The Importance of Hope

The Importance of Hope

I recently attended the Recovery Capital Conference of Canada 2018 with our associate, Richard Somerset. This is the second year we’ve gone to the conference, and each year I leave, reminded of one thing: the importance of hope. It’s wonderful to hear the research, discuss different topics, see old friends; but, what I enjoy most are the stories from clinicians and people from the recovery community alike – stories of recovery, rejuvenation, and hope.

 

The role of counselling in recovery is an interesting one. I remember my earlier days working on the downtown east side with youth living on the street and suffice it to say, my “office” was pretty different back then. Most of my work involved a trip to Tim Horton’s, or sitting in a local park, or even sitting on the ground in various alleys. Most of my work back then seemed less “clinical” if you will – you might even call it counselling guidance.

 

The reality was, as it still often is, that there was precious little I could do to make things better. Some of the stories I heard from these youth were devastating, horrific even, and it didn’t stop. I could help find them a place to stay at Covenant House, my employer at the time. I could talk to them about job opportunities, addiction treatment options, mental health resources. What I couldn’t do is change their past, or sometimes, their present and future.

 

So, what then? What good is counselling guidance? How does it instill hope in a life where there doesn’t seem to be any?

 

What I found in the alleys of the downtown east side of Vancouver, and what I continue to find in my nice, cushy office in the suburbs, is that most of my role in the lives of others is as a guide – helping people find their way back to seeing hope in themselves. Hope in who they are. Hope in what they could become. Even if some of the circumstances don’t change.

 

This is the power of empathy and connection. While our current circumstances are important, I find that they have very little to do with hope. We can be in the worst of times and be hopeful, and we can be in the best of times and find it meaningless. This is where the guidance fits in.

 

Counselling guidance, in this case, takes the form of slowly helping clients entertain the idea that hope resides in self and others, and not in the situation. Hope resides in the idea that you are still, at your core, worthy of love and that life can be different. In the words of Marsha Linehan, life can be worth living again.

 

How, then, can we start finding hope, and even joy in the midst of emotional and/or situational turmoil? How can counselling help this process along? Here are three things to keep in mind in terms of counselling and hope:

 

  1. You are not your addiction, your depression, your borderline personality disorder, or otherwise. These are all things that love to tell you otherwise, preying on the negative thought processes and painful emotions that may be running through heart, mind, and soul.
  2. There is always hope. You may not see it right now, and you may think that what you’ve done, what you’re battling, or what you anticipate are too much for hope to conquer. What I can tell you is that in all of my experience, I’ve never seen these things evidenced in truth. There are no hopeless causes, hopeless battles, or hopeless futures if we continue to hold on.
  3. You may not be in a place where you can hold hope for yourself. You may need someone to hold if for you. This is where a counsellor comes in. Our job, in my view, is to hold hope for those that can’t hold it for themselves. I know I’ve been there. I consider it an honour to be able to hold hope for others.

 

If you see yourself in any of the above, I would encourage you to give counselling a try. Sometimes counselling is a very specific clinical intervention. Sometimes, however, it’s guidance, and guidance toward the possibility of hope.

If we have hope, we have a chance.

Why Counselling Is Important

Why Counselling Is Important

When I sat down to write this, the first thing that came to mind was a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, titled, “How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43).” The opening line says, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” and continues to explain in great detail, all the different ways the subject loves the other. This is how I feel about counselling and its importance – there is no simple way to summarize why counselling is important because, in my opinion, the importance of it is endless in usefulness and application. So, I’ll offer three reasons counselling is important to start the conversation off.

 

Reason #1: Safety

 

Many of us have wonderful families, friends, and colleagues. But, how often do we feel completely safe discussing our innermost difficulties, the things we’re struggling with, the things that we’re afraid of, or perhaps the things we’re ashamed of? The reasons people come to counselling are many, whether it’s anxiety, depression, addiction, relationships, or otherwise, sometimes we just can’t bring ourselves to talk about these things with the people we have in our inner circle.

This is one reason counselling is important – a place of safety. By coming and entering the counselling room, you are entering into a space that was set up specifically to provide safety; the ambiance of the room, the highly trained professionals ready to engage in dialogue, the confidentiality provided by the interaction, and more. If we are to wrestle with our deepest longings, we need to feel safe and this what counselling provides.

 

Reason #2: Empathy

 

Empathy is key to our wellbeing and our functioning. In order to feel safe and feel connected to others, we need empathy. This is different than sympathy, which I’ve covered in previous articles because sympathy drives connection away. Empathy is healing, change making, and supports the re-wiring of our brains.

Empathy helps us feel known, understood, and validated; many times, this is what is missing in our personal lives. Sometimes this is because we are not surrounded by people who are capable, or willing to provide this for us; other times, it’s because we’re not in a place personally where we’re able to open ourselves to this possibility and this is where the skill of the counsellor comes in. Through counselling, we can experience empathy in a 1:1 relationship with the counsellor, evaluate our relationships, and if there are things preventing us from accepting empathy from others, work through these things will a skilled professional.

 

Reason #3: Guidance

 

When I went through my clinical training, one thing that was impressed upon us is that we’re not here to give advice. While I don’t disagree that this is not our primary function, I do disagree that we never do this. Sometimes counsellors are there to give advice. Depending on the client’s cultural background, they may actually be quite frustrated by not getting advice at times. What a counsellor is more apt to do on a regular basis, however, is to give guidance. Sometimes it’s guidance on a specific issue (i.e. school counselling, career counselling), and sometimes the guidance is in the form of a sounding board, offering alternatives to how the client is thinking about different issues.

Sometimes the guidance is more pointed – in my work I often see clients who have been through the various mental health systems without success and my clinical expertise and knowledge of the system is helpful in navigating next steps in looking for treatment and recovery.

 

Conclusion

 

As I mentioned at the beginning, this is just scratching the surface of why counselling is important, but I hope it’s a good introduction for you. In future articles, we’ll explore in specific detail how counselling is important for specific issues. If you have any questions about this, feel free to send us a message through the contact form and we’ll be happy to answer your question in a future article.