Passion!

I chose the cover photo for the peer support team I work with in schools. It reads “passion led us here”.

Passion is an essential value for me. It led me to pursue counselling as a way of life, and it kept me on track during my studies. Its my fervent hope that it will be as reliable in the future.

Today, think about your passion in life. What excites you? What lights a fire in your heart that isn’t easily ignored?

A beautiful and often understated role a counsellor can play, is in helping you find, embrace and pursue the things that really matter to you. To live an authentic, self-actualised life.

Growth and striving are not always easy, but what is?

Services for Melbourne and Covid-19 impacted communities

I’ve said before that the benefit of conducting sessions online means I can be accessed at your convenience. In times like these – the Covid-19 pandemic, it also means counselling can be accessed in safety, if you’re concerned about becoming exposed.

As I watch with a second wave hit the east coast, I am reminded of what brought me to counselling to begin with – a genuine desire to help people in times of need. The pandemic has really brought me back to my values and I’m working on exploring options to support those affected.

I am offering my services at concession rate to anyone in an area affected by Covid-19 or quarantine measures, or anyone personally affected by Covid-19.

If you’re in isolation or lockdown, I’m here for you. Don’t be afraid to reach out for a chat, to see what I can offer you.

Body scan meditation

The body scan meditation is another potent tool for relaxation, anxiety, and releasing stress. It can also be surprising – especially if you find yourself holding tension in areas you’d hardly considered. This does more than relieve tension – it helps you recognise it, helps you find where stress is stored in your body. During my time as an intern for a clinical psychologist, the psychologist I was working for was an advocate for regular massages to relieve these stress areas.

Below is a poster which breaks the technique down into simple steps. Beneath that is a script you can use to get started.

Sit, if you can. In a chair or on the floor.

Take a deep breath in. Hold it for three seconds, and let it out. And another. Do this until you’re ready to proceed. You can also start this meditation with the grounding technique.

Take notice of the sensations in this moment. The feeling of the floor beneath you – the tiles, the carpet, the wood. The fabric of the chair you’re on. Any breeze in the air.

Keep breathing.

Start with your jaw. Unclench it. Now, to your shoulders. Relax them, let them slump at your side. These are common areas where you may carry tension.

Go through your whole body – find where is tense, and relax it. Your hands and face are more areas where we can be noticeably tense.

Keep breathing.

Once you’ve released the tension you’ve found, take one last deep breath. Hold on for three seconds, and let it out.

I hope you find this as useful as I have.

What is: Debriefing

Have you ever had something happen to you, and there’s been nobody to talk about it to? Or nobody you feel would understand, or nobody who’d just shut up for five minutes and let you finish?

Welcome to debriefing.

Debriefing is one of the more understated but valuable uses of time in the therapeutic space.

Although no longer used in response to traumatic events, debriefing can still be used in less critical scenarios.

I’ve found theres great value in just having someone to talk to about something recent that went on. Did something happen at work recently thats bugging you? Something in your family? Is it something that the person you’d normally talk to wouldn’t get?

I use debriefing quite regularly, with my supervisor and my support team. Its a great space just to get things off your chest, and be heard.

You don’t have to be in crisis to see a counsellor. You can be in any state, and we’re ready to receive you.

Reach out.

What is: Telehealth?

Providing counselling services online seems strange at first sight, but quite convenient and feels more comfortable, and natural than you’d expect. I’m a 28 year old nerd and former FIFO worker – I am no stranger to video calls and connecting with others online.

Covid-19 restrictions led to many workplaces adopting work-from-home procedures, and health providers are no exception. My home office was set up after the Education Department informed school wellbeing staff that we’d need to work from home – a framework we quickly built up and implemented.

Your right to confidentiality is still ensured, and Telehealth providers endeavour to ensure your session is secure and safe.

Telehealth services involve using video call software, like Zoom, Webex or Skype, to have a counselling session. These user-friendly experiences often only need you to click a link in order to attend the counselling room.

This means you could have a session wherever is convenient to you! Want to book a half hour session during your lunch break at work? Fine with me. During your kids’ nap time? After they go to bed? Do you work unusual hours that make traditional office hours inconvenient to you?

Being able to pop into my home office and have a web session gives you the convenience of being able to book a time that works for you, unrestricted by traditional office hours, travel or having to arrange a sitter for the kids.

Plus you’ll probably get to meet one of my furry coworkers, who just love popping into the room when they hear new voices.

So reach out, and lets talk about a time that works for you.

The resilience of autism parents: Things that inspire me

So this weekend I saw an advertisement for a “supporting parents of children with autism” class, and I was intrigued! I am a parent of a child with autism – I’d love to know more. So I booked in, and I’m waiting to do it. In the meantime – I wanted to hear from other parents of children with autism.

I wanted to know what I could offer. How could I help? What are their stories?

So I approached a Facebook group for parents of children with autism and asked the question; what can I, as a fellow parent, and counsellor, do for you?

I spent my Sunday night reading amazing stories. Stories of resilience – of strength and endurance, long days, hard nights, and an incredible adherence to schedules and needs. Stories of loss – of family separation, and having to remove people from lives because they’re not supportive or understanding. Stories of creativity – people finding ways to support their children, or communicate with their children, that professionals missed. Each one was a touching, individual experience.

It was awe-inspiring, hearing about the lives of parents in my community. The saying goes – “If you’ve met one child with autism, then you’ve met one child with autism”. I think we could expand that further – the families of children with autism are just as strong, diverse and resilient as we hope our kids will one day be.

I’m still reading – and I’m still thinking – but what I know so far is that there are people here so full of care, and empathy, working day and night, that just need some help to stay strong for their kids.

It was an honour to hear their stories, and I’ve spent all day trying to come up with plans to provide them the support they need.

I just had to get this off my chest and gush for a moment about this spark of inspiration I’ve felt all day, after talking with these wonderful parents.

Reach out.

What to do when your kid comes out

So your child has come out to you. What do you do now?

You support them. Nothing has changed about them, they’re getting to live more openly. They may however start being victimised by others and will need your care and support.

You believe them. Kids are prone to phases, sure. Its how they grow, and learn, and find their identity. If you don’t believe or support them now, it tells them you don’t take them seriously, and they’ll have trouble trusting you in future.

You thank them. They likely agonised over telling you or not – how many stories are there of LGBTQIA people losing their families when they come out? This is a brave, risky moment for your child. Thank them for letting you know who they really are.

You be open to learning. Especially if you’re not really up to date on how things are for your child’s identity. You may have a lot of learning to do. Be open to it, it’ll be worth the world to them. Learning their language – a new name, pronoun and other terms may come along with this. You may have to unlearn old terms that you may have used, that you may now be told are hurtful.

You seek community resources. There’s fantastic resources out there to help parents of LGBTQIA children be supportive allies. PFLAG is a fantastic place to start!

Yeeting away our preconceptions

A few months ago I was working with a group of kids, and they were on a break for some play. Eventually there was a disagreement over a ball, resulting in the ball being thrown away by one of the children.

This distressed one of the kids who ran up to me, squeaking – quite upset, “He yeeted the ball, Mike, he just yeeted it!” There were tears, hurt, and anger.

For those of you who don’t know, “yeet” is an internet and meme culture word. You yell it when you throw something, or it can be used as a replacement for the word throw. It can also be used to invoke power – “you yell yeet for power, or Kobe for accuracy”.

Kids these days get a lot from YouTube and other kids. What adults may see as a silly meme-culture phrase, is just another part of daily language for kids. How many of us used slang that our parents didn’t get? I remember being 7 and everything was wicked. I still use rad. They tell me it’s making a comeback.

This was the first time I’d heard the yeet used without being used ironically or for comedic effect. This child was quite upset – and rightly so, the ball they were playing with was gone. I had to put aside the little smile I get whenever I hear ‘yeet’, because for me, it’s a funny word, and keep in my mind that a child was upset, and looking for help.

As a takeaway – don’t dismiss a kid – or anyone, for that matter-, or what they say, because they’re not communicating in a way you see as consistent with how they’re feeling. Or because you don’t respect the way they’re talking. For every ‘yeet’ there’s another word or piece of slang that might be nonsensical to you, but is an honest and genuine expression for someone else.

What is: A registered health professional?

In the light of a recent scandal where a known con artist had been masquerading as a mental health professional, and providing services and workshops which enabled abuse and stigmatised at-risk individuals, I think it’s a good opportunity for us to take a moment to look at the different types of mental health worker, and the bodies that they’re accountable to.

Counsellors (such as myself) can be registered with a few different professional bodies. Other professionals may also advertise as, or work in, counselling roles but be different types of health provider, such as psychologist or social worker – in fact, many organisations will require their counsellors to be registered psychologists or mental health social workers in order to make the most out of the Medicare Benefits Schedule, enabling these practitioners to access Medicare rebates.

Counsellors, currently, cannot access Medicare rebates, although the Australian Counselling Association has made a proposal to Medicare to allow certain tiers of ACA members access to the schedule. However, some counsellors can provide services with private health rebates, and others can work under NDIS.

I’m registered with the Australian Counselling Association and am more than happy to show my card on request, and my new fancy Facebook profile picture has the member’s logo on it.

Unfortunately “counsellor” is not a protected job title and thus anyone can use it. When engaging a counsellor, ensure they’re registered with a professional body such as the Australian Counselling Association or the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia. There are quite a few pathways to becoming a counsellor, ranging from a Diploma to a Master’s degree.

Psychotherapists are in the same boat as counsellors – it’s not a protected job title, and generally they’ll be ACA or PACFA members. They can also be social workers or psychologists who prefer to work in psychotherapy roles. Psychotherapy programs generally take place at a Master’s level.

Psychologist is a legally protected job title, meaning anyone who uses it as a job title, or leads you to believe they are – but aren’t – can be faced with legal action. Psychologists register with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, and the Australian Psychological Society Becoming a psychologist is a challenging experience – requiring a minimum of six years spent in education and supervised training.

Psychiatrists are Medical Doctors who specialise in diagnosing and treating mental illness. Most are members of the Royal Australia and New Zealand Collage of Psychiatrists, and must be registered with AHPRA. This, again, is a protected job title.

Accredited Mental Health Social Workers will be members of the Australian Association of Social Workers. AMHSWs are social workers who’ve undertaken additional education to work in clinical mental health roles. Their job title isn’t a protected one, comparable to counsellors in this way. Social Workers will generally have degrees at the Bachelor’s or Master’s level.

All these professions can offer you mental health services, with varying levels of access and public health support. Ensure that when you choose a mental health professional, that they are registered with their professional body. Membership with these bodies carries certain obligations – professional ethics, and continued professional learning. There is no such guarantee – or safety net – by working with unregistered, unaccredited providers – and every possibility you’re being scammed.

Stay safe – do your homework and ensure you’re accessing a real professional, who can show you legitimate credentials.

Reach out.

In support of others

This #mentalhealthmonday, lets talk about our loved ones. Supporting those we’re close to is a big topic that requires a lot of care, so I’ll likely make several posts on this topic.

We can start, though, on what to do when we notice changes in our loved ones, and asking if they’re okay.

Sometimes we may notice that a friend or family member may not be okay. This could come to our attention through a marked change in mood or behaviour, through obvious or subtle cues.

They may be withdrawing from regular activities or spending a lot of time on their own. They could be avoiding specific situations or social contact in general. They may not be keeping up with their personal hygiene or household chores. They might be spending more time in bed, or not sleeping much at all.

Our introverted, book-loving pal isn’t waving a red flag by choosing to have a quiet night at home with their favourite stack of books they haven’t gotten around to yet. But if that same friend stopped reading books altogether and took up constant cleaning or sleeping, we may have cause for concern.

The main thing to look for is changes. Sudden changes in mood or behaviour can be a sign of something larger at play. Changes in the aftermath of a recent event in their life can also be cause for concern.

So something about your friend has changed. They seem down, or worried. You’re worried. Now what?

Pick a comfortable time and place. Think about your concerns and how this could play into where and when to have this talk. If you’re concerned about your friend’s eating habits, don’t bring them to a kitchen or restaurant.

Then ask them if they’re okay. Tell them you’ve noticed some changes lately and that you’re concerned for their wellbeing. They may not choose to speak with you. That can be frustrating, but it can’t be forced. Reassure them that you’re there for them. Ask if they’d be more comfortable with a professional, such as a counsellor. When we care about how others see us, it can be challenging to open up to them.

If they do open up to you, do your best to respond thoughtfully. If they feel judged – as if opening up to you was a mistake, you’re going to get shut out in future. Listen more than talk – hold space for them. The last thing you want is to give them a reason to shut down.

Once they’ve told you what’s affecting them, ask them what they’d like you to do. Maybe they just needed to vent. Maybe they have a specific problem you can help with. As a person cengred counsellor, I’m of the belief most people know what they want to do, they just need help accepting it. Again, ask if they want to talk to a professional, whether thats a counsellor, psychologist or a relevant specialist.

You may not notice any warning signs. Not all of them are easily noticeable all of the time. When we’re hurting, sometimes we try extra hard to not let anyone see it. You’re not to blame for not noticing. You’ve done amazingly to get this far.

If you regularly find yourself in the role of managing the mental health of your friends and family, it may be worth contemplating undertaking a bystander level training course, such as Mental Health First Aid or ASIST. These provide you with amazing skills to help manage a crisis and get them to professional support.

Remember to take

If you or someone you care about is having difficulties, reach out.