attracted, or changes in identity that occur with maturity and age
  • Work, employment and study stress
  • Difficulties with body image, self-esteem and self-worth.

Counselling doesn’t always have to involve talking through difficult experiences, it can also be a positive conversation about change. I have personally had lots of counselling myself and sometimes call it ‘personal training for my emotions and thoughts’. It can be a useful time to reflect on what is going on in your life, both good and bad.

Counselling can also be a chance to explore goals, hopes, dreams, plans and strategies for how to enrich your life. The benefits of counselling may include:

  • Clearer direction on how to achieve goals, hopes and dreams
  • A more fulfilling and meaningful life
  • A deeper connection with loved ones
  • A sense of self-worth, self-confidence and self-compassion
  • Strategies and skills to overcome or deal with anxiety, depression, stress and other difficult emotional experiences
  • Better mood, a renewed sense of vitality and zest for life
  • A deeper understanding of who you really are as a person, what you stand for and believe in, and the values you truly care about
  • An ability to appreciate the here-and-now moments in life, to rejoice in the small stuff, and to be more present and focused in our day to day lives

MY APPROACH TO COUNSELLING

My approach to counselling is a little bit unique in that I am trained in two professions – Naturopathy and Counselling. My training in Naturopathy was 4 years of full-time study and has allowed me to understand the science and physiology behind mental health, and the nutritional and lifestyle factors that can influence this.

My counselling education was completed as a full time, two-year-long Post Graduate qualification and involved a deep exploration of the interpersonal skills, counselling theory and person-centred approach that makes counselling such a useful skill for helping people.

By merging the two disciplines I can help not only with the mental or emotional difficulties you may be experiencing but also to assess whether other lifestyle factors may be contributing towards your mental distress or wellbeing. For this reason, I may take an interest in your sleep patterns, exercise habits and food intake to ensure that your physiological mental health needs are being met.

MODALITIES I UTILISE

Counsellors draw on a variety of modalities within their field of training to assist you to explore your problems. The modalities I prefer to use and have had training in include

  • person-centred Therapy: This modality is based on the work of Carl Rogers and is the basis of most contemporary counselling. This method utilizes congruence – being authentic, honest and real with you as the client, empathy – trying hard to deeply understand your personal experience, and unconditional positive regard – recognizing that you are a human being doing the best you can in life with the wisdom, skills and resources that are available to you, and just like the counsellor there will be times in life you struggle and need help and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): A very practical therapy that uses mindfulness skills to help you to be better able to accept and deal with difficult thoughts feelings and sensations, as well as supporting people to take the action necessary to create a fulfilling, meaningful and value-driven life.
  • Existential Therapy: in this, we explore more deeply the big questions in life such as Meaning – why am I here? What’s the purpose of life? Freedom Vs Restraint – How do I cope with the paradox of so much choice and yet so many limitations in life? Life Vs Death – how do I cope with knowing that one day I won’t exist?, Isolation Vs Connection – how do I truly know that other people know the ‘real’ me? In an existential approach, we explore how you make sense of all this and how that impacts your day to day life and approach to your problems.
  • Meditation, Mindfulness and Mind-Body Approach: The split we think of in the West between the mind and body is an imagined construct. Every thought and feeling we have is a biochemical event that has a ripple effect throughout the whole body. Neurotransmitters and electrical signals in the body form network patterns that create changes beyond the level of just thoughts and feelings. Science is uncovering just how profound this connection between thoughts, feelings and the rest of the body is, and new techniques are constantly emerging that can help us to achieve greater wellbeing by specifically targeting this mind-in-body link. Some of these evidence-based techniques are familiar to most people by now such as meditation and mindfulness, but there are other less well-known techniques such as journaling, visualization and physical exercises that can also impact our mental health. From time to time I will encourage clients to try some of these techniques, always and only if they are willing and interested to do this of course!

SUMMARY

Difficulties in life can be due to the situations we find ourselves in, or to the emotional and cognitive reactions we experience. We are never alone in these difficulties as they form part of the stories that make us human. Counselling is a practical way to navigate our way through these difficulties in a way that creates meaning, purpose and vitality in the process. The confidential and non-judgemental approach of counselling makes it ideal for people struggling to overcome problems that they may struggle with discussing with family or friends or sorting out on their own. It provides an opportunity for reflection, acceptance and growth. It is something I love doing and love seeing the benefits that clients achieve through their time in the counselling process.

Jad Patrick

BHSc Naturopathy, Grad. Dip. Counselling

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