Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Reflections of a Student Counsellor: Insights and guidance after my year @ RRU

As my 12 month term position ends and we approach Bell Let’s Talk Day on January 29th, I find myself reflecting on some of the common challenges that students shared in my counselling office this year, as well as the many success stories I’ll fondly recall and take with me for years to come.

Within each of those stories are a few common components:
1) The student’s insight and awareness that a problem or obstacle exists (internally or externally).
2) The courage to ask for help and then show up – not only at a literal level to the 1st appointment, but for their own health and well-being.
3) A willingness to lean into their fear and embrace vulnerability so that they can be truly seen and supported.
4) A therapeutic bond built on safety, trust, and a willingness to try on different perspectives, behaviors, and approaches to their situation (or life in general).    

I believe the stigma that surrounds mental illness and the broader conversation around proactively managing/improving mental health is slowly changing for the better in our society.  However, the outdated notion that asking for help is somehow admitting weakness because “we should be able to sort it out ourselves” continues to represent an obstacle to accessing resources.  What makes this so dangerous is the implication that the issue is actually reflecting a character flaw or deficiency, as opposed to a difficult circumstance with a perfectly understandable impact or wound as a result.  All too often this leads to feelings of shame and subsequent bouts of suffering in silence and attempts to numb or deny pain due to a fear of judgment from others.  Simply put, we all encounter situations in our life that are overwhelming and require emotional support or guidance from time to time.  Furthermore, for all the insight, wisdom, and intellectual understanding some manage to achieve about themselves or their lives, we all have blind spots that can lead to maladaptive coping strategies and unhealthy patterns (present company included). No man (or woman) is an island folks… nor should we aspire to be.

In my practice this year, I often found myself reframing what defines counselling and what it can represent in terms of support (typically with far too many movie references or sport analogies/ metaphors).  Here are a few tidbits that some of you may have heard along the way that I will leave you with today:
  • Don’t wait until the engine light comes on to do maintenance.
  • This degree is a marathon, not a sprint.  To get the result you want, you will invariably experience obstacles, pain points, and self-doubt along the way.  There is no shame in planning for success through proper preparation, training, and self-care (mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally).
  • Your anxiety, depression, grief, etc., are all injuries on the inside that people can’t see, but it doesn’t make them any less painful or “real” than a physical injury.  If you wouldn’t feel guilty or “weak” for going to a doctor, chiropractor, or physio therapist for recovery of a physical injury or illness, then why would you go without treatment in this case and judge yourself critically? You wouldn’t expect a friend recovering from a broken leg to run a 5k race with you, so why are you holding yourself to an unrealistic standard in your life right now while suffering psychologically and emotionally? 
  • Counselling can be more than simply learning tools to mitigate current suffering and solve problems.  It can also be about healing from the past, identifying our authentic selves, and creating more joy, passion, peace, connection, and clarity for a better future.  Let’s talk about what thriving means to you during your time at RRU instead of how to simply survive your experience here.
In closing, I want to thank the wonderful Student Success Team for their work and efforts to make me feel welcomed when I arrived.  I also want to acknowledge the management team that restored my faith in a healthy and respectful workplace this year.  Finally, a special thanks to each student that sat with me the past year and shared their stories, scars from the past, and future aspirations with me.  I often felt like I learned just as much from you as you did from me.  Keep up the good work in 2020 RRU!

Jeffrey Glenn, MA, RCC

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