I get by with a little help from my counsellor.
The thought of going to see a counsellor can be frightening. Most people think they should be able to handle everything themselves, especially if they have good friends and family. But two young women talk about their experience and say that although they were apprehensive, it was worthwhile admitting they needed help. We have changed their names to keep things confidential.
Georgia had just got out of a bad relationship and was feeling vulnerable, weak and hopeless. She was referred to a counsellor by a friend, but said she was nervous to go.
“I’m not one of those soft, fluffy, let’s talk about our feelings kind of people,” she said. She was afraid it would expose the weakest parts of her, which it did, but that was exactly what she said she needed to look at.
She describes her counsellor as easy to talk to, despite the challenging questions. “I didn’t feel judged by her, but I also didn’t feel any pity from her. I mean there were times where she expressed empathy but she never made me feel weaker than I was, she always encouraged the strength in me,” Georgia said.
Uni student Stella was still in a messy relationship when she started her sessions. She said her confidence was taking a beating and it was affecting her study.
“I felt like I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t good enough. I just forgot all the positives in my life, and focused on the negatives,” Stella said.
Counsellor Anne mostly helps people like Georgia and Stella - young women who have had enough of struggling with their pain on their own.
Anne says her sessions are like surgery, a brief intervention in a person’s life, while supportive friends and family are like good wholesome long-term nutrition.
Georgia echoes her analogy. “You’ve gotta look after yourself. If you break your arm, you’re going to go to the doctor, because he’s going to fix it. If you break your heart or mind, you wanna go to someone who knows how to help you fix it.”
The first thing Anne tells new clients is that what they tell her is strictly confidential. The second thing she tells them is what a brave and intelligent choice they have made.
“It takes courage to go and open up to someone. It’s a mature thing to do, it’s much less mature to struggle on”.
Then, without dishing out advice or judgement, Anne listens, empathically. This means letting the client know that she has not only heard what they have said, but also recognised the emotion behind it.
“Most people can experience a huge healing release when they feel somebody has understood them – ‘Oh, you get me, I’m not crazy!’ It’s like releasing infection out of a wound,” Anne says.
She goes on to explain, “Imagine unravelling a big knot - it’s teasing out the problem to reveal the underlying issues that created it. This helps the client to observe their own ways of thinking and perceiving. If these subconscious processes are not serving the client well, they have the opportunity to change them. They can choose to think and feel differently.”
Through this process of guided reflection Stella said she realised that things which had happened to her when she was little were still affecting her. Normal things, the kind of emotional scrapes and bumps that happen to most people during childhood and adolescence, that had shaped her thinking until now, but hadn’t gotten her to where she wanted to be.
Together counsellor and client formulated a strategy to change Stella’s thinking.
She said three times a day she had to identify a negative thought she was having and counter it with a positive one.
Georgia said when her thoughts threatened to get dark and run wild she had to practice being present in the moment and just focus on here and now.
Both women admitted scepticism and said these small steps towards change were difficult. But sticking to the exercises did actually turn things around, especially as they didn’t have to go it alone.
Georgia says she will always talk about her experience of working with a counsellor and how it helped her, in the hope that she will encourage others to go for help when they need it. Stella says it’s nothing to be ashamed of because it actually makes you a better person.
by Henrietta Lee
Gen Y, Queensland