Can Counselling Contribute to Health

Health is more than the absence of illness. It is a reflection of an overall sense of wellbeing in body, mind and spirit. Mind and spirit include our psychological and emotional state of wellness. In addition, ‘attitude’ is one of the key indicators of health. Counselling can help reframe one’s perspective and cultivate a healthier attitude.

A Counselling Therapist* not only sees individuals, they can complement a larger medical team, working with a full spectrum of maladies from stress leave and chronic pain to terminal illness. The Therapist’s general approach depends on the severity of the illness and the client’s goals and abilities. Individual sessions are tailored to the client’s immediate needs. The first step is to create a safe space physically and psychologically providing an emotional oasis and spiritual refuge. The Therapist listens deeply, empathizing and conversing with the client to clarify and confirm what they hear, citing the specific needs she can address.

In the case of a terminal illness the client may report feeling hopeless, tired and weak amidst a challenging series of treatments and meds. Their mind is racing with worries about who will care for their children. Spiritually they feel ripped off by some power, an entity greater than themselves that they perceive has let them down. They protest, “Life is not supposed to be this way. I’ve lived a good life, been a good person, I’m only 39 years old! What gives?” Their sense of humour has gone missing and there is little sign of self-compassion. How might a counsellor work with this client and this situation?

Given the client’s prognosis, the Counsellor proceeds with focus and intention, gentleness and compassion at a speed the client can cope with. If the client is able to name their deepest fears and unmet longings this is helpful. They may say ‘I want to die peacefully but I can’t until I know my family is taken care of’. With this goal identified, client and counsellor can begin to make a plan. The Counsellor can assist with a multitude of decisions and even help the client to write a letter to their family to be read in the future. Furthermore, the Counsellor can meet with the family separately to hear their concerns, create a helpful approach and then bring everyone into a focused conversation. This requires great courage from everyone. Final conversations are not easy however, in most cases, family members can provide the needed reassurances of love, acceptance and connection to soothe fears and address needs. In best cases the client will hear a plan for their family’s care from other family members and close friends, easing their anxiety and bringing them closer to dying in peace.

Every situation is unique and each requires the Counselling Therapist to do their best to see the bigger picture with the client, holding it in the moment without judgement or bias, and in doing so helping the client to realize the best of themselves in body, mind and spirit.

*Counselling is a regulated profession in Nova Scotia by the NS College of Counselling Therapists

Grace McKnight is a Registered Counselling Therapist-Candidate and part of the Integrated Health Team of professionals working at Harmony Health Centre in Bridgewater.

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