What makes counseling different from other ways of learning?

Let me start this post with two points.

Point One:

If there was one thing that cuts across all forms of helping activities in the realm of mental health, it should relate to learning. Counseling is no exception for me, as it involves learning, the same way we learn from lectures, talks, workshops and even church sermons. In that case, why then is there a need for personal therapy?

Point Two:

People frequently mistake counseling for seeking advice. It is seen as sort of a lecture or public forum, only that it is done in private, and advice would come as personal to the client as no other medium can provide. This means they don’t have to worry about guessing if the advice they heard from a lecture or a talk, is personal or applicable to them or not. This in part answers our question about the need for personal therapy from point number one. However, the reasons are much more complicated than this.

I have always contended that counseling is a process of discovery. It is a journey through life with someone who’s dedicated to helping clients find a way to themselves, or their real selves. This is what makes it special and different from all the other approaches to learning.

Secondly, and more importantly, it is experiential. How many times have we heard it said that the longest we keep information from a long-drawn-out lecture or sermon, can only be retained in our memories for the next 20 minutes.

Counseling is an avenue in which the lessons are long-remembered after the experience. It is analogous to experiences in life that we find unforgettable. That awesome trip you had in a place that you just ticked off from your bucket list…That brush with a life-and-death situation that you will always remember to tell in intimate gatherings…These are but a few examples of how experiential learning can be remembered so much more vividly, that a lecture or a talk can find hard to duplicate.

In my experience, I have at times been tempted to offer advice to people who see me. Clients would often come after numerous people have given them advice that made sense, but somehow they could not believe will work for them. This only goes to show that decisions that are offered from the outside, will be difficult to apply, until those same decisions come from the very person who asks for it. It is at times only in experiencing the learning process through counseling, that decisions can be made with courage, and new wisdom can be proudly owned, by the one who seeks it, and eventually lives it.

Two Things that are Essential to Any Couple’s Relationship

by Nathan Chua

I am not one to say that I have easy answers to all of life’s problems. I hope the title does not mislead you into thinking that there are only two things that you need, to have a better relationship. Please note these are essential, but not the sole needs of every couple, who would each have their own set of unique circumstances affecting them. At times, their struggles concern other matters such as responsibility, physical intimacy, child-rearing, money management or trust. For this blog post however, I will focus on two deficits that I find common among couples that I meet. Let’s call them the Two C’s of Loving Relationships.

First C is for Connection.

In a blaming and shaming culture, it is easy to fall into adopting a false stance, or a false self. We essentially try to hide who we are, in the face of the shame that we experienced, most often early in life. To minimize emotional pain, we dig deep into our comfort zones, where the need to express some of our more vulnerable emotions, is held in abeyance. We therefore lose that inherent ability to show our emotions as they truly are.

This inability to show authentic emotions is connected to how couples feel toward each other. Couples only see the angry side of each other. I often wonder how a weeping and distressed individual that I see in my office, could be treated so harshly by the other. It is rather simply because this helpless and vulnerable state, is not what is normally displayed at home. Home has become unsafe. The relationship is no longer as real as it had been when it was just beginning. The result is each partner just expecting the worse out of the other, as they only see their angry and resentful selves, with no reason to believe that change can come anytime soon. Connection is lost and will be hard to come by if vulnerable emotions are kept hidden.

Second C is for Compassion.

This should not be confused with guilt or pity. Compassion is a genuine concern for the welfare of the other. Caring enough for your partner, that the last thing you’d like to see, is witnessing him or her in deep pain and sorrow. Guilt on the other hand, is a focus on the self and not on the other, while pity is too distant, and denigrates the dignity of the other. Without compassion for the offended person, it will be hard to connect and heal the inevitable emotional wounds, that are bound to be inflicted in all close relationships. Compassion is the fuel that feeds forgiveness, and the glue that connects our souls.

Stress Management: The One Life Only Approach

by Nathan Chua

If my guess is right, I think one of the most common topics that people may have looked up online is self-help articles about stress management.  It’s rather amazing that even as we come up with so many new technologies today to make life easier, stress seems to be here to stay.  In fact, some may argue that it has become worse, because we can’t seem to stay away from stress.

In the Philippines, we are no exception.  We have stress both at home and at work.  Now, being one of the countries that is hooked on social media, we even experience stress online!  And of course, we here in Manila have the added burden of the all-too-familiar traffic situation.

As I started this blog post stating how plentiful stress management articles are, I must admit this one will be part of the statistics.  It is I am afraid, another one among a million other stress management articles that are out there.  I hope I can justify it by saying that this is the one and only, One Life Only approach to stress management.  I have added a mnemonic, “S.T.O.P.P.” to make it easier for you.

Here are my tips:

Self-talk

This is something most of us take for granted.  Before something stresses us out, we need to be critical of the language that lingers in our minds.  I often use the example of road rage.  We can’t remove the possibility of someone being an undisciplined driver, but we also may consider that the driver who cut us off on the road, was just making a human mistake.  So before we blow our top, try to think that the sudden swerve was merely a mental lapse.  That person behind the wheel might really be a nice person who just got distracted, and not the monster we imagine him or her to be.

Turn down (Say No)

Be willing to be the bad guy or gal occasionally.  Learn to accept that we cannot please everyone every time.  I remember something I read, if we can’t say no, then our yes means nothing.  We can’t possibly be at every party, and we can’t be at everyone’s side when there is trouble.  Be human, not superhuman.

Openness (Acceptance)

We all need to accept the fact that life can be stressful at times.  The more we deny this fact, the more unbearable life can be.  Here’s one of my life quotes from Edith Weisskopf-Joelson,

“Our current mental-hygiene philosophy stresses the idea that people ought to be happy, that unhappiness is a symptom of maladjustment.  Such a value system might be responsible for the fact that the burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased by the unhappiness about being unhappy.”

Paint (Your Story)

This is probably the most One Life Only type of advice here.  If we look back on our past, notice the stories we tell people.  The stories that we are most proud to tell, are those of suffering and pain; moments of stressful coping with life’s unexpected turns.  In the end, these are the anecdotes that great books are made of, and we can be their proud authors.

Pair

Find a friend.  I will borrow a memorable analogy from an author I admire.  Life can at times be like us in a small boat, with our light bobbing alone in the pitch darkness of a vast ocean at night.  It helps to know, and see that there is that other small boat, with its light bobbing at a distance.

Hope this helps.

 

Should Kids Be Treated Like Adults?

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by Nathan Chua

This is one of those statements that most of you have probably heard from different symposia or self-help seminars.  I will be writing here from my years of dealing with issues between kids and their parents.  It is one of those statements that need qualification.  In my experience, the ones that do it correctly are those who consciously do it, while those parents or guardians who don’t, would normally have no inkling that they are treating their children as adults, albeit in harmful ways.  To put it succinctly, you could be treating your kids as adults correctly, or incorrectly.

Let me start with the negative so we can end this article on a more optimistic tone.  As I had mentioned earlier, parents who belong to this category, are usually the ones who are unaware of the long term ill effects of their actions.  These are families that dared their kids to grow up quickly, expecting them to show acts that are way beyond their abilities to cope emotionally.  This is where the proverbial adult children come from.  Here are instances when this happens:

Expecting them to work, or do house chores that have physical demands that are beyond their capacity

Expecting them to take sides or become arbiters on a difficult relationship between parents or siblings

Expecting them to know better than what their age can comprehend

Expecting them to take care of the needs of their younger siblings even as there are parents or other adult guardians around

All these are normally going on without the adults, let alone the innocent children, detecting them.  I see the effects of these early demands on children, show up in people who have very high levels of anxiety towards the unfairness of life.  As adults, these kids turn out to have inordinate demands for retribution from the relationships they currently have to negotiate.  These demands are drawn more from early deficits or injustices experienced during childhood, rather than the current realities they face.

When is it okay to treat a child like an adult?

Knowing how to stop and listen to a child when he or she wants to express something

Knowing when to tell a child to wait for a response

Knowing how to tell a child in an age appropriate manner, about difficult topics like human sexuality or death

Knowing what age appropriate skills a child needs to learn

Responding with wonderment and interest to a child’s observations about the world around

Offering the same respect to a child as one would offer another adult

These acts eventually translate into children who grow up confident of themselves, and who have a realistic appreciation of their abilities.  Shame becomes less of an issue, and kids are free to take initiative and experiment; unafraid of being themselves even when they choose to be different from the majority.

They also learn to treat others with respect and empathy, the way they learned it from the adults in their lives.  Kids can be skilled copycats.

Finally and most importantly, these kids see in the adults of their lives, how they can do the same for the next generation.  This is probably the greatest of all gratification for those of us who are slowly drifting towards the twilight of our lives.