The simple act of listening to another person’s problems can have a profound effect in their life.
“When most people find out that I’m a counsellor, they get nervous and uncomfortable, thinking that I’m going to make them tell me their darkest secrets somehow,” laughs Rosemary Fromson who was recently elected as National President of the Canadian Professional Counselling Association (CPCA), “when in fact, more than anything else, I just listen to my clients.”
To counsel is to listen
The simple act of listening to another person’s problems can have a profound effect in their life. During a therapy session, counsellors take a back seat and encourage their clients to express themselves. The entire session is dedicated to the client, where they can talk about anything they like. Whether it’s a demanding job, a stressful relationship, or simply a bad day, counsellors help lessen the pressures of life by providing a safe space for their clients to release.
Each person walks their own unique journey. Counsellors know and respect that no two people – no matter how similar – are ever the same. Everyone copes with experiences in their own way and while some people may block unpleasant memories from their childhood, another person may turn to narcotics for solace. Some may have witnessed pain that came to define their personality, which in turn dictates their adult relationships or work life. The situations we encounter in our youth also play a significant role in our lives, especially for those who grew up in an abusive home or were forced to repress their true self from a young age.
Renowned therapist and author, Dr. Faizal Sahukhan explains: “I had a client who knew from an early age that he was a homosexual, but he got married to a woman due to cultural and familial influences. When he came to me, he was depressed and had suicidal tendencies. This is a mature adult who sensed who he was, what he was, but he wouldn’t admit it, not even to himself. So, after several sessions, when I felt that he was finally ready to accept himself, I placed a mirror in front of him and asked him to share with me who he saw, to which he burst out into tears of joy and said, ‘I am a homosexual male.’”
Counsellors acknowledge their clients’ pain and treat them with respect and compassion. They refrain from judgment and offer validation. A counsellor’s goal is to help their clients feel better and move forward in life.
Counsellors acknowledge their clients’ pain and treat them with respect and compassion. They refrain from judgment and offer validation. Whatever their clients have experienced, for them the pain is real – and that is why they are seeking counselling. So, a counsellor’s goal is to help their clients feel better and move forward in life.
What is it like to be heard?
Venting can be therapeutic. At first, therapists encourage their clients to express themselves in whichever way they’re most comfortable. “Sometimes they cry, sometimes they swear, but sometimes they just sit across from you in silence,” observes Fromson. Before understanding where their discomfort is originating from, clients need to first acknowledge that there is an issue. By verbalizing their emotions, they come one step closer to accepting their need for help. Counsellors typically ask open-ended questions to stimulate the conversation and gauge their client’s emotional state with the help of empathetic questions.
One cannot begin the healing process without knowing the origin of the pain, which is where the challenge lies for most people. In some cases, it’s easy to see why a person is upset – perhaps they’re going through a divorce or had anger management issues at work, but often, the root of the problem lies deeper than that. With the help of the tools they acquire in college, therapists can learn where the pain originates for their clients. Over the course of several sessions, the therapist’s observations will help guide their clients on their road to self-discovery.
“It’s quite interesting,” remarks Dr. Sahukhan. “In most cases, my clients already have the answers to their problems. They just need a little help finding their way to what lies deep within. That’s where I come in. My role as a counsellor is to guide, not advise.”
As Fromson wisely pointed out, one size does not fit all as far as counselling is concerned. How can you be prepared for the kind of issues one might have to deal with as a counsellor? No amount of life experience can prepare you for every type of emotional experience. It is likely that counsellors have not experienced many of the situations that their clients share with them, but with the right education and support from their peers, they can find the tools to help their clients succeed.
This profession is for individuals who are driven by a need to help people. They genuinely care about their clients and are motivated to get them started on a road to self-improvement.
Maybe it’s time to try counselling Successful therapists are patient, empathetic, and non-judgmental. This profession is for individuals who are driven by a need to help people. They genuinely care about their clients and are motivated to get them started on a road to self-improvement. Most people who pursue this career are following their calling. In one way or another, they’ve always felt a need to comfort people and help them settle their demons – whatever they may be.
Fromson remembers, “I was an office manager for the finance division of a big company. But, my neighbors would come to talk to me about their problems. Eventually, it got to a place where, when my kids were teenagers, one of their friends got in trouble and was in youth detention. The youth detention officials phoned me and said, ‘Would you please take him in because we don’t want him to return to his family for a while.’ In retrospect, this is something I always did. I just didn’t get paid for it.” This is true for many professional counsellors.
Through helping others, counsellors find solace. Fromson explained that the need to help people can stem from many different histories.
Through helping others, counsellors find solace. Fromson explained that the need to help people can stem from many different histories. Adults who grew up in administered care or foster homes usually have a need to belong and to protect. If someone grew up in a chaotic and dysfunctional home due to an alcoholic father figure, for example, they might gravitate to a career where they can help people who have had similar experiences. Or, someone who lost a child may become a counsellor so that she can work with children.
Therapists can find rewarding and potentially lucrative employment in a number of professional capacities. They can work in human resource departments, employee and family assistance programs, wellness clinics, treatment centers, government and not-for-profit organizations. They can also diversify their career (and their income) by starting a private practice. Depending on their preference, counsellors can focus on one or more specific topics in counselling, including: youth, family, group, diversity, cultural, relationship, intimacy, loss, grief, trauma, crisis, lifestyle, and career development.
Most counsellors settle into a specialization, but it’s possible that their clients may become aware of issues that the counsellor is not experienced in. “Then, you stop guiding. As a counsellor, what you can do is reflect and empathize for the remainder of the session,” says Dr. Sahukhan. “Hypothetically, if a client reveals that they were a victim of rape, for example, and if I did not specialize in treating clients for rape recovery, I would say, ‘I sense a lot of sadness here in what you’re talking about. Talk to me about that sadness.’ I would continue the session in a similar way and after the client leaves, I would research a specialist who may be better prepared to help this client and refer the client to them. This is the responsible and ethical thing to do.”
Therapists must also have a sense of responsibility toward their clients. They need to be able to step outside of their own experience and be there for their clients. “It’s too easy for some counsellors to get caught up in their own stuff. Then, they’re really talking through their own pain or their own experience, which is not helpful. There may be times when sharing a similar event will be beneficial, but that’s not always the case,” says Fromson.
Therapy for therapists
Although the weights may vary, most people carry some sort of baggage. Life experiences tend to do that to people, and counsellors are not an exception. Their job is to help people come to terms with their issues, which is impossible to do if they’re uncomfortable with the issue. This is why counsellors have a responsibility to always be checking themselves. Their clients are potentially in their most vulnerable state around them, so they need to ensure they leave their judgment and filters behind. “Working with men who have abused women, is something I didn’t think I would ever do. And when someone I personally knew became a victim of an abusive partner, I swore to stop working with men who abused women. My daughter, who is so wise, said, ‘Mom, if you don’t help them, who will?’ Although I eventually started working with them again, I had to allow myself the time to deal with my anger first,” said Fromson.
It is mandatory for all therapists, regardless of their experience, to receive clinical supervision. Supervision is a professional consultation service for counsellors who are currently working in a professional capacity. This means that counsellors must have their work supervised by another professional for a certain number of hours every year. The practice of supervision helps counsellors achieve growth by having their work reviewed by their peers and also helps them work through any issues they may have on a personal level.
“When I supervise a fellow therapist, I’m able to provide valuable input that the counsellor may have overseen. After all, we’re all humans and we all come with our own baggage. In the role of an impartial third party, I’m able to help reduce the risk of serious oversight by helping the counsellor concerned to reflect on their own feelings, thoughts, behaviour and general approach with the client,” confesses Dr. Sahukhan. “In this profession, therapy is life and life is therapy.”
Often counsellors may not get to work with their clients until the end of their journey to self-realization, but it is significant to be able to help someone see even the possibility of a better future.
Dr. Sahukhan reflects: “There have been many times when clients leave after very impactful, deep, insightful sessions. Professionally, I shake hands with them. Once they’re gone, I do a lot of validation for myself. ‘I’m glad the session went the way it did. I’m glad I was, at that moment, with this client to help them deal with this issue.’ That’s very rewarding. For a counsellor, this is not just a career and not just about self-help, but there’s a sense of satisfaction, that intrinsic satisfaction you get by being in people’s life at the right time and place to help them overcome a challenge. That’s very rewarding, much more than any dollar value.”
“With proper education, a counsellor can do almost anything that they want. They have the tools they will need to enter the workforce almost immediately after graduation; it’s completely up to them to proceed how they want and what to make out of it.” – Lisa Brown-Rooke, RPC, MPCC
Lisa Brown-Rooke, RPC, MPCC, holds a diploma in Professional Counselling and has recently achieved her Master Practitioner in Clinical Counselling with the CPCA. Brown-Rooke is an excellent illustration of a counsellor who is taking her passion to help others to new heights with her two current jobs. In her role as a full-time Student Success Coordinator at Stenberg College, Brown-Rooke provides direct support to students enrolled in a campus program. By being on campus and surrounded by students, she is able to take a proactive approach. “If I notice that a student is behaving differently from their norm, whatever that may be for them, I take the initiative to find out how they’re coping with everything. For example, if someone suddenly starts wearing all black clothing as opposed to their normal colorful attires, I would take the first step to check up on them and make sure they’re feeling okay,” says Brown-Rooke.
On the weekends, Brown-Rooke applies her extensive experience as a Life Coach and Counsellor to help kids in her private practice. Brown-Rooke advises, “With proper education, a counsellor can do almost anything that they want. They have the tools they will need to enter the workforce almost immediately after graduation; it’s completely up to them to proceed how they want and what to make out of it.”
“Stenberg College offers a unique counselling program …It is wonderful to have a program that provides in-depth lab and role playing, through in-house supervised clinical counselling sessions. Stenberg College has courses that are up to date with the ever-changing counselling modalities. With such a comprehensive course, the Canadian Professional Counselling Association will be proud to have these graduates become members of our Association.” – Rosemary Fromson, RPC, MPCC, National President, Canadian Professional Counselling Association (CPCA)
You can change someone’s life
Stenberg College’s Counselling Therapist Diploma program is thorough and gives students the skills they need to start working immediately. Through in-class learning and the practicum, this program will prepare you for supporting yourself as well as individuals, couples, and families from a variety of different backgrounds and circumstances. After successfully completing the program, you will enter the workforce with an open mind, an open heart, and the ability to change lives.
“Stenberg College offers a unique counselling program. It is inclusive from the administration of a practice to the skills required to be an empathetic, assertive listener. Right from the pre-registration process to completion and beyond, the staff are there to assist and guide the students. It is wonderful to have a program that provides in-depth lab and role playing, through in-house supervised clinical counselling sessions. Stenberg College has courses that are up to date with the ever-changing counselling modalities. With such a comprehensive course, the Canadian Professional Counselling Association will be proud to have these graduates become members of our Association.” – Rosemary Fromson, RPC, MPCC, National President, Canadian Professional Counselling Association (CPCA)
Whether you’re looking to embark on a new professional career or seeking personal growth, your counselling diploma will set you up for success. Learn more about this career at our upcoming Counselling Therapist Information Session on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.