Thai Life

Balance Matters: Counseling, a first encounter of the helpful kind

PHUKET: Roughly one out of 15 people are affected by poor mental health at least one time in their life, but many don’t realize that they need help, that help exists, how it works or indeed how to find it. Most of us have heard of counseling (also referred to as therapy or psychotherapy), but that doesn’t help people understand what counseling is or what to expect.

Just to get the ball rolling, let me paint a fictional example for you of a scenario I have seen many times over the years.

Susan, James and their son Charlie, moved to Phuket last year amid great excitement and expectations about living in an island paradise. At first, everything was new, exciting and fun and James advanced his career in the company. Soon, however, James was spending less and less time at home and Susan was left to cope with raising a child in a foreign land while building a social network.

When James was home, he just wanted to relax and enjoy Phuket. The two soon began to quarrel – something that Charlie had never seen before. Charlie began to act up in school, which then led to more tension at home. Within nine months of moving here, life in their island paradise was beginning to tear the family apart.

The school suggested Charlie see a counselor. It soon became clear that Charlie’s issues were not purely his own and that the parents’ participation was critical; not only for Charlie but for their own happiness as well. The counselor held sessions with Charlie alone, then individually with each parent and together, and then finally with the family as a whole.

Everyone in the family learned a lot about themselves as people and also how their actions, words and attitudes affect the other family members. The counselor helped the family prioritize their issues and deal with them in a constructive manner. Susan and James were pleasantly surprised to see that their counselor remained neutral throughout the process and allowed them to individually air their views without interruption. For the first time in months, Susan and James were able to address their problems by expressing how they truly felt. Eventually, life became easier and the family bond strengthened to the point where they could thrive together and individually.

This is what counseling is. It provides a safe, confidential place to talk about issues in your life. It is a process whereby client and counselor come together to create a strong therapeutic relationship to enable effective changes in the life of the client or enhance their well-being.

Some individuals come for counseling because they are finding life events difficult to deal with, such as relocation to Thailand, divorce, bereavement or health issues. Others want to improve their relationships, better understand themselves or to reduce particularly disruptive behavior. Children and adolescents may attend counseling because of a change in their behavior due to bullying, friendship issues, excessive worry, fear or anxiety, sibling issues, parental separation or divorce, or exam preparation.

Most counselors work with clients face-to-face. Other counselors are available for consultation over the telephone, online, or in a group. Whichever setting you and your counselor decide upon, it is valuable to be aware of what to expect during your first encounter.

The first session explores what you feel you are coming to counseling for, what you would like to achieve during the sessions and agreeing on how you will both work together. In some cases you may not have any idea of what you are coming for and what you hope to get out of it. This is perfectly okay.

Your counselor should make you feel able to relax and not feel pressured or rushed and will ask you a number of questions to assess how you can work together.

Rita Dobson, MBPS, BACP, is a professional counselor with a graduate diploma in psychology and an MA in counseling from Monash University. Rita has lived in Southeast Asia for more than 20 years. She has been working with youths in community centers, schools and young offenders’ institutions, as well as supporting their families. Rita can be reached at rita@balancegroup.asia

— Rita Dobson

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