From the Perspective of a Counsellor

I was chit-chatting with my mother about why, sometimes, I feel dissatisfied with the services I render as a school counselor. I work for the student community. And this section of the society faces some unique challenges.  For one, it seems, it undergoes drastic changes every five years. For instance, earlier students would walk down to my office in their free periods for a casual guidance like conversation. The not-so-serious things. But, present lot might gawk at the idea.

Secondly, they don’t really get to vent. At home it’s mostly dual-incomes-hence-busy-schedules, at school there are trust issues, after-tuition hours are spent at street food/date like scenarios more than uplifting discussions, and weekends in extra coaching(s) (and extra expectations). Where do they go? That’s where I see my role, to extend a listening ear. Most of them would convey to me, ‘Ma’am, I don’t need a solution, but I need to talk.’ Their core issues are not even brought up elsewhere which has led to a clear-cut increase in mental health problems and psychiatric medications during childhood itself. One might argue that this was always like this; that it’s just an upsurge of awareness. I seriously doubt. Did we hear of suicides so often back in our childhood/teenage?

I feel discontented because when my role stretches to becoming a referral point wherein I could suggest seeing a more specialized person, or I try to becoming an intervention in class-room teaching style, I face much resistance. Rarely, have I faced reception of ideas. Pardon this, because I do not in the slightest of ways intend to disregard anyone. After all, where do even the teachers and parents go? Have we made it a norm to visit a psychiatrist/mental health worker yet? Do we give our friends, colleagues, relatives and acquaintances the space/freedom to mention such appointments and sittings openly? Is our education all-rounded? Are our teachers well-paid (and well-valued)?

That’s why I am not satisfied. Even if I get a regular pay-cheque, even if certain students have kept in touch over the years, even if I do indeed reduce their stress, I am not satisfied.

How can we remove the stigma?

  1. Know the facts.

Educate yourself about mental health problems. Learn the facts instead of the myths.

  1. Be aware of your attitudes and behaviour

We’ve all grown up with prejudices and judgmental thinking. But we can change the way we think! See people as unique human beings, not as labels or stereotypes. See the person beyond their mental illness; they have many other personal attributes that do not disappear just because they also have a mental illness.

  1. Choose your words carefully

The way we speak can affect the way other people think and speak. Don’t use hurtful or derogatory language.

  1. Educate others

Find opportunities to pass on facts and positive attitudes about people with mental health problems. If your friends, family, co-workers or even the media present information that is not true, challenge their myths and stereotypes. Let them know how their negative words and incorrect descriptions affect people with mental health problems by keeping alive the false ideas.

  1. Focus on the positive

People with mental health and substance use problems make valuable contributions to society. Their health problems are just one part of who they are. We’ve all heard the negative stories. Let’s recognize and applaud the positive ones.

  1. Support people

Treat people who have mental health problems with dignity and respect. Think about how you’d like others to act toward you if you were in the same situation. If you have family members, friends or co-workers with substance use or mental health problems, support their choices and encourage their efforts to get well.

Regarding second level of the problem presented, take example of Finland whose school system has consistently come at the top for international rankings for education systems. Here is Finland’s education system in nutshell:

  1. They keep their focus on life-long learning and steering, instead of controlling.
  2. Assessment is a part of daily schoolwork, not specific months/exams only.
  3. Finnish children don’t start school till they are 7.
  4. Inclusive education – Clever or not, all children sit in the same classroom.
  5. Science classes are capped at 16 students so that they may perform practical experiments every class.
  6. Elementary school students get 75 minutes of recess a day.
  7. Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom, and take 2 hours a week for “professional development”.
  8. School system is 100% state funded.
  9. Teachers are selected from top 10% of post-graduates and are well-paid.
  10. Teachers are effectively given the same status as doctors and lawyers.

We need to not only follow and emulate all of the above, but, also, taking inspiration, come up with our own innovative and customized solutions. Then, and only then, can the major drawbacks get replaced by strengths.

5 Steps to Keep Your Child Disciplined yet happy

Discipline is as much an important ingredient of having happy children as nurturing. As a counselor I see so many problems are the result of parents not implementing consistent rules and consequences. The boundaries created by rules and structure help make kids feel safe, as much at age 16, as at age 2. Another problem happens when a parent is so sensitive to discipline that the parent’s feelings of frustration build up. And then parent ends up yelling at the child or even spanking him/her, and nothing makes a child feel more inferior, than, being yelled at or being spanked. Here are five steps for healthy discipline along with love and nurturing — they are essential ingredients to a child’s happiness and growth.

1) Parents should have same views on disciplining their children
Most couples, when they get married, don’t discuss their views on disciplining their children. So they often find that they have different parenting styles, with one of them fairly strict and the other more soft and easygoing. Sometimes it takes family therapy or marriage counseling for parents to agree on how to discipline their children. Having parents who aren’t on the same page is a major cause of childhood and teenager behavior problems. Parents need to set rules together about meals, bedtime, homework, sleepover etc.

2) Discipline peacefully without raising your voice
Giving children a count of 3 to do what you are asking is a good way to avoid raising your voice. The child will probably test the count of 3 but if parents are following the rules and give the child a time out or other penalty after the count of 3, then the child will learn that the parents are serious about following the guidelines they set.

3) Age appropriate rewards and timeouts for their behaviors
Rewards for toddlers/preschoolers can often benefit e.g. simple sticker charts. School going children can benefit from knowing that if they earn enough points they get to choose to read to someone, can go to playground or monitor the class. For older kids have the privilege of spending time with friends on the weekends. Only allow a teen to borrow the car if he has done all of his chores on time throughout the week.

Time-out area should be easily accessible and in such a location that the child can be easily monitored while in time-out. Generally for younger kids it is considered more effective to have short period of time-out (about 5-10 minutes), rather than long periods such as half an hour to one hour.

4) The “3 Fs” of positive discipline outcome
 Rules should be clearly stated and then followed when the inappropriate behaviors occurs. For example: Giving children a “count of three” to do what you are asking is a good way to avoid problems. The child will probably test the “count of three”. (Our kids would push us to 2 ½, 2 5/8, and so forth). But if parents are consistent, and give the child a time out or other consequence after the count of 3, the child will learn that his parents mean business.

FAIR: The punishment should fit the crime. Also in the case of inappropriate behavior, penalty should be stated in advance so the child knows what to expect. Harsh punishment is not necessary. Using a simple Time Out can be successful when it is used every time the inappropriate behavior occurs.

FRIENDLY: Use a friendly but firm message when letting a child know they have misbehaved. Encourage them to try to remember what they should do instead to avoid future penalty. Work at “catching them being good” and praise them for appropriate behavior.

5) Don’t pressure anything that you can’t implement:
When a parent creates pressure out of anger such as “You are stuck for the rest of the summer,” it is unrealistic. When parents calm down and think about what penalty they can practically implement (e.g. “You are grounded this weekend”), discipline will be more consistent. Use helping chores as penalty when your child misbehaves. Children and especially teenagers expect to be punished when they break the rules. They will actually feel better when they know they are helping their mother with her household chores.

Talk Therapy

Help me, Counselor…

Talking cure is a method of treating psychological disorders or emotional difficulties that involves talking to a therapist or counselor, in either individual or group therapy

It is quite like re-programming a computer. The outdated software that is probably loaded with virus (self-critical, negative and harmful thoughts) is replaced by a new version of positive, encouraging, future-oriented and healthy thoughts.

How does it help?
As we are brought up, most of us have learned to feel loved and/or valued only when talk/behave in a particular way. In this some of our strange desires and impulses, or so-called abnormal thoughts and perversions are curbed (for the fear that they might not find acceptance). However, considering there are both positive and negative shades in each human’s personality, both of them need acknowledgement. Within a counseling set-up one gets not only an unconditional respect, whatever the private thought process maybe like, but also methods to synchronize these thoughts with our day-to-day living. Provided these desires and impulses are not too crazy, in which case one will need more intense help, talking about them will amalgamate the various shades in one’s personality, thinking and self-esteem into a healthy whole. This leads to better self-understanding, self-acceptance and maturity.

Secondly, when friendly advice is not available, or not neutral, ‘talking cure’ can be of great help. Consider a woman in 30s going through a divorce. Her girlfriends might keep ranting on the weaknesses and negative shades of the ex-husband’s personality. The woman, rather, is confident of her decision, has already made peace with the fact of divorce, and needs more of life-management conversations. Her parents might be too shocked. The woman, now, would need to handle them also, along with shouldering the responsibilities of being a new single mother. She might be quitting her job for paucity of time, thus entering the lane of financial stress. Where and whom does she turn to? An empathic listener, who could reframe her concerns in a more positive wording. A career-guide who could provide her with some resources for landing a less time-energy consuming position. A non-judgmental friend. A safe-place for regaining a sense-of-control.

Relief from stress, doing away with isolation, getting stuff ‘off the chest’, gaining a new perspective, putting feelings into words, hope-generation, catharsis and skill-building are some additional advantages of going in for therapy.