Last year I wrote a piece I called “The Unintended Benefits of Counselling” (April, 2015) in which I explored the “collateral” positive aspects of developing a counselling skill set and the impact it can have on our personal lives as counselors. The basic premise of that blog was that counselling can have a personal benefit for the counsellor as well as the client. (And it would follow of course, that when the counsellor improves, the results are inevitably beneficial for the client. Counselling truly is “the gift that keeps on giving.”) The focus of this blog is an exploration of how counselling can have a positive impact on our capacities as professionals in other realms, and especially in professions where a counselling skill set may not be considered as a necessary tool in the performance of our duties. A recent example in my daily work was the genesis for this idea. Although I am a CCPA Certified Counsellor, my day job is that of a high school administrator. To be honest, I have always maintained that the counselling skill set can be incredibly effective in the daily work of a school administrator. In my capacity as a school leader, I employ effective listening skills, utilize re-framing techniques, conduct solution-focused therapeutic interventions and facilitate mediation in areas of conflict. All before 10:00 A.M. As a Certified Counsellor, I believe that EVERYONE can benefit from counselling; the parents, students and staff that come into my office are no exception. And in fact, many of the people who come into my office are normally in some type of crisis that requires resolution or at the very least an intervention. (In fact, there is a movement afoot in British Columbia to empower teachers to act as mental health advocates and “front-line workers” since teachers enjoy a unique and increasingly significant position as professionals who see kids every day and are thereby able to establish baseline data for behavior.) A case in point: I recently had a young woman referred to me for poor attendance. She was 13 years old and in the critical transition year of Grade 8 as students move from elementary to secondary school. She had missed about 25 of the first 35 days of school and as you might expect, her marks reflected her sporadic attendance. Now, under normal circumstances, most vice principals are going to suspend students (as counter-intuitive as that may seem) in order to reinforce the importance of daily attendance as it relates to school success. The meta-message being, “Jane Smith, you need to attend our school on a regular basis if you wish to remain a student in my bureaucratic institution.” But, as I’m also fond of saying, “Don’t just DO something, sit there..” It takes a lot more effort and care to look beyond the behavior to find its etiological root. In other words, moving from the “what?” to the “why?” Obviously, this student isn’t attending regularly. That’s the “what” but “So what?” The real question is “Why is this student not attending?” And the answer is not, “Because she doesn’t like school.” In fact, as with many of the behavioral issues I deal with as a vice principal, the problems in school aren’t because of school, they have just manifested themselves at school. Extra-curricular issues tend to manifest themselves at school because school for the most part is a “safe space” where children can” act out” and the professionals in school notice these behaviors because “they care.” So, back to the young lady in question: she was missing school because she was depressed about her parents’ recent divorce. She was “creating a crisis” in the hopes that Mom or Dad would act, would “make her go to school” and thereby” demonstrate” their love for her. How many times have we as therapists helped our clients make the connection between their unmet needs and their behavior? What I have found as a school administrator is that a little CBT can go a long way to helping students not come back to your office. With respect to this student who was missing school, my therapeutic intervention did not include discipline for truancy. It did include efforts to build a relationship with this student by demonstrating care for her, it included asset identification, self-esteem building exercises and homework, it included normalizing this student’s experience, it included identification of triggers, it utilized extra-therapeutic factors as a means of self-help, it included personal network reification. It was the antithesis of what a person would expect if they were referred to the vice-principal’s office for violation of the code of conduct. It was brief, solution-focused modality with an emphasis on psychoeducation. And it worked! In the 30 school days since this intervention, this student has missed 2 days. As therapists, we can’t wave a magic wand and make everything all better, but we do possess a very powerful set of skills and clinical acumen that enables us to help. And that’s why we got into this “business” right? We are called to this vocation to use our time, skills and energy to help others, to improve their lives, to enable them to live a more meaningful, satisfying existence. And fortunately, this is a transferable skill set.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA