Things I learned while studying counselling

During my final semester in undergrad, I had the privilege of taking an exclusive class for my counselling minor in which I got to practice and apply all the theories and strategies I had only read about so far. With only 12 students in the class, we got to be the counsellor for a fellow classmate and the client for another. We also received one-on-one sessions with our professor in which we reviewed our recorded counselling sessions and found new ways to improve. I think it goes without saying that I learned more in this one class than I have during my whole undergrad because I got to experience both sides of the counselling scenario.

Things I learned when I was the counsellor:

Leaders make the worst counsellors

You don’t need to change personally, you need to change professionally

The patient-counsellor relationship is reflected in how well the sessions go

You can never have enough open ended questions (and later you’ll proceed to question if a question is an open-ended question and this will lead to countless google searches on how to form open-ended questions and an existential crisis which will be entertaining for your friends)

Every word that comes out of the counsellor’s mouth should affect the client in some way

Empathy is a concept that you think you understand until you have to practice it

Spending one whole day learning and practicing feeling words will improve your counselling skills more than you can ever imagine

Most times the problem lies deeper than what is presented

Sometimes the client will not want to go deeper and you have to accept that

Sometimes no matter how hard you try, you can’t connect with the client. But it’s your responsibly to find a way to overcome this so be ready for lifelong learning and countless nights researching new topics.

Silence speaks louder than words so don’t try to fill the silence

There’s a big difference between counselling and helping a friend — everything changes from your body language to your sentence structure

There will be many times you’ll question whether you were helpful or not

Overall: Being a counsellor in some ways in harder than being the client because you’ll face lots of uncertainty and insecurity. You’re just as vulnerable as the client in front of you because of this constant pressure to preform and regardless of what the prof says, it does NOT get easier because the more you learn, the more skills you want to apply. But at the same time, it is so rewarding because there’s this indescribable moment during the session where you can tell that you helped the client because there’s this spark or “uh huh” moment in which you can feel the tension float away from the client. I say this moment is indescribable because for everyone it’s presented differently. I’ve had some clients where this moment was them becoming overwhelmed and crying and others where this moment was pure silence because the client was absorbing the information in. This experience was a roller coaster of a ride because there were times where I felt like a heartless robot for not understanding the client and other times overjoyed in seeing the progress the client was making due to our sessions. The best way to describe this experience would be to take the most emotional person you know and multiply that by 10.

Things I learned when I was the client:

In counselling, no problem is small or stupid, but a “bad” counsellor can sure make you feel like it is

It’s okay to be vulnerable

A good counsellor can make you cry

It’s okay to cry in front of someone, it does not make you weak

A “bad” counsellor can make you feel worse about yourself

You’ll learn new things about yourself that you might have been too afraid to explore

It takes courage and trust to discuss certain topics

It’ll feel like a weight’s been lifted when you finally discuss those topics

Sometimes you’ll shut yourself off from discussing topics in depth because you’re too afraid of what you’ll find

This quote will speak volumes: “It’s like discovering a great hole in the ground. To begin with, you forget it’s there and keep falling in. After a while, it’s still there, but you learn to walk around it.” ― Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

You’ll feel privileged and thankful for your life because towards the end of your sessions, your biggest problem will be what to talk about in counselling

Overall: I went into my first counselling session thinking that this would be a waste of time because I had no problem. But boy was I wrong. No matter how “normal” a person may act, there’s always something that we’re holding on to (whether we’re conscious of it or not) that we want to express but can’t. It can be as small as being angry at a friend or as big as trying to gain acceptance from your parents. Usually, I found that the smaller issues were connected to bigger problems even in “normal” people because let’s face it, we’re all human and we all have things that we’re insecure about. This experience allowed me to battle some demons that I didn’t even know I was harboring and allowed me connect with myself. I had some bittersweet moments in my sessions because each weak I discovered new aspects of myself and some realizations weren’t as friendly as I wanted them to be. One of the biggest things I took away from this experience was the importance of a good client-therapist relationship. Having a good relationship with your counsellor can make a TREMENDOUS difference to your counselling experience. I went from a counsellor that was okay to one that I really connected to and this made a world of a difference in the topics we discussed, the depth of these topics, and overall my happiness and comfort. The most educational of all was my experience with a “bad” counsellor. I put bad in quotation marks because for some people her tactics could have worked but for me, it just made me feel worse about myself. This taught me that the tone, body language, and warmth to a counsellor are just as important in counselling as the information you provide to the client and more importantly, how it feels for a client to go to therapy and come out feeling worse.