26 November 2016
by Jojo Ivie
On a cloudy autumn afternoon in Cork City, I was invited to a very special building. Opposite the majestic church, at 7 Father Matthew’s Street, is the humble Cork Counselling Centre and Training Institute.
It was the first of its kind to offer counselling services in Munster, and as a non-profit organisation, much of the good work the counsellors do is heavily reliant on the money they raise from providing training, and with the help of volunteers. They are currently planning their first conference, entitled ‘Developing the Researcher Role in Counselling and Psychotherapy Practice’ and have a call for papers currently open for counselling professionals and academics.
I met with Hugh and two of his colleagues, Laura and Anna Lena, and asked them about their experiences and motivations as staff of the Centre.
Hugh, Laura and Anna Lena, it’s a pleasure to meet ye in this haven in the city. Tell me, what is it that inspires you about counselling and about this place in particular?
Hugh: Shakespeare wrote ‘to thine own self be true’ – we’re all individuals and we need to live out of that, trying be true to the unique people we are, because when we’re always following other people’s commands and ideas, as we usually do in childhood, it gets boring, I think the life comes when you begin to be yourself.
The founder of the centre here was a German lady called Maria Huss. She founded counselling here in Cork back in 1985, when the word was hardly heard of. I’ve been fortunate to have had training and supervision from her – she was a very gifted lady and if, in this kind of work, I could be as inspiring as she was, I’d be very happy.
The centre provides education to students who want to be counsellors, and it provides counselling to clients from all walks of life, and accepts them all equally. It doesn’t discriminate on the basis of money, so there’s nobody that can’t afford to go to counselling here.
Laura: The best thing about counselling is the ordinary, everyday encounter of it. It’s ordinary people like me and you, who are going through difficulties that anyone would be going through in similar circumstances.
It’s a space, a forum, a place, just to stop – to recognise what it is we’re going through, to be understood, to not be so alone with it, and to realise that what we’re going through is an ordinary everyday problem. It might be that we don’t know anyone else going through it, it might be huge, it might be terribly painful; but that it’s a human experience and it’s possible for another human to know that, or to be with us – to walk with us through a really difficult time.
Why do you find people go for counselling?
Anna Lena: I think people come for counselling when they realise that they don’t want to lead their lives the way they do currently, and they’re not yet capable to be the person they actually want to be. I think that’s one of the main reasons. But it is very personal so I can’t generalise, everyone has their own reasons.
Laura: Usually people come for counselling when they hit a very difficult time in their lives, when they’re going through an experience that feels quite overwhelming, or distressing, or upsetting, and counselling can offer people a forum to look at that and to deal with it – to tell their story and to be understood, to learn new skills, to recreate or redesign the future and path they’re on.
People come to counselling for very serious traumatic experiences, for trauma, abuse, relationship break-up…. They come for experiences they sometimes don’t always understand, like feelings of anxiety and depression, and they don’t always know why they feel that way. People come to really try to understand who they are, their identity, sexuality, to cope with medical diagnoses; it’s as wide-ranging as people are individual.
What do people fear in coming for counselling?
Anna Lena: I think a lot of people fear that they will be judged, or that they’re not really heard, not really understood, or that there is going to be a medical prescription given to them with medication that keeps them quiet. Some people worry that it won’t be kept confidential. And some people fear that their issues are not worthy of being heard.
What stereotypes do you have to overcome as a counsellor?
Laura: TV and history teaches us that going to counselling means that you lie on a couch, and you tell all about your dreams or any thought that comes into your head by free association, and the counsellor sits behind you and writes down and tells you what’s wrong with your mother (laughs). I think a more modern stereotype is of counsellors being very kind, middle-aged women, who nod and say ‘hmm’ and ask ‘how does that make you feel?’
So what is counselling really about, if it’s not all we expect from the media?
Laura: I think the reality is that counsellors are of all backgrounds, all walks of life, all ages, of diverse genders and nationalities, a range of different individual beliefs and experiences… In my opinion, a good counsellor should be really interested in meeting you and understanding you, in being in live mode relationship with you, to help you achieve what it is you want to achieve from counselling.
It should be more about empowering the client and less about the counsellor being the expert.
Hugh: A great counsellor is someone who has a great deal of empathy, and is able to be understanding and non-judgemental of clients. It’s very important that someone who seeks counselling doesn’t feel judged, and we as counsellors have to be aware of our own prejudices and preconceptions, and not allow these to affect our practice.
Good counsellors should have learnt to grapple with their own personal issues, and to have lived that experience so that they can counsel from a position of understanding of the process that their clients are going through.
What do people gain from counselling?
Hugh: I think counselling is mainly about empowerment, and embracing life the way you want to live it. Of being somewhat in control of your own destiny, that the outside forces are managed or at least in balance with your own inner power, your own inner ability to cope first of all, and deal with yourself and others.
Through counselling you can grow in self-respect as you voice your concerns, your fears and your issues, and you begin to deal with them, your fear lessens, and your sense of being radically different to other people maybe also lessens. There’s a sense of building a relationship where we can actually connect at a fundamental level with other people. And that makes life alright, despite difficulties we are not isolated or alone. We face things together, and I think that gives people a sense of power and of hope that they wouldn’t arrive at on their own.
What’s unique about Cork Counselling Services?
Laura: The counselling centre here was one of the first to offer professional counselling in the South of Ireland. The unique identity of the counselling centre is that it’s a community-based counselling centre, so people who are looking for support don’t need to go into intense, hospitalised treatment by coming here. It’s possible for people to be at home, in their community and seeking help, for their ordinary everyday lives.
As well as that, the organisation offers opportunities for students who are training to come to the centre on placements and to see live counselling in action, in a community-based setting.
I also truly believe in the Centre’s motto: that this is a place ‘where ordinary people can make an extraordinary difference’. It’s completely true – counsellors are ordinary people with real empathy, that make a real, positive difference to the lives of others.
The Counselling Centre is a non-profit organisation providing professional counselling, psychotherapy and training services in the South of Ireland.
They are committed to providing counselling and psychotherapy of the highest ethical and professional standards to all members of society regardless of financial means, religious beliefs, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or educational background. They also offer courses including Foundation, Diploma and BSc top-up courses in Counselling and Psychotherapy.
The 2017 Cork Counselling Centre Training Institute Research Conference is calling for papers.
The Research Conference will take place on Friday the 5th of May and Saturday the 6th of May 2017. The theme this year is “Developing the Researcher Role in Therapeutic Practice”. The keynote speaker is Prof. Mick Cooper, pioneer and recognised authority in the field of counselling and psychotherapy and a chartered psychologist.
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