The Essence of Psychological Counselling

Good day and welcome into this new world. It is… …called the Road Less Travelled. If you ever had the occasion to… …read a famous book of this name, “The Road Less Travelled” by a famous… …writer who unfortunately is no more. His name was Scott Peck. …Scott Peck, more than 30 years back wrote this… …book with the title “The Road Less Travelled.” It was based… …as you would know, on the famous poem by Frost which said that: I was… …walking along this jungle path, and I came to an intersection, where there were…

…two roads. One was the road which obviously by looking at it,… …I could make out that everybody was walking on it. And there was this other road, which… …seemed to be less travelled. There were hardly any travellers going on that. And Frost… …says in his poem: I chose the road less travelled and I have walked… …on that path without any regret and with a lot of fulfillment. That is what… …this famous counsellor, therapist, Scott Peck used… …as his title and he said: Come on to this road less travelled.

At a time when in an era, the 21st century, when the world seems to be… …hurtling at, you know, unmanageable speed towards technology, towards… …the best of luxuries, towards good life-styles, and all that. Somewhere deep down if you were a sensitive person, you would ask yourself, what is… …my meaning of life? Where am I headed? What am I supposed to be doing? Am I really achieving what I wanted to do? Can I look back in my later years of life and say that: Yes, I have done something… …worthwhile with my life? When these questions arise,… …a lot of people sit up and think. They look for answers. Some people may go into spirituality and find the answers there. Some people may get themselves totally involved in some sort of meaningful work or… …hobby or creative activity. They may find some fulfillment there. Some people may sacrifice their life for somebody else: I would like to live for my children… …or my grandchildren or for those orphans in the orphanage or something of that sort and they find… …something good to do there. But there is one area which I would like to talk…

…about today. And that is the area where you say that… …I am not going to start doing charitable acts, I am not going to do social service. I am going to relate to human beings in such a way, that every human being who comes to me, who… …interacts with me, and who comes close to me gets touched… …at the heart. Not because I am a guru or a… …wise man who would tell him how to lead his life or something but just because… …I help him, allow him that freedom to think for himself. If that sounds interesting to you,… …let me start off with telling you a story. You know that we are all fond of stories whatever age we… …are in, we still love to hear stories. Now this is a real-life story. I did not have any formal education in counselling or therapies or… …psychology or anything of that sort.

I am supposed to have studied engineering. Got into some… …activities, etc. I had this friend of mine,… …a classmate, as well as a very good friend of mine, who married another… …girl who was junior to us and whom I also knew. So this couple were very good friends of… …mine. They were living in a different city and whenever I would visit that city I would go… …across and meet them. Have a meal with them, etc. One day I was… …visiting that city and I called up and the wife picked up the phone and said: No, my husband is out of town and…

…he’s not likely to be back in the next 2 days which is the time period I was to stay there. She said: But I would like to meet you. What is your program tomorrow? …I said I am going to the bank and I have some work there in the bank’s head office. She said: Oh,… …my college, you know, where I am doing some research work, that’s just next to the bank. Why don’t we meet up in the library there? I said, fine. So I went a little early, I… …sat with her. I just spoke to her for 10, 15 min very casually about catching up… …with good old times and then as I was leaving I said:… …How’s your husband? How’s he keeping? Give him my regards. She looked straight into my eyes and said: You really want to know how is my husband? I was a little shocked.

I said: Yeah. She said: He is a scoundrel. I was shocked. I said what’s this happening? Is she joking? She said:… No. That’s a problem, you know. Everybody thinks he is a great guy. Everybody adores him. Only, I, the wife, know his inner side. And she started pouring out. A lot of things about him. And here I was literally shell-shocked. Sitting and just staring at… …her with a blank expression. Not knowing what to say. Because here she is talking about one of my … …really good friends and talking about things which I didn’t even know whether I was to believe her or not.

Anyway, the session went on and on and on and on for hours. I almost lost that whole day. I couldn’t do my work but I couldn’t get up and go… …because she was perpetually crying, breaking down and going into her… …whole life history. She started telling me from her childhood days what her expectations were, from the time when she… …married him, and what she expected and what he did and what he didn’t do and all that. So this… …whole life story managed to take away the better part of a day of mine. And I was … …still shell-shocked. I couldn’t say anything to her except… …to look for a right occasion where she has not cried for few minutes… …so that I can gracefully make my exit and run away from there.

After going … …back I reflected and I said: This poor girl spoke to me for six… …hours. She told me so many things about her life and what is not going well in her life… …and I had no solution to offer her. I couldn’t… …utter one sentence of saying that okay, maybe, you do this or this may… …help or this may be good and all that. I am supposed to be an elder and I am supposed to be a trusted… …friend. How much she must have looked up to me for advice and here like a fool I just… …sat there staring at her and walked off from there? Probably, she’s so angry with me… …that she’ll never talk to me. Three days later, I get a call from her… …saying that: I am so thankful to you, Ali. I am really really… …thankful to you. My whole life has transformed. I have such a better relationship with… …my husband.

I made up this resolution and I am going to build up this and I am going to do this, and I am… …going to do that. For a long time I thought that she is being sarcastic. Then it… …slowly sunk in that: Yes, what she is telling is the truth. I am supposed to have… …done something which made her think but I didn’t know what it was. Years went past. One day I met a psychiatrist. A… …wonderful lady, very humane. And we were talking about… …emotional issues and things of that sort. And it suddenly struck me and I said: You know ma’am, this is… …what happened to me so many years back. And here I was, I made a fool of myself. I… …couldn’t utter a word. She smiled at me and she said: Ali, you know what you did? You did… …exactly the right thing. You listened to her. You did not interrupt,… …you did not pass judgement, you did not give her any unnecessary… …advice, you did not counter with your own experiences, and that is the reason why…

…she felt so nice. What she was carrying with her for the last 6 years, she managed to get it… …out of her heart in 6 hours, and now that she had a clean slate, having emptied… …out everything, she could start rewriting the script of her life which is what… …she did. And she said: You know something, that’s what makes a counsellor. Can you believe that? Can you actually think that … …you can sit for 6 hours with a person going on talking about something and not say anything, not do anything… …and really things work? Yes, they do.

This incident is more than 30 years old. I don’t know how… …many times these incidents have repeated themselves. But I do know… …practically it does work. So now that you have taken this decision that: Yes, I… …want to do something. I want to be a counsellor. Let’s for a moment even forget that word. Let’s say I want to … …be a human being who reaches out to other human beings. I want to make… …relationships better. I want to see people with a smile on their face. I want people to… …face challenges. I don’t want to run away from somebody who is crying or who had a set… …back in life or something. I’m going to be there to hold the hand of that person. Now that you have done that,… …let us go into the practicalities of the thing.

Now if you have already read up something on psychotherapies, and counselling and all that, you know that, this… …whole story started with our famous doctor, Sigmund Freud, who came out with the first… …psychotherapy which was called, “psychoanalysis”. Psych is the mind, … …analysis – analysing the mind. He was one of the first among the modern people in the area of… …mental health who gave to us this concept of how you analyse the… …mind. Subsequently to that, the entire 20th century saw a lot of… …therapies coming up. All of them can be broadly put into a spectrum… …which ends on the one side called DIRECTIVE TECHNIQUES and… …ends on the other side called NONDIRECTIVE TECHNIQUES. Directive… …techniques are as the word suggests where the therapist or the counsellor tells a person… …what to do. Directs the person. Nondirective is where the… …counsellor or the therapist does not direct the person, does not give advice,… …does not give suggestions, does not provide with solutions. Then what does…

…he do? If tomorrow you are a counsellor, and somebody comes to you for help saying: I am very… …upset about something, or I am confused about this or I want to take a decision about that and if… …you were to smile at him and say: Okay. I am going to just listen to you. I am not going to give you any advice. I am not going to give any solution. Do you think he’ll talk to you? No, obviously.

He will walk off from there. So,… …don’t tell your callers, and counsellees that I am not going to give… …advice. I am not going to give solutions. Reassure the person and say, yes. I am there … …for you. You said you want to talk to me, I feel nice. I feel privileged that… …you are willing to lay your trust in me. Remember, never to look down at a person… …and think: Oh, I am doing him a favour. This poor guy who is in trouble has come to me. No. Tell yourself, and then tell the caller also, that: I feel privileged… …that you have selected me for sharing something which is so personal to you. That’s how the process begins. Now, if you would like to know… …maybe, my definition of counselling in very very simple and… …uncomplicated words. No jargon. I would say: Encouraging and motivating a… …person to share feelings. That’s the first part. And empowering him or her to either …

…resolve or cope with his issues. Let’s take the first part. Encouraging and motivating a person to… …share feelings. Why you need to do that? Because, whenever a person has any issue, whenever a person has something… …deep down inside, something very personal – the person cannot share with anybody and… …everybody. Even when the persons shares, you will notice he does what is called as… …story-telling. He just gives the facts: I appeared for such and such exam and… …got so many marks. I passed in this subject and failed in this subject, etc. Or, I was looking for this job… …and I got this job, and then I had this problem with my boss and then I left this job and…

…now I am applying for other jobs. That is what we refer to as story-telling. The emotions don’t come out. What we need to really do – therapy, therapy as… …you may be aware is healing. So when we say psychotherapy which is the… …technical word for counselling, it is healing of the mind. Improving the mental health of… …that person. Facilitating in his process to have… …better mental health. So when we talk about this… …encouraging and motivating a person – your job as a counsellor is going to be… …to encourage and motivate the person to share at the emotional level. When the boss fired you, how did you feel about it? When you had to go… …back home and tell your family, how did you feel about it? Today 15 days or… …5 days have gone past, how are you feeling about it? Tomorrow you have an interview… …in a new place and they are going to ask you what happened in your previous job, how do you feel you are going to be able to… …cope with that question tomorrow? That is what I mean by feelings or emotions. So if you have to be an excellent or an effective counsellor…

…you have to encourage and motivate the person to start off with sharing feelings. And how do you… …do that? You start off by being available. Available… …not just physically but mentally. Here is this person talking to me. And I find a beautiful garden outside and I’m enjoying the view. I am not… …available to that person. Here is this person going on talking for quite some…

…time, sharing something very deep and I suddenly look at my watch,… …and say: Yes. Please go ahead. He knows I am not available to him. He’s saying something to me,… …maybe something that he has done wrong, he says that: You know, I had taken away some money… …from my office or I had been very harsh with my wife or something of that sort; and I just give… …him this expression: Oh, you did that! That’s it. I am switching… …off the person. He’s not going to share his feelings with me. So you need to start with -… …having the proper availability to the person… …mentally and emotionally. Only then the person will even make an attempt to… …talk to you. Now he starts talking. He says something like… …as I just told you: I took away some money from my office or the… …other day I just couldn’t control myself and I slapped my wife… Can you be nonjudgemental? Can you have, develop that thing of acceptance? It is not as easy as you think.

Because we are all tuned in, right… …from our childhood, we are tuned into be judgemental. This category of people are like that. Those category of people are not to be trusted. Old people are like this,… …young people are like this. People of the opposite sex are like this, etc. As long as you are very young, recollect. Didn’t you go about saying:… Old people are very cranky. Very difficult to get along with them. They have out-dated… …ideas. They don’t respond to this thing. They go on repeating whatever they want to. They are very difficult … …to get along with. Till one fine day I look into the mirror and… …I realise I have become old. And that’s when I turn around and say: … These young people, you know, very difficult to get along with them. They are so cranky. They have their own ideas. They keep repeating only what they want. They don’t listen to … …us experienced people. See how easily we switch over. That’s what I mean by saying:… Being nonjudgemental or accepting the person as is and where is. I am a man.

I have never been a woman in my life. Can I understand,… …not just the thinking and the actions but even the emotions of a woman. Be it my wife, my daughter,… …my mother, my sister or an outsider. It takes a lot of acceptance. It takes a lot of unlearning of what we have already learnt. That is to… …label people and categorise them. So that is one skill that you will be now… …learning step by step, step by step. But more than learning by… …training, you need to learn by practising. Ask yourself, make a list. Who are the people who you know I have a tendency to look down upon? Do I say, you know, these taxi drivers are all rude? Do I say policemen are all corrupt? Do I say old people are always very…

…cranky? Do I say these children of rich fathers are always spoilt brats? If I have these habits, all of them, I need to start undoing. I need to say that every individual is different and unique. Once the person is convinced, that, yes, you are giving him availability, … …and acceptance; both, then the person talks. The person… …talks right from the bottom of his heart. As a counsellor, … …you will be amazed, I have been through innumerable of these experiences where the person says:…

I don’t know what made me share this with you. I haven’t shared it with anybody since so many years. I don’t know suddenly how I came to confide this in you. And that was because of these two skills that you had. And when the person starts talking,… …you have to listen. Easier said than done. Of course,… …I listen. I have been listening all my life. No, you haven’t. Many a time, you have been hearing and not listening. There’s a subtle difference between the two. You have to… …graduate from hearing what a person is saying on to listening what the person is saying. There again, there’s passive listening and there’s active listening.

If you are an elder person, and maybe a child or if you are a boss… …in an office, and a subordinate comes to you and the person is talking, you know what you do without … …even realising: You start checking out your phone messages,… …you start giving instructions to somebody, you take a file in front of you and turn the…

…pages, and you tell this person; yes, go ahead, tell me. Because you feel that you are a very… …important person and what this person has to say is not very important. I’ll just catch the… …gist of it. Now you have to bring about a change. As a counsellor,… …you have to do, what is known as active listening. So even if you were doing…

…something, you have to remove whatever that impediment is there. The phone may ring, somebody else may come in with something, you may have some… …other work to do, can you at that moment put everything away and say: I am going to be actively… …listening? Can I lean forward, make eye contact, have a nice soft expression… …on my face and say: Here I am with you, actively listening and totally… …concentrating on what you do? Take it one step further. You have to be… …a supportive listener. Here is this person saying: You know, I am suffering so badly… …because my son has become this this this and he is back answering to me and all that. You… …can listen and you can get tempted to say: Oh yes…. …Adolescents are like that. Teenagers all rebel. You know when my son was 14 years old, or that that that and … …it goes off. Finished your counselling is gone. You have to be there for that person and say,… …give what we call as supportive listening saying: Yes, I understand that as a…

…parent you are very upset, because your child is doing this this this. No… …other examples, no other anything, just support that person and say: Yes. Don’t even question. Are you very strict with your child? Do you give him pocket-money? Do you try to… …discipline him? Again you are not being supportive. So, once you do the supportive listening,… …the person goes on talking. And when the person goes on talking, he expects from… …you what we call as, empathy. Empathy is not sympathy. It is not compassion, it is not pity. Empathy, as the classic… …definition says is: Putting yourselves in the shoes of another person and… …understanding what is going on in his mind. What is he thinking? But let me extend that to tell you, you cannot put yourself… …in another person’s shoes till you remove your own. That’s where we fail. I am wearing the shoes of a person who is 50, 60 years old. I’m wearing the shoes of being a male.

I am wearing the shoes of being an urban… …person. I am wearing the shoes of being an educated person. I am wearing the shoes of having… …been brought up in a family which was very loving and caring. I am wearing the… …shoes of a person who’s got a very healthy bank account. Now when I accost… …somebody who’s wearing different shoes, can I put myself in his shoes and think …

…what could be going on his mind? If you can empathise… …people love you for it. There are very very few people left in this world,… …who really, truly, genuinely empathise. And that is what brings … …me again back to the definition that I told you. The first half of the definition: Encouraging… …and motivating a person to share feelings. If you have shown your… …total availability, if you have been nonjudgemental, …

…if you have been a good listener, and if you have felt genuinely and … …expressed your empathy to that person; you will be amazed how many people do not need… …counselling after that. They will say: Thank you. They may even say: It’s been nice. I’ll come back next week and meet up with you. And they may never turn up. You have done your job. In fact, you have done a better job because within that one…

…process of catharsis as we call it, emptying out, you have … …empowered the person already that he doesn’t want to even come back to you. He moves off! Only in the case where the person says: Okay. You have done a nice favour… …to me. I am thankful to you. I feel lighter, I feel better, but, I … …still have this issue to resolve. Not necessarily, problem, mind you, issue. I want some help from you. Fine. Think over. Come back next week. We will start going deeper. Now, when we go deeper what are we going to do? That’s the…

…second part of my definition. That is: Empowering him or her… …to either resolve his issues or to cope… …with it. The only way you can empower the person is… …to hold back and allow him to walk. Do you remember having taught a little baby how to walk? When the baby was taking his first, what we refer to, as baby steps,… …he used to crawl on the ground, today he feels I can walk; so gets up. He’s… …holding on to something. He lets go and he takes those shaky steps. If… …you were to go and hold him and take him along, he will never learn how to walk.

So… …while you may have helped him cover this distance from here to there, you have not done him a favour, you … …have done him a disfavour by making him dependent on your hands. If you say: Here I am in case you are falling, I will hold you down. Or I will be there with you. Come on, take the steps. He takes… …those steps, he falls. What does a good mother do? She lifts up the baby, you know, says: Okay, don’t worry. You’ve been … …hurt here. Oh, you’ve been hurt badly? He’s crying. She goes and pats the ground and…

…says: Bad ground, hit you! Caused you pain. I will see to it that the ground is punished. Come on, now stand up and start walking all over again. Mentally, that’s what a counsellor… …does. You motivate the person. You… …empower the person to take his own decisions and to move on in his own life. And for that we have to be a non-directive counsellor. We’ve to refrain… …from this temptation of giving advice all the time. We’ve to refrain from this temptation that I am older, I am more educated, I am more…

…senior, I am more experienced, I am more trained, and therefore, I can help this person. That itself, is a skill in itself. Because most of us have rarely… …practised that. We’ve always been in what we call… …as the problem-solving mode. Once you’ve done that and you find that… …this person is getting a little empowered, and he’s moving on; the next step that you have to take is… …to now start withdrawing. On the one side,… …you reassure the person that you have found a permanent friend in me. Reassure the person that is not a charitable act – I have found a friend in… …you. We have a bond now. We know each other, we understand … …each other and I will be there for you in case you… …need help. But now that you’re feeling better, move on. Take your own journey. Go on to the road less travelled and succeed in whatever you are doing. So, while you are assuring the person of your support and your long-term backup; at… …the same time you need to learn the skill of weaning off! It is going to be a little difficult right… …in the beginning.

Because the 1st time, or 2nd time or 5th time that you’ve counselled somebody, and… …you have succeeded in helping him to think better, and to become more independent or whatever it is;… …it’s a feather in your cap. Your collar goes up. And you don’t want to lose the guy. You want him to be hanging around somewhere so that you can say: Hey, here’s one person whom I have helped. So letting the person go, and not come back to you,… …maybe, he will never come back to you, because now he has been empowered means you’ve done a wonderful… …job. And that is what takes a lot of effort, it takes a lot of … …thinking, it takes a lot of introspection. I know some of these… …things are easier said than done, and that’s a reason why you are here for this training.

Otherwise, there was no need at all. Because as I told you… …earlier, and I am repeating again before I sign off that there is a lot of… …unlearning that we need to do. The way we have been thinking, the way we have been … …programmed, we need to unlearn and then start the process of relearning which is… …20% of instruction from us, 80% is practice. The more you go on practising, the more you will become an expert in these… …things. And not only will you be helping so many other people, your own life… …will become better. Best of Luck!.