Author Archives: Siri Brown

Walking our Walk…When Counsellors Don’t DO as they SAY

Posted by: Siri Brown on April 27, 2015 12:00 pm

I will admit it – I have had several moments in my past counselling experience where I found myself giving feedback that I, myself, could probably have taken. Whether it was managing negative thinking, using healthier coping skills or just eating more mindfully, I could have “walked the walk” a bit better than I was.

Set boundaries. Set goals. Avoid toxic people. Use “I” statements. Identify your values. Understand and soothe your inner critic. All helpful psychological tools we can use to work towards greater self-awareness and personal growth.

Yet how are WE doing? Yeah, us – the “professionals” who have made personal growth our business.

people-690953_640Interesting question…

As far as I’m concerned, we fall on a significantly broad continuum in this regard. Personally, I’ve met counsellors who’ve struggled with addictions, Major Depression Disorder or Bordeline Personality Disorder; presented as highly defensive, passive-aggressive, or traumatized. I’ve heard from clients about various transgressions of boundaries or negligence from their counsellors, and from counsellors about their out-of-control or toxic colleagues.

We’re human. We all make mistakes. But how can we strive to uphold our ethical code of conduct while allowing ourselves an understandable slip now and then? Where do we draw the line so we can honestly say we are doing our best to work in alignment with our values and professional expectations?

Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Avoiding Compassion Fatigue: 3 Strategies for Taking Back Control of Your Counselling Sessions

Posted by: Siri Brown on October 10, 2012 12:00 pm

When I first started counselling, I was of the belief that my clients, above all, needed a place to be heard.  So, being the good counselor I was, I listened.  And listened.  And reflected.  And recognized resilience and strengths.  And, when I could, tried to instill “hope”.  And my clients left satisfied, having vented, and most of all, having felt heard.  It was rogerian counselling all the way.

But then I started to burn out.  I was drained; began dreading certain clients’ appointments, and felt sucked into the trauma, pain, hopelessness and despair that accompanied many of those who came to me for help.  I knew, from what I’d learned in graduate school, that I was not just “meeting the client where they were at”, but joining them in those feelings.  I was a bandaid, not a healer.  And I was at a loss of what to do.

After several stress leaves, I began to seriously reconsider my counselling approach.  Yes, I could listen, yes I could empathisize, but was I actually helping my clients get better?  I realized that perhaps for me, the more passive, non-directive approach was not the best fit.  But what was?  I reflected on those clients that I did seem to help move forward, and also on my own experiences in therapy.  I began to take risks, set boundaries, and be more directive in sessions. 

The results were amazing!   My clients became more empowered and started to take responsibility for their own healing.  I noticed a shift in not only their energy, but my own.  My previous attempts at instilling hope, made through summarizing statements at the end of sessions, were replaced by pointed questions throughout our time together.  Below are three of the key ways that I found I was able to integrate a more directive helping style into my practice:

  1. Immediacy.  When you are feeling the client’s pain, “stuckness” or frustration, address it IN THE MOMENT.  Don’t make a mental note of it to be addressed in supervision later – step up, take a risk, and explore it.  Your clients are looking to you to model an honest, authentic, way of being.  Provide it.
  2. Mind/body techniques.  Whether you are highly trained in the wide variety of mind/body approaches out there or are just operating from the understanding that the mind and body are connected, use what you know to help your client make that connection.   Don’t of course operate outside your realm of competency, but, at the same time, have faith that you can work with your clients’ physical and physiological experiences.  It is all connected.
  3. Boundaries.  If a client is abusive, threatens you, is sexually suggestive or tries to manipulate you, set your boundaries!  I found this one of the MOST effective tools in preventing Compassion Fatigue.  I used to see all clients, thinking or hoping I could help them all; I was wrong.  We are not the best fit for everyone and it is okay to refer.  It is also okay to end sessions on time, limit phone call support, and even end counselling if you are not feeling safe. 

We are helpers, and pride ourselves on doing it well.  There is nothing wrong with that!  The problems arise when we sacrifice our own safety, self-respect, and well-being.  Modeling self-care is never a wrong move.  Plus, it will help you maintain your ability to continue helping others, which is, of course, what you were meant to do!

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Beyond Compassion Fatigue: The Phoenix in Flight

Posted by: Siri Brown on August 15, 2012 12:15 pm

When first embarking on the adventure and honour of helping others as a professional, credentialed, certified therapist, it is all you can do to contain your excitement as you await each new client.  Brimming over with theories, interventions and techniques, the beginner counsellor knows, in their bones, that they can make a difference. It is a wonderful, fulfilling knowing and despite the occasional bouts of doubt and moments of uncertainty, it is an amazing time in a counsellor’s career, and I reveled in it as I embarked on my dream profession.

So what happened to me? To many of us? You know, to our dreams of helping hundreds of hurting clients and becoming self-actualized in the process? Instead, many of us have found ourselves 10, 15, 20 years down the road burned out, weary, depressed and doubting. Even wondering, in our darker moments, whether counselling really helps anyone in the long run anyway. Not a fun place to be. And not a place one has to stay, either.  As one of my favourite colleagues likes to point out, “suffering is optional”.

Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

4 Basic Steps for Preventing Compassion Fatigue

Posted by: Siri Brown on May 22, 2012 4:14 pm

There is an analogy I use with my compassion fatigued clients and workshop participants to try and conceptualize the “burnout” process.  I tell them it is like standing in the hot sun, for hours, with no hat, sunblock or shade, and willing yourself not to get sunburned.   Eventually, despite your mental efforts, your body will pay the price.  And so, unfortunately, can it be with helping others.

This blog will hopefully arm you with some tools and techniques that will act as your sunblock.  Like the sun, our clients’ issues are not “good” or “bad”.  Also like the sun, extended exposure can have a significant impact on our health.   Therefore preparing ourselves prior to meeting with clients can help ensure ongoing enjoyment of the work we do.

Step 1:  Educate yourself.  Learn everything you can about the costs and challenges of helping others.  Understand the trauma process, what secondary traumatic stress is, and the signs or symptoms of Compassion Fatigue and professional burnout.  Having a good supervisor or mentor, who can help you navigate the balancing act of helping others while taking care of yourself, can be invaluable.  Plus, it is not unusual for others to notice when we are feeling stressed or worn out before we do.

Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

The ONLY Way of Getting off the Compassion Fatigue Rollercoaster for Good!

Posted by: Siri Brown on April 10, 2012 3:59 pm

The first time I suffered from counsellor burnout, aka Compassion Fatigue, was at my first job at a residential treatment centre.  I was young, fresh, idealistic and ready to dive into the rewarding work of helping others.  After only about a year and a half, I was drinking regularly, smoking again after a hiatus of over a year and a half, and exercising compulsively (at least an hour and a half a day).  I was crying on my way home from work, and frustrated and ashamed of myself and my apparent lack of healthier “coping skills”.

I didn’t know what was going on – how come I was struggling so much?  Why was I feeling the need to escape from my feelings so compulsively?  Why was I so emotionally sensitive?  What had happened to the old me?  Despite my efforts at distracting myself, the cracks started to show – I have two distinct memories that helped me realize something was really wrong. 

The  first one was during a massage, when the massage therapist placed her hands on my shoulders and asked, “why are you carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders? “.  This prompted a waterfall of tears.  How did she know that was exactly how I was feeling?

Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Self- Care I: Creating and Maintaining a Therapeutic Space

Posted by: Siri Brown on February 28, 2012 10:25 am

I love it when a client comes into my office and states that they feel better just being in my “space”.  This blog is about what I’ve culled from 12 years of counselling others in “spaces”.

The first step in creating a therapeutic environment for yourself and your clients is addressing the physical space you share.   I have provided therapy in a small, windowless office as well as a large, ninth floor corner office with balcony.    The clients I served in both offices seemed equally satisfied with their counselling experience.  So what, exactly, helped make the  spaces therapeutic?  The following is a list of key considerations you should keep in mind when establishing your own counselling space.

Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Self-Care – When it’s Hard Walking the Walk…

Posted by: Siri Brown on February 8, 2012 11:18 am

I ended up in the ER last week, stitches to my right (dominant) hand, resulting from a losing battle with a broken glass.  Exiting the hospital at 11:30pm, I was faced with a decision – to go, or not to go, to work the next day?  Self-care I can trumpet to my clients, but oh-how-complicated it becomes as I face my own choices.  This blog entry is about my own journey navigating an acceptable balance between my professional and personal responsibilities.    I hope that it might help “normalize” this challenge for other clinicians, dedicated, as I am, to the clients we serve.

Facts:   I have 3 stitches in my hand.  I am not in any amount of inordinate pain as a result.  I have almost 7hrs of sleep available to me.  I have a fairly full schedule tomorrow including clients without telephones or other means of contact.   It is only one more day of work before the weekend.   I  just spent two plus hours in the hospital (second one I visited – first one, the ER was closed).  It would help to keep the wound dry and immobilized for at least 24hrs.  I am mad at myself for what I consider a stupid, unnecessary injury.   What to do?

Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

When Clients Die: To Cry, or Not to Cry?

Posted by: Siri Brown on January 20, 2012 3:41 pm

The recent holidays reminded me of a time when I returned home from a two week vacation refreshed, rested, and rejuvenated.  Work started at 8:30am; at 8:36am a colleague is in my office, face sombre, eyes welled, asking, “Have you heard?”   A client, survivor of a series of unfortunate hardships, has died in a tragic incident.  My colleague looks at me expectantly, arms hovering, silently offering the need for a hug, and I am flummoxed.  The time, now 8:39am, brings another colleague into view, ready to share the same sad news.  I see both of their expectant faces, waiting for the “typical” response – but though I am saddened by the news (the client was a delightful, generous, unique human being), I am not emotionally devastated, as seems to be expected.  It begs the question:  to cry, or not to cry?

Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA