Name: Trisha McLean.
Working hours: Variable, including part-time agency work and private practice.
Counselling fees: On average, agencies charge clients between $20-$30 on a sliding scale according to income. Agency counsellors receive upwards of $25 per hour. Self-employed counsellors average $80-$100 per hour to cover room hire and additional costs. Some counselling is pro bono.
Qualifications: Post Graduate Diploma in Education in Counselling, University of Auckland (currently completing a Master Degree of Education-Counselling specialisation).
Describe what you do?
I am a qualified counsellor working with individual clients and facilitating grief support groups. I use an integrated counselling approach of different theories and modalities depending on the needs of the client.
I have a particular interest in grief and loss, which is why I have chosen to offer some of my time at the Grief Centre in Auckland, where I've been sporadically for about nine months. I am also interested in disenfranchised loss; loss that society doesn't acknowledge such as a partner in an illicit relationship dying.
I wanted to work directly in the area of grief and loss after a number of life transitions and personal loss and grief experiences, including the death of both my parents within six weeks of each other.
I left New Zealand at 21 and travelled, including settling in Canada for almost 20 years where I studied English literature and sociology and worked in university administration.
I then returned to Auckland, completed a master's degree in linguistics and became a full-time English language teacher.
With more life changes and losses, I began attending specialised courses at the Human Development and Training Institute, including person-centred, transactional analysis and cognitive behavioural counselling.
I went on to do a counselling post graduate diploma through the University of Auckland. I'm now completing a master's degree, supplementing my income through part-time language teaching, part-time university-based counselling and establishing a private counselling practice.
Who do you work with?
At the Grief Centre we work with people of all ages, including children, who have experienced grief and loss. Some clients experience this through bereavement, some have ongoing grief while caring for a partner or parent with a chronic illness. Some experience other events that change their lives and create a sense of loss, such as redundancy or family break ups. When necessary, we refer to other agencies.
What training or experience is important for counselling?
A well-recognised counselling qualification and membership in a counselling organisation such as the New Zealand Association of Counsellors are important.
Counsellors are required to have supervision with an external experienced counsellor/supervisor for accountability and ethical critical reflection. As well, most training providers require trainee counsellors to have personal counselling to work through their own issues so counsellors know what they are bringing into the counselling room.
Skills and qualities?
Compassion and a belief in the resilience of people is crucial, as is establishing professional boundaries and maintaining confidentiality. You need patience, self-awareness and flexibility.
You need to be able to build rapport with clients through empathy, respect, objectivity and integrity.
A sense of humour is a big asset. Counsellors also need to be open to new ways of working and learning through professional development, such as specialised courses for suicide intervention.
So it isn't just about listening?
We listen incredibly intently. We are observant and cognisant of changes in people's demeanour and tone of voice and the words they use. Our responses have to be tailored to the needs of the client and the modality and theory we're using.
So, if someone is depressed and having automatic negative thoughts, such as saying they'll never get another job again, we might challenge those thoughts.
Most enjoyable parts of the job?
It is very emotionally rewarding to notice positive changes in clients, even tiny things such as a facial expression or someone laughing.
It is wonderful being involved in establishing a centre specialising in grief, particularly since research shows it has been needed in Auckland for a long time.
The Grief Centre is a friendly environment where management supports and cares for the people who work there.
This is significant for the morale of counsellors who often work with distressing cases.
Most challenging part?
Self-care and work-life balance is vital to avoid compassion fatigue.
Advice to someone wanting to do the same thing?
It is not a big money earner, there are many hours of possibly unpaid practicum work. It is also a fairly lengthy process.
One also needs to be realistic about employment opportunities or networking for referrals.
I believe maturity and life experience are vital.
What keeps you at it?
I find it personally fulfilling and extremely challenging, giving my life a deeper sense of meaning.
It offers me the flexibility to work in varied community settings or private practice. No one day at the Grief Centre is ever the same, and each client's life journey is very unique.
Name: Trisha McLean.