I was speaking with a friend on the phone a few weeks ago. She was curious about what I do as a Registered Clinical Counsellor and what happens in a session. As we continued to talk, I mentioned that I was going to see a counsellor myself. She gasped and said: “You have issues too?” I chuckled and said, “Yes, we all have issues, even counsellors.”
I mentioned to a few colleagues that I was going to see a counsellor and they encouraged me to write about my experience as a way to share with others and ultimately normalize going to seek professional help. As a counsellor myself, it is so important to understand the perspective of what it is like to be a client. This post will try and shed some light on my experience as a counsellor, and being a client.
I have been thinking about seeing a counsellor for a while now: over a year. However, it always seemed like it was never the right time. I was too busy, juggling different jobs, other commitments, financial constraints: all these things seemed to vie for my attention and appeared to be good reasons to once again push down counselling on the list of “things to do.” May I offer my perspective for a moment? There are always going to be things that seem more important and seem like they must take priority, yet, my mental health and overall well being should also be a priority. It is my deepest desire to be the best counsellor that I can be, to show up and be the right support for each of my clients. Therefore, I need to make myself a priority. I need to make the time to work on areas of my life that will ultimately help me in my career helping others. I struggle with the idea that this sounds selfish, but as the old airplane analogy goes, I need to put on my oxygen mask first before I help others with their masks.
So, I put on my mask, so to speak, and made my first appointment. I left a message. I was brief and gave my contact information. Julie (this is not her real name) called me back promptly and we set up a time to meet in 2 weeks time. I had done it. I was proud of this first initial step. I filled out the intake form, sharing contact information and reasons for counselling. It was personal. I was reminded of the initial vulnerability that all clients must experience as they complete the forms; from a counselling perspective, it is crucial for liability and legality sake, yet there is also a piece that asks the client to try to put into words the areas they want to work on. In my experience, this process allowed me to think about the areas that I wanted to concentrate on and helped organize some of my thoughts a bit more.
Seemingly small, making that first phone call was the first step towards reaching out and asking for help, acknowledging the importance of having someone to listen to my story. As I tell all my clients on our first meeting, coming for counselling is brave. It is trusting a stranger with pieces of your story and there I was asking for a stranger to listen to mine. The tables have been turned, or perhaps another way, this time I get to sit on the couch instead of the armchair.
The day arrived. I saw some clients of my own. As the day progressed, I continued to check in with myself and see how I was feeling. My stomach felt a bit “off.” I named this feeling and voiced that I was nervous. This seemed like a natural reaction to me as I was preparing to meet with Julie. I left myself enough leeway in my schedule to arrive on time, as I tend to be late and did not want to arrive flustered.
Disclaimer: It is May, and I still have my snow tires on my car. Again, this is something that is on the “to do list,” not really a priority, but important nonetheless. Sometimes, there is a misconception about counsellors that they have it all together and have reached new levels of perfection. May I say, this is not the case. At. All. I share this with you, because as I sat in my car waiting to go into the office, I saw Julie getting out of her car, and to my delight, she too had her snow tires on. At that moment, I felt a sense of connection and validation that counsellors are people too, people that care deeply, they are human just like everyone else and perhaps have left car maintenance slide a bit as well.
I got myself comfortable on the couch, Julie has a few couches in her office, and so she chose the couch opposite to where I was sitting. She went over the limits to confidentiality and said that although I was a counsellor myself, she would treat me like any other client. I appreciated that. She mentioned that as she asked me questions if there was anything that I did not want to answer, then that was fine; in addition, if there was something that I wanted to talk about more in-depth for another session, I was free to do that as well.
Julie explained the importance of finding the right fit with a counsellor. This is so important. Just like in life, you are not going to click with everyone. Sometimes I like finding a counsellor to that of eating ice cream. There are many flavours and while some folks might enjoy more daring flavours of Bubblegum, Tiger or Moose Tracks, others enjoy the classic Vanilla, Neapolitan and Chocolate Chip Mint. It is a preference, and like ice cream, finding the right fit is crucial in a relationship with a Registered Clinical Counsellor.
My first session was basically me providing background. I gave a brief summary of what my childhood was like and highlighted some major events that have happened throughout my life. My counsellor listened intently, she provided encouraging nods and asked questions when more insight or clarification was needed. Her approach was gentle and genuine. As I shared about a situation that is particularly meaningful to me, I started to cry. I am not saying that crying in mandatory in counselling sessions, but as I share with my clients, “tears are welcome,” while ensuring a box of tissues is close by. When I cried, my counsellor sat with me. She shared the space. She acknowledged this was important to me and therefore she took the time to understand it more from my perspective. This was a beautiful gift for me to receive from her. It validated my experience and allowed me to know that she understood the importance for me.
At the end of the session, I felt like I was in a bit of a fog. Sometimes I have referred to this with my own clients as a “vulnerability hangover.” It is the sense of having shared meaningful information with someone and trusting them enough to hold the information. Did I share too much? Not enough? My life cannot be condensed to 50 minutes. Nor can the lives of the clients that I see. Counselling takes time to unpack, learn and discover. As I tell my clients, after my own session, I took some time to breathe and think and be calm. I booked another session to see Julie again in 2 weeks.
In summary, the session went well. I felt safe, heard and validated. For me, this is a sign of a positive therapeutic rapport. Moving forward, I anticipate more tears, more questions, more wrestling with the reasons why I do the things I do; but I know that what I learn and discover as a client will help me tremendously as a Registered Clinical Counsellor. My second session with Julie is in a few days. I am excited to see her again and see where the conversation takes us. And I must say, I still have my snow tires on my car. Perhaps I will have them taken off before my third counselling session, and maybe Julie will too?
If you have been thinking about going to counselling, can I give you that little nudge and say to do it? Find a Registered Clinical Counsellor who is a good fit for you. Can I be so bold as to suggest looking at Alongside You to find a one? Like ice cream, we have some daring counsellors as well as classics and everything in between. There is no shame to ask for help. There are counsellors who want to help. Put on your oxygen mask. Be Brave. Contact Us.
Let’s face it, we all have times where we feel absolutely exhausted. Parents, I’m looking at you! But we can’t blame it all on our children, as tempting as it may be! Sometimes we’re exhausted because we haven’t been sleeping (or maybe our kids haven’t been), we’ve picked up yet another cold/flu bug that’s going around, or we’re busy at work and the tasks never seem to end – the list goes on!
Does this sound familiar? If not, then either you’re superhuman, or you’re using the ever-so-often-used coping strategy of denial. Either way, let’s go on the assumption that you’ve felt exhausted for these, or other reasons at some point in your life. I know I have. What do we do? Life doesn’t stop! Responsibilities don’t stop! In fact, it almost seems like when I run into one of these times of feeling exhausted, life looks at me and says, “You don’t think you could be more tired? Challenge accepted!”
So, what do we do when we hit these times, and simply lying on a beach for a few months to recuperate isn’t an option?
We need to pay attention to our sleep
I know, we’re all superheroes that can survive on 4 hours of sleep, right? Wrong. It does appear that some people have a rare gene mutation that allows them to get by on less sleep than the rest of us, but most of us actually need more sleep than we get. According to research done by the National Sleep Foundation, and many others, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night, on average.
But it’s not just the length of time, it’s also the quality of sleep that matters. We need solid, deep sleep to get the rest we need. If we’re constantly waking up, taking a long time to fall asleep, or waking up too early then our sleep cycle is off and may need some help.
We need to pay attention to our mood and anxiety levels
Anyone who has ever struggled with anxiety, depression, or other related conditions knows the toll it takes on our energy. One of the hallmark symptoms of depression is exhaustion and lack of energy; it’s a direct symptom and consequence of the condition. Anxiety, on the other hand, produces the same result but for slightly different reasons. If anything, anxiety increases energy, but in turn, it takes an incredible amount of energy to manage our anxiety.
If we’re exhausted, one of the questions we need to be asking ourselves is, “How are my mood and anxiety levels? Am I more agitated lately? Am I noticing symptoms of depression? What’s my anxiety like?” If our mood is low and our anxiety is high, we’re likely going to feel tired!
We need to pay attention to our body
I’ve written many times before that the separation between the brain and the body is a complete myth. Our energy level is another area that highlights this. Just as our brain can give us clues as to what is going on, so can our body. If you’re feeling tired, how does your body feel? Here are a few things to look for:
- General tightness in your body, and even unexplained pain: this could be a symptom of anxiety and/or stress.
- Gastrointestinal (GI) issues: not surprisingly, one of the number one symptoms of anxiety in terms of our physiology is GI upset.
- Muscle fatigue: if you’re not feeling as strong as usual, this may be a sign of exhaustion.
- Shortness of breath: this can be another common symptom of anxiety. If you feel like it’s hard to take a breath, or hard to fully inflate your lungs and there’s no medical reason for it, this may be a clue that anxiety is hanging around with you.
- Restlessness: having a hard time sitting still? Legs won’t stop moving?
- Sweatiness: if you feel like you’re going through puberty and/or menopause because you can’t stop sweating and you’re not sure why anxiety may be the culprit. Note: being in the middle of puberty and/or menopause does not preclude anxiety also being a part of the picture!
Okay, I’m Tired. What Do I Do About It?
If you’ve ever been to a Registered Clinical Counsellor about your mood, anxiety, energy levels, or all of the above, they’ve probably made some suggestions about your sleep, diet, and exercise. These are the top three ways to manage mood and anxiety with natural and healthy habits. What if you’re doing those things and it’s still not helping? I’d like to suggest another method that may be able to address all of the areas above in one fell swoop: neurofeedback.
What Is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is a brain training that uses both computer and EEG technology to help our brains function more efficiently. Many conditions may be a result of our brains not functioning at their best, and neurofeedback helps our brain train to regain its optimal function. Think of it as going to the gym for your brain. That is, it helps our brain train to function at its best, through learning what it is doing currently, and training itself to go back to operating within the correct parameters it was designed to work within.
How can neurofeedback help me be less tired
Neurofeedback can help us regain our energy and be less tired in three main ways, directly related to what we’ve covered in this article today. First, it can help our sleep cycle get back to normal. When our brain is operating in a less than optimal manner, our brain stops functioning at its best. This includes the areas associated with sleep. Neurofeedback can help these areas regain optimum function, and can help our brain calm itself and relax before going to bed.
Second, neurofeedback can help us regulate our mood. One of the number ones uses for neurofeedback, in my experience, and where we see beneficial results is in mood regulation. When our mood is off, so are the various wavelengths in our brains, as well as our neurotransmitters. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, anger, or otherwise, our mood impacts our ability to rest and impacts the amount of energy needed to maintain our mood. Neurofeedback can train our brain to function better and manage our mood better at the biological level.
Finally, neurofeedback can relax our brain and our bodies. By helping our sleep and our mood, it relieves the load placed on our brain and our bodies. It also acts directly on the Central Nervous System (CNS) and helps our body relax. This is why it’s very common for clients to feel physically tired after a session.
Think about it – if we’re wound up as tight as a top, our nerves, muscles, and everything else are using energy to stay wound up. If we help these areas relax by relaxing the CNS, we’ll feel tired. Similar effects can be found using yoga and other methods. Neurofeedback targets the brain and our nervous system directly to produce the relaxation response, which in turn, helps us rest and recover. Neurofeedback can induce the relaxation response, which has been studied and shown repeatedly to reduce stress. The other benefit of neurofeedback? We don’t have to do anything. If we can sit in a chair and stare at a screen while listening to music, we can do neurofeedback.
Is neurofeedback the “magic pill” that cures all?
I wish! No, neurofeedback is not the magic pill that cures all, but it is a technology that can significantly help our sleep, mood, body, and energy levels. The catch is that we still need to do the other things that keep us healthy – that is, have healthy sleep habits, eat healthy food, and exercise. But, neurofeedback is one of the ways at getting at the biology of the brain directly and helping it function at its best. In conjunction with these other healthy habits, it can be a game changer!
Curious? Give us a call or contact us. We’d be happy to discuss how neurofeedback may be able to help you get your energy back!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.