May 2 to 8 is Mental Health Week. (Metro Creative)

Truest Reflections: Recognizing Mental Health Week

Counsellor Barbara Hunter speaks on the topic of empathy

By Barbara Hunter, Counsellor at Truest Reflections

As a divorced mom of two experiencing drastic life challenges, I decided late in life to make a change into the mental health field. I held positions working in detox and support recovery, assisting women in domestic violence, and facilitating programs for grief and loss. Throughout that time, I came to learn about the challenges and struggles we all carry like luggage. I, too, carried traumatic stories and was challenged with growing my life into a garden of prosperity. Through my work, I found I had a gift for listening and offering a reflective lens. And so, Truest Reflections was born.

Barbara Hunter is a professional counsellor at Truest Reflections. (Submitted)

Counselling by definition is the “provision of assistance and guidance in resolving personal, social, or psychological problems and difficulties, especially by a professional”.

Counselling, to me, is creating a warm and non-judgemental space for folks to identify their stories, be honest about how it has impacted their lives, and open their minds and spirits to the healing process. As a holistic counsellor, I believe in treating the whole person. Talk therapy is a part of the healing process. Then, I work with breath and body connection, facilitating opportunities of mindfulness. Then, I finish with a Reiki (energy work) treatment to allow the body and mind to reconnect and process together. It is a huge benefit to let go of the extra energy carried from trauma, in order to work through the subconscious thoughts, feelings, and physical experiences attached.

In working with my clients, empathy is very important. Often, it means seeing both sides of the coin. I try to be present in the moment with the client, to understand the why of how they feel and how they have behaved. There are no judgements, as we talk about what happened, explore why, and ideally change how we feel by extracting belief systems and thought patterns.

There are many benefits to counselling. Many of my clients are just happy to have a safe place to talk about what’s going on in their lives. In the last two years, it has become apparent there is fear around not being able to express our true genuine selves. Again, this is where empathy comes in.

I believe we learn empathy early on in life. As children, we watch what is going on around us in our surroundings. We are continually learning as we grow what is modeled as acceptable or unacceptable behaviour. Not until a little bit later are we able to distinguish the difference, and we learn both empathy and sympathy.

Empathy is different than sympathy. We can feel bad for someone and try to express that but our “need to fix” or feelings of discomfort can keep us from being truly empathetic. American author Brene Brown describes sympathy as driving disconnection and empathy driving connection. Being empathetic is simply being present, not trying to fix the problem or rescue someone. It’s okay to let the other person know we may not understand, but we are glad they told us.

At Truest Reflections Counselling Services, Barbara Hunter offers counselling, Reiki, and workshops on breathing, empowerment, journaling, and healing. For more information, visit truestreflections.com.

May 2 to 8 is recognized as Mental Health Week by the Canadian Mental Health Association. For more information and resources, visit mentalhealthweek.ca.

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