Dictionaries may define counseling as “giving advice”. American Counseling Association describes it as a “professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education and career goals”.
For Kelly Tan, counseling is a calling.
She’s been a natural confidante to some of her acquaintances long before becoming a qualified counselor. Kelly eventually acknowledged her gift and pursued a Masters in Social Science (Counseling), with a university recognized by Singapore Association of Counselling, years after bidding farewell to her corporate role. Her early counseling portfolio consisted of a practicum with inmates in halfway houses as well as pro-bono work in a church. And the rest is history.
Today, Kelly Tan takes pride in working with her clients on ways to conquer their troubles by drawing the wisdom and the qualities within them – debunking the common notion that counseling is just about furnishing advice. “This empowers the client and the experience will be useful to help them to overcome similar challenges in the future,” she explained how counseling helps with mental wellness. “Basically, I see myself walking with the client during a challenging period of his or her life.”
Building a therapeutic relationship with her clients is at the forefront of her practice. This is to ensure her clients feel safe to share their stories as well as confidential matters. “When a therapeutic relationship is built with a client who is eager to change, the chance for a successful therapy is higher,” she remarked. Kelly shares the essential qualities for building a therapeutic relationship:
- Ability to empathize with the clients and have a non-judgmental approach to their sharing
Putting yourself in the shoes of the clients and by entering their “chaos”, you evoke a compassion and understanding of their ordeals and suspend any judgement. Judge not and you will not be judged.
- Genuinely concern for the client or the congruence
The authenticity of the counselor to help and work on the best interest of the client can expedite the client to progress and not remain stuck, as trust has been "earned".
Patience allows the counselor to go at the pace and readiness determined by the clients even in situation where the solution is obvious.
Self-awareness is necessary to prevent the counselor from imposing her views, values and beliefs on the clients and also to keep their own emotions and issues at bay.
- Maintain confidentiality
Confidentiality cannot be emphasized enough as it is the foundation of trust for the relationship between the client and the counselor.
Counseling becomes a safe medium for those facing a stressful period in their life. Stressful moments can sometimes arise from grieving a loss of a loved one, depression, addiction, anxiety, troubled domestic relationships, anger management and other issues, which are affecting the wellbeing of the individuals and their families.
And there are various counseling approaches, Kelly pointed out. Each counselor has a strength and preference in their theoretical approach and orientation, including skills and techniques. She continued: “There are several approaches that counselors could use to work with their clients such as psychodynamic theory, behavioural theory, humanistic theory, holistic and integrative therapy, solution focused therapy, just to name a few.” For Kelly, counseling is a cross between Science and Art and she uses a person-centred approach, which involves:
- allowing the client to air their issues and to draw wisdom along with it,
- using developmental theme methodology to study their life patterns,
- using regression and/or visualization, when condition permits, to bring clients to their childhood to gain insights and release the turmoil that is holding back their life,
- using other techniques such as cognitive behaviour therapy and gestalt therapy when appropriate.
However, the work doesn't end there. The ability to sucessfully build a genuinely empathetic counselor-client relationship with effective therapy approach does not suffice. To be a reputable counselor, Kelly believes that “the self-development of the counselor is important and it should be on-going for personal growth”.
As an endnote – despite its notoriety as one of the professions with the highest burnout rate, counseling has been very rewarding and fulfilling for Kelly. Through counseling, she’s able to journey together with the people she’s helping and make a difference in their lives. “The job satisfaction when a client has moved on and doing well is indeed priceless and something money cannot buy.”
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