I was the kid in school everyone turned to for help, whether it was problems in school, at home or in a relationship. They knew I would be honest with them and that I wouldn’t share their issues with anyone else. At the same time, I struggled with my own personal issues with a very traumatic situation that happened to me. I really shut down and only talked to my mom. Thankfully, she got me into counseling immediately. I always believed in the healing power of talking to someone about your problems, but to go through the therapeutic process myself, it changed my life forever. It showed me I wanted to dedicate my life to helping others, just as I had been helped myself.
Learning from the Best
What I remember most about the therapist I went to in high school was there was absolutely no judgment on her part. Her facial expression never changed no matter what I told her. She also didn’t take too many notes. I’ve learned in my own practice that when someone is dealing with anxiety, they may be concerned about what you are writing about them. The therapist had great listening skills and patience, too. She would always ask, “What would be a better way to handle this situation?” That encouraged me to really think through my issues and made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
Based on what I learned in my own counseling sessions, I will never forget that I may be the mental health professional, but my clients are the experts because they know themselves and their families better than anyone. They let me know how things have been going, and we talk about ways to do things differently. It really is a partnership.
Paying it Forward
Whenever I’m supervising students working to become licensed professional counselors, I always say we’re educators in different ways. We don’t change who people are. We add to what they already have or help them deal with situations in a different way. I also encourage them to one day join me as a volunteer pro bono counselor with the Association’s SunBridge program. People with low or no incomes often do not have access to mental health treatment, so I definitely encourage other mental health professionals to volunteer their time and services. It makes a huge impact on people’s lives even though you only see the client for 6 to 8 visits. In that short period of time, you can give them coping skills to overcome recent losses or transition difficulties. This can include individual therapy for adults, family therapy, marital counseling, grief counseling and parental consultations.
Pro Bono Counseling in Action
One SunBridge success story that comes to mind is a young lady who was 19 or 20. She was struggling with self-esteem and relationship issues because she had a friend and roommate whom she had romantic feelings for, but he didn’t reciprocate. What he did, though, was take advantage of her kindness and generosity. At the time, she struggled with depression, low self-esteem, and low self-worth. The first step in helping her was was saying, “Wow, you’re a very caring individual.” Then we outlined what beneficial things she had done compared to her roommate. We worked on loving yourself and relying on a support system because that is key in recovery. The great news is that she eventually, on her own free will, decided to get her own apartment because she had a good job that allowed her to afford it. Not long ago I was so happy when she called to tell me she was doing great in her recovery and was engaged to be married.
Step Out on Faith
For someone with low or no income in need of pro bono counseling who is unsure of reaching out for help, like this young woman did, I would tell them, “Hey, we all need help and support from someone who won’t judge you, who you can share your innermost secrets with and it’s confidential. Step out on faith because you don’t want to be in a position where things are so severe that you’re forced to do them.
“Take a chance on helping yourself and it will change your life in so many different ways.”