Relationship difficulties, anxiety and depression are common triggers for men and women to seek counselling. Amanda Stuart describes how for many clients it becomes clear in counselling that old wounds – neglect, hurt and anger – are at the heart of the presenting problem, often decades later. Amanda decided to write The Longest Journey to highlight the effect of this buried pain, which often links to childhood.
1. Do you use any particular tools or techniques in the counselling process?
While I work from a broad range of theoretical frameworks, I also work intuitively with the client, paying close attention to their emotional state. Many clients suffer from anxiety when they first come to counselling so I always teach relaxation techniques.
2. How is the process you are working with now different to how it might have been in the past?
People generally come to see me suffering from emotional pain. Over the years I have learnt how to tune in to their inner hurt and to be able to handle their pain. With men, in particular, I learnt I needed to be tougher and they respond better to this. A temptation for any therapist is to encourage a client to focus simply on the positives in their life; addressing negative experience is also crucial. It is through facing our wounding that we are able to heal.
3. Are there particular things you look for e.g. how healthy are Mother/Daughter, Mother/Son, Father/Daughter, Father/Son relationships?
In the first or second session with a new client I always explore their relationship with both parents, and with grandparents and significant others. As a result, I have a fair idea of what has not worked for the client in life and how we need to proceed.
4. Do you think people have greater expectations from life than they used to?
Certainly couples have a higher expectation from their marriage or relationship than they did in the past. It is not uncommon for one or other to decide to leave the relationship because it hasn’t met their expectations. In the past, religious belief and social pressure kept people in unhappy marriages. Today however, in general terms, I think many people in our society feel dissatisfied unless they have achieved material success.
5. Do you give people tools they can take away with them that enable them to cope with life better?
There are two things I suggest to every client: first that they keep a journal of any significant emotional experience, and second that they record any dreams they might have, so that we can discuss them in our sessions. Dreams are messages from the unconscious and are extremely helpful in the therapy process. In addition, I teach individuals and couples how to express their feelings clearly and effectively, and how to ask for what they want from their partner.
6. Is it fairly much a ‘rule-of-thumb’ that whatever treatment/conditioning you received as child you will take on and project onto others as an adult?
I believe that the treatment we receive as a child affects our relationships into adulthood. We may take in that treatment and project it onto others (such as parent to child in the next generation), we may seek out unsuitable partners who treat us in the way we were treated when we were young, or we may act out of the hurt received as a child and avoid intimate relationships.
7. How do you impress on your clients that it is their willingness to change that will get results for them?
This is an interesting question. I rarely give advice as such. I refer to “the work you have to do….”, I describe the counselling process as “being in a long underground tunnel with no exits until you come out at the end of the tunnel” and I assure clients that there is light at the end of the tunnel and they will emerge wiser and happier, able to stand up for themselves and in charge of their own life.
8. How do you find the right counsellor? Can you suggest any things you should look for?
This is an important question. Some people continue to see a counsellor they don’t really like, because they feel they should. It is crucial that the client feels comfortable with the counsellor and believes, even from the first or second session, that the counsellor can help them to change. This may mean trying several counsellors until you find one that seems right. Qualifications are important but the relationship between the client and therapist is the most important factor; it is this relationship that facilitates the client changing. Personal recommendation from a colleague or friend is often the safest way.
9. What do you feel is your primary role as a counsellor?
I feel I have done my job when a client is able to enjoy an intimate relationship with a partner and can handle relationships with family, friends and work colleagues without too much tension. In addition, I see my role in part as educator, in terms of a client’s health, career decisions and, where relevant, their parenting skills.
10. You say you are surprised that normal people suffer so much? Please explain.
The statistics around child abuse are horrific: one in five children are sexually abused, in Australia, today. Suicide rates are extremely high for young men – more young men die by taking their own life than in road accidents. When I work with a new client in early sessions I am often surprised at what comes to light, even if that person’s parents were united, successful, and the client had had all the advantages in life one could want. Parenting is one of the only jobs for which there is no training. And it’s probably the most crucial job anyone can do.
11. What did you want to achieve by publishing your book?
Through including my clients’ stories, I wanted to show how much people suffer as a result of childhood and adolescent experience, and the way the effects of this wounding can be passed on to future generations. I hoped that parents would read my book and reflect on how they treat their children, often because they know no better. I wanted to show how powerful counselling can be for an individual. Counselling has been the most rewarding, demanding and exciting work that I have done in my life. I had no choice when it came to writing my book – it insisted on being written! I felt I had a guide along the way. It certainly had nothing to do with financial gain, as anyone who has published a book would know.
12. You say that most of the people you counselled and whose stories you published in your book, came to see you for 1-6 years. How have people coped with this financially? Is there any government assistance available?
There is no government assistance for people who see a counsellor at present, (although there is for a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist) but hopefully there will be in the near future. I run a low-cost clinic. Long-term clients see me fortnightly (sometimes less) and I charge them a maximum of $70 per session. They often take breaks from counselling, so they may not see me continuously for that length of time. I charge less for students and the unemployed. I know it is a big financial commitment; I also believe it is well worth investing in one’s emotional and psychological health. The rewards are immeasurable.
Who sees a counsellor and why? Do you have to be feeling suicidal, or at least a little crazy? Can counselling really make a difference to how you feel? Do men seek counselling and if so, is it a sign of weakness? Does a counsellor simply give advice? This book provides some of the answers, based on accounts of people who have been through counselling.
In The Longest Journey: finding the true self Amanda Stuart, a respected and sought-after counsellor, draws on 13 years of experience to highlight the effect of buried pain, and how it relates to anxiety and depression in adults.
Invariably when clients seek counselling, it is apparent that old wounds – neglect, hurt and anger – are at the heart of the presenting problem, sometimes decades later. The author decided to write this book to reveal what many “normal” people suffer in their lives.
The author describes how her clients, men and women, addressed a range of problems, including anxiety, depression and relationship difficulties. Their stories, often narrated in their own words, reveal how they were able to triumph over a range of obstacles, covering such taboo topics as a parent’s suicide and physical and sexual abuse. Their accounts are honest and moving; they are written from the heart.
It is clear that clients were able to heal their past and were aware of significant change – they felt happier and more fulfilled in their lives. Relationships with partners were generally easier and more satisfying. On re-reading his story, Patrick, a man in his late thirties, said: ‘I’m blown away. Looking back on my time in counselling I can see how much I’ve changed. Others have seen it in me too.’
This important and profound book will provide an invaluable tool for counsellors, parents, and anyone wanting to understand and heal issues from the past.
The Longest Journey: finding the true self also provides a rare insight into family and couple relationships in contemporary Australian society.