The accidental counsellor

Published 07 September 2020

The Accidental Counsellor

In the early stages of the pandemic, people were waiting for things to get back to normal - and, of course, the reality is that they will probably never return to normal. Our world and social structures continue to evolve and people are having to adapt.

For people experiencing anxiety, who like to forecast what will happen in the future, so much is out of their control. I try to focus on what is within their control: what they can do today, and how they can look after themselves, to support themselves and their families.

This is the time when all of us need to be practising self-care and self-compassion.

We need to be hyper-aware of our own thinking and behaviour, but also that of others.

I'll soon be giving a presentation to a Rural Women's Network gathering about the idea of "the accidental counsellor". If you are a parent, you are already a counsellor to some degree. But in our social networks, workplaces and families, we might now be finding ourselves assuming a counsellor role more often. But how do we do that well?

It starts with good, reflective listening. That means genuinely seeking to understand the speaker's point of view, reconstructing what they are thinking and feeling, and relaying understanding and empathy back to them.

If asked, we need to be prepared to offer constructive advice.

But it's also important not to become an enabler. Facilitating or fostering poor boundaries can lead to the exacerbation of poor mental health behaviours in those around us. And we need to know our limitations and what professional support is available when needed.

If you think the person who has confided in you needs professional help, then recommend they consult their GP first. GPs know the local services and thus where to refer their patients, but also provide essential longer-term monitoring and support.

It may be that a psychologist can help. My job as a psychologist is to teach clients practical coping skills and how to reframe their thinking and behaviours to support optimal functioning. I like to think that I help to provide some perspective, so that clients can hum along in life, whatever the challenges.