Elements of Counselling; A handbook for counsellors

“Elements of Counselling; A practitioner’s handbook” is a book I and some colleagues published a while back. We’re now bringing out a third edition (in the next few weeks) with updates on existing content and some completely new material. The book has been used by lay and professional counsellors, working in a wide variety of situations. In the book we look at aspects of counselling and at psychotherapy. We talk about how lay counsellors usually offer shorter term therapy, and how, despite this, they, just like psychotherapists, need training, support and supervision, either from colleagues or from professionals who can help them understand and process what they’ve heard from clients.

Even if you’re not a counsellor, the book is informative about the counselling process, and what you might expect when you see a counsellor or therapist. There is good information about how sessions are structured, framed and formalized and what this does for both the safety and boundaries of the counselling or therapeutic enterprise. There’s a section in the book devoted to HIV and Aids, with up to date information on pre- and post-test counselling and on ARV therapy. The book comments on the supervision process as well as on topics every counsellor and therapist need to be familiar with, like dealing with trauma.

In a new section on children and parents we devote some space to a method of working therapeutically with children called ‘Special Time’. The big question when it comes to child psychotherapy is ‘Who needs the intervention?’ Would it be better to see the parents, or the child, or, as is often the case, both? Sometimes you can help a child best by seeing the parents. Other times it might be necessary to bring the child to therapy. This can usually be established through a consultation with the child’s caregiver. Here is something from Elements of Counselling on Special Time, a method of being with a child who is given the opportunity to play with an observant, caring adult.

‘Gaps in developmental opportunities and the availability of attuned caretakers early on are not necessarily undone by later improvements in attention and care towards children. If the child’s development gets stuck, the child can be impaired in their social and emotional repertoire.

A brief intervention, Special Time, involving careful observation and attentive playfulness can identify and sometimes help remedy some of these gaps. This intervention is done directly with a child. Observations and information about areas of difficulty for the child are then communicated to teachers and caregivers.

Special Time offers children an experience of what they may have missed out on at an important stage of development. It is neither psychotherapy, nor is it counselling. It is a medium of relating and communication which offers the child special time to play.’
Special Time, in Elements of Counselling is written by D Hadley, M Tandy and T Coats.

Another area we focus on in Elements of Counselling is Depression and Anxiety, as well as Substance Use and Abuse, which is on the rise in SA. We know that early detection and treatment of depression and anxiety can make a huge difference to someone’s mental health and to the way they work, relate and carry out their daily tasks. The problem is people often fail to read the tell-tale signs correctly. Irritability is a major symptom of depression, along with low mood, altered libido, changes in sleep, appetite, impaired concentration and feelings of guilt or low self-worth.

Sometimes there isn’t is one single event or marker one can point to as the cause of depression. Instead it can be the effect of an accumulation of stressors, which can all wear you down into a less than optimal state where you may have become short-tempered, or rude, or where you may be feeling that there are just too many demands being placed on you. These are all warning signals which could be indicating that you could be suffering from depression.

The World Health Organization fact sheet on depression states:

  • Depression is a common mental disorder. Globally, more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression.
  • Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.
  • More women are affected by depression than men.
  • At its worst, depression can lead to suicide.
  • There are effective treatments for depression

Being able to talk to a skilled counsellor or psychotherapist is probably still your best bet. However, more and more people are turning to mindfulness meditation practices to improve their mental health. Popularised by John Kabat-Zinn, today there are thousands of programmes offering trainings of one sort or another in mindfulness. I have been a meditator for many years and can offer guidance in some basic meditation practices. This isn’t a substitute for therapy, but may be used together with it,

Some useful websites:
Check out Dan Harris who wrote ‘10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story’ and who has a podcast called 10% happier where you can listen to talks and some free guided meditations.


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