Sunday, July 8, 2012

You have been referred for counselling.....So now what?

So what happens after you have been referred for counselling?

This is my take on it.

Counselling encompasses many techniques and strategies, including Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness, Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT),  Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), Schema Therapy, Interpersonal Therapy, Relationship Counselling, Emotionally Focused Therapy, Parenting Training and more.  However, if you look at the bigger picture, it all comes down to this.

Counselling with a trusted person, helps to provide safe connection, especially during a time when one feels very disconnected from their family, friends and the world.  It provides a safe haven without judgement.  It provides unconditional positive regard.  It is the relationship that heals.

The strategies and skill training on top of this, is somewhat secondary and auxiliary in my opinion.   Strategies are to help people to accept that life is challenging, and full of twists and turns.  Everyone has a story.  The trick to life is to embrace that, and learn how to "play the game of life" so to speak.  If the game is too easy, then it loses substance, meaning and purpose.  If it is too difficult, then it can become overwhelming.  So the key is to upskill, so that your level of competence can match the level of difficulty.  So what are the skills required to play the game of life.  I divide these skills into 3 categories.

  1. The first is CENTERING.  Just like riding a bike or surfing, centering is very important if not the most important.  So what is centering.  Think of a elite sport person during a game.  Usually, they are very centred even when they are losing.  Think of the contestants in a gameshow like Masterchef.  Usually, the one who is more calm, composed and centred, are the one who usually going to outperform the others.  Although centering is very important, most of us do not invest the time on practising this skill through mindfulness, exercise, yoga, pilates, spending time with nature, or some form of meditative practice. It is more about being present rather than past or future orientated.
  2. The second category is skills to FIX things.  These include relationship skills, social skills, parenting skills, cognitive skills, mood regulation skills, conflict resolution skills, financial skills, study skills, and skills on how to live a life that is congruent with one's core values, and the list goes on.  These are of course, extremely important as well.  If you do not have these skills, it can often destabilise you, and throw you off-centred.  In my opinion, our society tends to value these skills more than any other skills. 
  3. The last set of skills is simple, but yet so difficult for most of us to master.  It is ACCEPTANCE.  Acceptance is about letting go and total surrender.  This is not easy because most of us have been conditioned to not let go.  Letting go means giving up to many, and giving up means losing, and losing of course means failing.  Think of an exam with ten questions.  What happens when the first question is extremely difficult.  What would you do?  Do you just dwell on that, or do you just let go for now?  As you can see from this example, sometimes letting go, is one of the most powerful thing you can do.  It helps you to move forward and spend your energy on what is important to you.
Most of us go through life with only one predominant set of skills, and that is often "to fix things".  As you can see, how can you thrive in life when you have an incomplete set of tools.

So in a nutshell, counselling is about helping people learn how to be more centered, learn to fix the things they can fix, and let go "for now", of the things that they cannot.

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