Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Some Counselling Myths

Counselling still has a bit of a bad rap and I would like to debunk a few myths I have heard of late.

Myth 1: Counselling is (very) long term.
Counselling can be relatively short term – it depends on the issue at hand.  Dealing with a stressful work colleague, for example, needn’t result in months of counselling.  There are different facets to counselling and one of them is termed psycho-education where information is provided within a specific context to enable clients to make more knowledgeable decisions, or better handle similar situations differently in the future.

Myth 2: I have to talk about my past.
This again will depend on the issue at hand, but also on the counsellor’s training and theoretical model from where they operate.  There are theories that focus entirely on the here and now; and on the other end of the spectrum there are those who find benefit in resolving the past in order to resolve the present.  This is something you can ask when first making the appointment.

Myth 3: Counselling is very expensive.
The cost of counselling varies depending on the qualification of the person you seek counselling from.  Psychologists, Registered Counsellors, Social Workers and Lay Counsellors are able to offer a different level of service and therefore charge accordingly.  As with any profession it is important to check the health provider’s credentials.

Myth 4: If all I am going to do is talk, can't I do that with friends?

Absolutely.  Discussing pertinent issues with friends and/or family suggests a steady and reliable support system which is vital to overall mental health.  However, while a good winge or cry often makes us feel better, if the matter is a more serious one, this is a temporary fix and may result in us becoming “that person who always talks about the same thing”.  Counselling involves talking, but it is guided and solution oriented – where you identify possible solutions (and therefore consequences) for yourself.    Which is far more empowering than following a well-meaning friend’s suggestion to put a laxative in your stressful colleague’s coffee.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017


Boundaries can be difficult to establish, for a variety of reasons: for some, the thought of boundaries is selfish while for others defining the boundaries is the challenge.  Once defined and correctly implemented though, boundaries can assist in creating calm as expectations are managed for all involved.  While it may appear the job is done, setting boundaries is not a once off task. 

As relationships evolve, professional and personal, boundaries will need to be adjusted - either relaxed or made more stringent.  Consider a friendship: it would be less acceptable to contact a new acquaintance late in the evening for a chat but more acceptable in a long-standing friendship where this boundary has become more relaxed.  In a working relationship, regular lunch colleagues may need to create stricter boundaries around their lunch time if superiors feel the interaction is becoming inappropriate.

However, even where relationships are in a state of continuation, boundaries must be revisited.  Humans are creatures of habit and we tend to slip back into old routines - sometimes despite our best efforts.  Generally, this decline into the old and familiar is subtle and we are unaware of it, waking up one morning wondering how everything got so out of control.  Again.

It is important to revisit your boundaries regularly and consider whether they need to be adjusted or reconfirmed or even recreated entirely.  

Thursday, 6 July 2017


“Are you listening to me?” 
“Yes! I heard everything you said!”

Nope, you didn’t.  Hearing is done with the ears, but listening is done with so much more.

As a simple example, listening allows us to understand sarcasm.  The phrase – “how wonderful” – can be interpreted very differently because of the tone of voice and the smirk that may accompany the phrase.  Because sarcasm is usually harmless and forms a common part of our day, many of us are well tuned to it, so missing the facial expression (if our back is turned) doesn’t mean we miss the sarcastic comment as we recognise the tone of voice.

Unfortunately, when it comes to more serious matters – which are tackled less frequently – we are not as in-tune and miss much of what is being shared.  These serious matters tend to make most people uncomfortable so we tackle the issue while doing other things, cooking for example.  Even if we are brave enough to request a talk without distraction, the paintings on the wall or the coffee cup in-hand, suddenly become a far easier focus.   Averting our eyes results in poorer listening as those subtle facial expressions are vital because they are less easy to control than the tone of voice. 

Communication between people is very complex.  However, practising listening by looking at the person who is speaking and acknowledging their tone of voice, facial expressions and body language may result in greater understanding of the emotion and intention behind what is being said.  With greater understanding comes an ease to how to respond – make a joke, say how sad that sounds, or simply nod your head.  Apart from making us a better listener in those difficult-to-have important discussions, actively listening can make even light chit-chat flow with greater ease.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Time Management

We never seem to have enough of it.  And that which we do have is often underutilised.  Of all the resources we have to manage, time is the most difficult, partly because we have to utilise the very resource we are trying to manage, to manage it. 

Perhaps one of the biggest time-wasters is a tool which claims to help with time-management: the to-do list.  While it seems perfectly logical, to-do lists can quickly evolve into something anxiety provoking as the number of items increases as the day or week progresses.  The thought that crossing an item off the list would provide a sense of accomplishment is seldom true as most people are in a constant state of catch-up, adding more items than are crossed off.

As “the list” comprises tasks that need to be completed today, or this week, they are done in spare time (but we make the list to manage our time…?)  Imagine a day full of meetings and a to-do list (in those helpful side columns of a diary) consisting of ten items: there simply is no time to do those tasks on that day.

The to-do list should be a start of a plan, not the plan itself, because simply knowing what tasks need to be done does not help if they are not scheduled into the day.  And with most people fulfilling multiple roles in a day, chunking those tasks is equally as important as scheduling them into the day.

Chunking and scheduling tasks to maximise the time in the day will take some practice; however, if after a few weeks those tasks are still being passed on to the following day, it may be time to reorganise – or reprioritise – the multiple roles one is expected to maintain.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Seeking Counselling

As progressive as we consider our society to be, there is still a perception that things must be really bad to seek counselling; after all, if it wasn’t you could fix it on your own (which is really difficult when you are not too sure what it is).

Let us apply that to an analogy shall we: if your fridge develops an odd hum, or leaves a puddle at the foot of the door, you would call an electrician.  Would you wait to see if it fixed itself?  Unlikely.  Would you attempt to fix it yourself?  Maybe – what could possibly go wrong with Google by your side.  Failing a DIY fix, you’d call someone out to look at the fridge, because ignoring the problem might result in a greater one and potentially a dustbin full of perishables.

Counselling is much the same: we can try a few DIY fixes (which would probably be more than you would attempt on your fridge), but the longer the problem is left, the greater it can grow and instead of a dustbin of perishables there may be damaged relationships or self-esteem.  Neither of which can quickly be replaced by a trip to the shops.

Things do not have to be really bad to seek counselling.  Doing so, earlier on, can provide you with coping strategies to better manage the next up-hill, and gain more enjoyment along the way.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Consequence Charts

Following on from last month’s newsletter of the Star Chart, this month takes a look at its cousin: the Consequence Chart.  This should work on a visible removal of an item as opposed to the placing of a ‘black mark’ or similar as this tends to be a permanent visual reminder of when a child was ‘bad’.  Keeping this score can damage self-esteem. 

As with Star Charts, the Consequence Charts are often unsuccessful but for different reasons: Consequence Charts are often incorporated into the existing discipline toolbox when it should be replacing some existing tools, particularly the shouting tool.

The premise, as with the star chart is simple:  there is a set number of stars, pegs, fridge magnets etc. and one is removed when the child does something s/he shouldn’t, or does not do something s/he should.  A warning can be offered before the magnet is removed, but only once. If it becomes a threat that is not followed through, it is no longer effective, which is often the first way in which this system falls.  The magnet is not a bargaining tool.  It is also not to be accompanied by the shouting or lecturing tools: if it is, the child may perceive the parent as being mean as there is a “double punishment”. 

Once all the magnets have been lost, a privilege is lost for that day only (every day starts afresh).   There may well be a melt down at the fact that a privilege (such as TV or playing on the iPad) is unavailable, and this is another area where errors are made: The typical instinct is to launch into a lecture of why the privilege was lost which often results in a greater argument.  Should a melt down occur, it can be ignored; or sympathy can be offered at the fact that the child is sad (no, you are not going against what you are trying to do).    Offering sympathy (“I am sorry you are sad about this”) allows the child to express him/herself and both parent and child can move into a good space quicker, because there is no argument (resist the urge to speak more). 

It is imperative that the child knows beforehand what the do’s and don’ts are.  Remember to be kind to yourself and select a few behaviours to change – as they say, Rome was not built in a day.  

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Star Charts

The Star Chart is an age old reward system revered by teachers and often tried by parents, but with very little success.  There are three main challenges to the successful use of a star chart:

The first common reason for its failure is the lack of explanation provided to children.  It doesn’t seem very complex: behave=star, but herein lies the problem.  If children knew how to “behave”, a Star Chart wouldn’t be needed.  “Good behaviour” is far too broad a term for children to cope with; they need specifics.  This leads to the next problem, this time for parents: have you ever sat down and made a list of “good behaviours”?  It is a daunting task, never mind trying to explain that different settings may require modifications of these behaviours.

The final common problem revolves around correct use of the Chart.  Again, it seems very simple: behave=star.  If you have a list of ten behaviours, consider how many times in a day parents would need to be running to the star chart, and I use “running” on purpose because if that star does not go on the chart immediately after the behaviour, the power is lost.  The goal of a Star Chart should not be to get x many stars to get a prize; each star going on that chart should be a mini-reward in itself.  As soon as the focus is on collecting a certain number of stars, the behaviour(s) needed to get there become of second importance.

As simple as this little tool is, it does require a fair amount of thought before it can be implemented.  And as with all things children, there is no one-size-fits-all.