Dear Incoming MRU Freshman, This Is What College Will Mean To You. By Lukonge Achilees

They tell you about the pure and unhindered eagerness to be independent, and how it feels to finally be unchained from the childhood that kept you sheltered from the wild nights and unlikely friendships. They tell you about the people you meet, the places you go. The intriguing, the impressive. The ecstatic, the preposterous. Yet, there are many things they, perhaps, forget to reveal.

Like the many nights you might cry yourself to sleep, silently of course, because you no longer share a room with only your shadow. The seemingly unfeasible and unsightly bags under your eyes. The, not only physical, but mental exhaustion that haunts you incessantly during the day and watches over you at night, waiting. Waiting to consume you the minute the alarm lets out its roar.

They forget to mention the everlasting and excruciating fear of failure, the days where you not only feel drained, but lost. Feeling the pressure to be everywhere at once, to make a thousand friends, to succeed inside and out of the classroom, to make money, to be well rested, to have a perfect body, to have the perfect life. They don’t tell you all this.

But that doesn’t make them wrong.

Because you see, when the time comes, you will soon come to realize why the bad has been universally forgotten: In college, I promise… you will find yourself. You will no longer feel the dying need to be omnipresent, to be popular, to be invincible.

You will peacefully abandon the effort to be liked by everyone; and give up trying to please the irrelevant—just to see slight nods of approval. You will accept the fact that not every friday night will be life-changing, and you will learn to like this.

The calm is just as important as the rage. You will not feel ashamed of the ordinary, the boring, the much needed time to yourself. You will look in the mirror at your tired eyes and be thankful for your restless nights—the nights where your passion and goals overshadowed the desire to sleep. In the midst of constant stress and busyness, you will have more fun than you ever thought possible.

You will discover parts of yourself that surprise you. You will connect with improbable, do the impractical…hell, you might even fall in love. You will spend a Saturday night with a strong buzz, dancing in the lights, and you will feel utterly and unshakably free.

Hopefully you will soon begin to realize that. That they were right all along. All of them.

I only hope you see this before the time passes. I hope you see that the best is indeed, now—amidst the sadness, amidst the chaos, amidst both the thrilling and the dull. I urge you to find something beautiful in the turmoil, to find something soothing in the ache. I urge you to not only appreciate the greatest times, but also the worst—for from these moments, you will grow, you will learn….and soon you will welcome hardship with open arms.

Because you know now, whatever destiny decides to throw your way, you will not cower in fear. Instead, you will fight.

And when the All-Powerful decides to act in your favor, you will acknowledge this gift. and savor the goodness like it is the last thing to ever touch your lips. I can only hope that, while you are here, you make the damn best of it. Because, before you know it, your time is up. And all you’ll have left are the memories, memories that will soon become stories. And I hope that, when you tell your story, you will tell it with pride. I hope it will make you smile from ear to ear; I hope it will make you light up—a glow that not a single listener will overlook.

One of the many lessons you’re going to learn is that making mistakes is inevitable.

This year, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes, but for the first time, you’re not going to be afraid to make those mistakes.

You’re going to take a lot of risks.

You’re going to accept that teaching assistant position. You’re going to host your own radio show. You’re going to be an editor for the school paper, and you’re going to make more strides with your career than you ever imagined.

But with those positions, you’re going to struggle to learn how to teach others. You’re going to mess up on air, and you’re going to stay up until 4 a.m. writing two articles a week.

But in the end, you’re going to come out from all these struggles a stronger person because you were able to conquer them.

You’re going to make a lot of stupid decisions when it comes to relationships.

You’re going to fall for someone and end up hurt. A couple times actually. You’re going to chase someone who isn’t worth your time, and realize way too late that you’re better off without him. At the same time, you’re going to learn a valuable lesson. If someone is dumb enough to walk away from you, you have to smart enough to move the fuck on. That’s something you didn’t ever have to deal with as a freshman.

You’re going to lead guys on without even realizing it. It’s a two-way street. You’re going to get hurt and you’re also going to hurt others. You’re going to get creative with your excuses and realize that being straight up with people saves others a lot of their own time. Again, another lesson.

You’re going to party a lot more. You’re not always going to have your core group with you for protection. Instead, you’re going to get drunker than you’ve ever been and make mistakes upon mistakes with people you don’t really know.

At the same time, you’re going to meet a lot of new people. You’re going to become friends with a lot of different groups. There’s going to be the friends that you party with. The friends in your classes. Your friends on your floor. Your friends through the paper. Your radio friends. The random friends you make through interviewing – which is the best types of friends — the random ones you make through college. But then there are the friends that always have your back, no matter how stupid you are.

I think the reason you made so many more friends this year, is that you were more comfortable with who you are.

Something that hasn’t changed is your perspective on life. You live your life with this thought: If it makes a great story, then just do it. But this year, you actually did.

You have a lot more stories during your sophomore year. Your life actually felt a little like a sitcom. Think about it. Every great sitcom involves dynamic characters making mistake after mistake, but learning a lesson by the end. Your life felt more New Girl than Gossip Girl, but you always came back to your dorm with a funny story. Were they embarrassing? Hell, yeah.

Most of them involved you embarrassing yourself in more ways than one. You blew up 72 balloons drunk for my roommate’s birthday. Her birthday also involved a plant funeral and a proposal. Great stories for the future. You also won’t forget the time you ate a pound of wings in 15 minutes or the time you bought that piñata for the suite.

You won’t forget any of these stories because they’re embedded as wonderful messy memories.

You were rejected and had to reject more people than ever. You took on tougher courses and became a stronger person because of it. You became the type of person who was confident enough to tell others what to do and or how to handle situations.

You’re a different person for sure.

And if it weren’t for all those messy experiences and a couple of risks here and there, you wouldn’t be the person you are now. Trust me, this year is going to be the messiest semester of your life —but it’ll also be the best.

t’s time. At this point, you’re a couple weeks away from moving into college, or maybe you’re already moved in. I was in your shoes just last year- excited and nervous all at the same time. College is a great experience filled with opportunities, but there are a few things that you should remember!

so,

Be grateful when your parents help you move in.

Even if they don’t put things exactly where you want them, thank them anyway. Chances are, you won’t seem them for a couple weeks or maybe even months after move in, so let them know that you are truly grateful for their help and that you love them. Otherwise, you’ll end up regretting your frustrated tone later.

Scope out where your classes are ahead of time.

Your stress during the first week of classes can be greatly reduced by taking time to find your classrooms ahead of time. That way, you can find them more easily and avoid being late on your first day.

Try to RENT your textbooks.

Campus bookstores are always expensive. Even their rental prices are crazy high! I always try to get my textbooks ahead of time through Amazon. Their rentals run as low as $20 per semester if you order them at the right time (I have found early to mid-July to be the best time to order). Also, if you end up not needing the book, you have at least a month to return it for a full refund!

Go to the Welcome Week activities.

Many colleges have different “Welcome Week” activities that range from barbeques with music and free food to sports. Even if you aren’t a big fan of pulled pork or dodgeball, go anyway! These activities are perfect opportunities to meet friends! Chances are, many of the people there are freshman looking for friends also!

Don’t neglect your studies.

College is full of awesome activities, career building opportunities, and parties. While all of these things sound insanely fun, remember why you’re at school: to get an education. I’m sure you’ve heard that before, and if you’re like me, you’re 99% sure you’ll be able to stay on track, but trust me, it’s easier to go astray than you think. Just make sure your priorities are always straight. That being said…

Still set time aside to have fun.

Go out with your friends to football games and professional development nights. Grab dinner together. Join a club. Be sure to set aside some time for fun to de-stress.

Set aside some “you” time.

In college, you rarely get time alone, and if you’re an only child like me, that will freak you out. It will be okay, though! Just set aside some time each week to be by yourself. You can read or draw or whatever you enjoy doing! It’s important to spend time alone so you’re sure to stay true to yourself! Don’t let others start to define you.

Be safe and cautious.

There will be a time where you will think that your campus is the safest place in the world and that you are invincible. Or your friend won’t be able to walk you home, and you’ll feel the urge to walk alone. Although 99% of the time you will probably make it back to your room safe and sound, there’s always a chance. Crimes happen on college campuses more often than most people would like to acknowledge. Always be cautious. Carry pepper spray, and keep it somewhere accessible. Stay in groups at night; and take advantage of safe walk programs on campus.

Last but not least, call home.

Your parents have most likely seen you almost every day for the last 18 or so years of your life. This is hard on them. Give them a call to check in once in a while, and let them know that you love them

Above all, I hope that you will go as far as to tell them that it was the ‘time of your life’. But don’t worry about that too much. I think that you will. After all, they all do.

50 lesson University life tought me in my first year

Recently finishing my first year of undergrad, I compiled a list of the things I really learned after paying thousands of dollars. Move aside Masaka and Ssaza, this is where it’s at.

  1. You will, without a doubt, hate everything you came to school for, at least once.
  2. Your parents were wrong.
  3. Suede, although pretty, is such a useless material.
  4. Your parents were right.
  5. Take chances. Always, always, take chances.
  6. It is possible to survive an entire day on a bagel and a carton of chocolate milk. Sometimes, just the bagel.
  7. All those habits you thought you were going to kick? Nice try.
  8. Sometimes, you just don’t want to be kissed.
  9. Engineers, regardless of what school they attend, are dangerous creatures.
  10. It is possible to watch a movie every night.
  11. Yes, T.A’s do hit on their students.
  12. Don’t come to university with the expectation that people are any more mature than they were in high school. They aren’t.
  13. Turns out, fulfilling your dreams requires a lot of paperwork and a high GPA.
  14. Never say never.
  15. You will miss people with every fiber of your being and not realize it till you hug them after months of absence and remember why you liked them in the first place.
  16. There’s no graceful way to eat a pita wrap.
  17. Being away from everyone you’ve gone to school with since you were 4 helps you sort out those worth coming home for and those worth forgetting. That is, if you didn’t already know.
  18. There will be students from other faculties in your major’s class who will do better than you on everything. It does not mean they are actually better than you. Numbers on a transcript have no relevance to passion. It’s okay.
  19. Nothing will make you make you feel more like a student than when you’re fishing through your wallet for spare change so you can buy a hot dog.
  20. You know nothing. But you also know absolutely everything.
  21. Never, ever, EVER turn down free food.
  22. No decent guy refers to the number of girls he’s slept with (be it in one night or cumulatively) as a “kill count.”
  23. Cover your boobs.
  24. Never interrupt during a discussion.
  25. “I used to be in Commerce, but then I realized I had morals, so I switched to Humanities.”
  26. Remember money? Remember how nice it felt to actually have some?
  27. Sex is beautiful. It’s a merging of limbs and ideas, a physical way to express your joy in the fact that the two of you love each other.
  28. Sex is dangerous. It is secrets and fears translated into desperate movement in the hopes that the body you’re clinging to, the face you’re looking at in the half dark, stranger or friend or someone in between, will help you understand something. It will not.
  29. When you go out of your way to so desperately look for something, it will go out of its way to make sure you don’t find it.
  30. It’s okay to cry.
  31. Your problems aren’t as big as you make them out to be in your head. Doesn’t mean you should disregard them completely. Just know you don’t have it that bad.
  32. Holding doors makes all the difference.
  33. Know that some people don’t realize that it’s possible to love someone in different ways.
  34. That one Double-Double was actually a Triple-Bypass-Why-Is-This-So-Sweet-Holy Shit-Why-Did-You-Buy-This.
  35. There is no set time to eat sushi.
  36. That look high school seniors give you when you wear your university sweater.
  37. The ones you loved and thought had left were just taking their time to find a way back.
  38. One of the best papers you’ve written all year will receive a failed grade because you were under the word count and you only talked about Russia. It’s an excellent paper. Deal with the shitty grade.
  39. Take a look at the people you last spoke to (via text, MSN, phone, etc) before heading off to bed. These people are who you really care about. These people are important.
  40. Just because someone is good to you, does not mean they are good foryou.
  41. Saying “fuck it” doesn’t work. “Fuck it” doesn’t write your essays or do your labs or edit your videos or get your lecture notes. “Fuck it” isn’t good to your GPA or your friendships or your sleep cycle.
  42. Everything worth knowing leaves scars.
  43. “It depends on the context.”
  44. There is something about the applause your professors receive at the end of the semester’s last lecture that will always make you well up with pride.
  45. Procrastinating on your schoolwork is a communal activity.
  46. When in doubt, cite it.
  47. The friendships you suddenly make at the end of the year, standing in line to buy coffee or over piles of exam notes, are more genuine than you give them credit for.
  48. Maybe you shouldn’t reread 1984 when you should be just doing readings.
  49. Always tell the truth. Even if it’s dirty and unpleasant. Do it. If the person doesn’t thank you then, they’ll thank you later, to your face or silently to themselves.
  50. Always reflect.
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Graduating from University is the hardest thing on Planet! so this is my advice to freshers of MRU. By Lukonge Achilees

Graduating from college was hard for a variety of reasons—entering a terrible job market, having a degree that felt like it was written on a cocktail napkin, and feeling like a giant question mark was placed on top of your life. These were things that I expected to feel though. These were the things that had been discussed ad nauseam so I felt emotionally prepared for the blow. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, were the quiet losses, the little deaths that litter your path when you begin the next stage of your life.

This is something we’ve talked a lot about. These are the themes we keep going back to over and over, and before you scream bloody murder at the redundancy, it’s important to think about why everyone is having such a hard time. I don’t think it’s normal to exist so heavily in a post-grad fugue so what’s the deal? Are we all just developmentally stunted? It goes beyond the crappy economy; it goes beyond spending a hundred grand on college, doing everything you thought you had to do in order to succeed only to end up as a waitress/ intern for a period of time that extends beyond the post-grad grace period. People are just having a difficult time growing up these days. We suffer from crippling nostalgia brought on by Facebook photo albums and clicking Refresh, we feel cheated by the new modern workplace so we freelance and have a lot of feelings instead. This is a moment in culture that belongs only to us. This is our generation’s legacy.

You might not relate and that’s okay because enough people do. It’s strange to see such a blatant disconnect between yourself and your parents though. They came of age and graduated college in a very different time. Their post-grad experience doesn’t resemble yours, it resembles grad school or an immediate job after college. We’re seeing a true separation of the generations happening here, right now.

It’s frustrating because we’re perceived as being lazy, which might be only a little bit true. Because now more than ever it seems there’s a pressure to be successful. Especially with Facebook and Twitter where you can chart people’s professional progress and silently judge them. We’re living life under the microscope that we created so trust us when we say that we do want a job. We need to be validated by LinkedIn!

I graduated college a year and a half ago and my friends are all still in such different places. Some are traveling, some are unemployed and doing the daily job search we all know and loathe, some are interning, some are straight up in that 9-to-5 grind at a job they hate, and only two or three of us have landed our dream jobs. No one’s on the same page. Friends are moving, staying, ignoring phone calls, falling in love, breaking up, disappearing. Some friends do happy hour after work, some are sober and go to bed at ten p.m., some of us can go out whenever we want because there’s no job to wake up to. I wonder if/ when this will ever even out. I wonder when/ if we can all find our way back to each other again. That’s the hardest part about graduating college for me—no longer being in the same place as your friends. We’re all just so far away from each other now and some of us are successful and some of us aren’t and some of us are getting there and some of us may never get there. It makes you miss the days when you both had papers . Except not really because that book was a headache

My advice to freshers Of MRU

  1. “Go out, get drunk, hook up…but make sure that’s never the most interesting thing about you.”
  2. “Do not ever underestimate your talent. On two different occasions, I came out of two professors’ office hours crying because both of them couldn’t believe i scored below average in Basic accounting and Communication and language skills . One was an Communication lecturer Nakiyemba Harriet and the other was a accounting Lecturer, and I was doing really well in both their classes. I will never forget the look of wild confusion on each of their faces when I shared with them the one detail that could prevent me from studying abroad. Both professors praised my work so highly and told me I was capable of so much more than the grades I was receiving. I walked out crying because, for the first time in my life, I believed them.”
  3. “Remember that you’re not in high school anymore and that nobody cares what you were like in high school. It’s ok to take good memories from high school with you to college, but make sure not to get caught up in them. You’re going to want to make all new friends and have all new experiences in college and if you stay too attached to your high school experience, you won’t be open to everything that high school has to offer. Don’t focus on what made you, you in high school. Figure out what your mark in college is going to be—and figure out with whom you’re going to make it.”
  4. “Freshman year is a huge transition period, and I wish I had understood that and handled it with more grace. Feel your feelings and know that it will be easier one day, once you’ve found the right people.”
  5. “College is, for most of us, the first time we all truly venture out on our own and begin the work of deciding who we will become. It is a beautiful time of discovery and one that you wont get to repeat. So if I may, can I ask one thing of you? Your grades are important, and parties are fun, but make sure you take some time for yourself once in a while, away from it all. Even if it’s for 10 or 15 minutes, once a week, find a place where you can sit and be still, without a care or worry on your mind. For me, it has made all the difference.”
  6. “Don’t feel like you need to be best friends with the people in your hall because of your proximity. Be selective about those who get to spend time with you.”
  7. “For the love of God…FOR THE LOVE OF YOURSELF…don’t ever, ever let yourself become someone’s side bitch. You are main bitch material, dammit! It’s been three and a half years, and I am still grappling with that concept. Please, please know that you don’t deserve to be waiting around for his (or her) text messages, and you shouldn’t be watching him text his ex-girlfriend while both of you are on a date. When he asks, “where is your self-respect?” after waking up next to you and then hooking up with your good friend that night, make sure to first, punch him square in the face, and to second, get him the fuck out of your life. Stop waiting around for all those losers to see how fucking awesome you are, and make time for the ones that knew it the moment they met you.”
  8. “Get out there, join a club, and join the community.
  9. I know alcohol and the bar scene is new and exciting, but be safe and try not to be too stupid. I made too many mistakes like that as an 18 year old. It’s not fun to be remembered as the girl who made out with 12 people in two hours.”
  10. “Everyone is probably telling you right now that these will be the happiest four years of your life. What they probably aren’t telling you is that these will also be some of the worst years of your life. In college you will feel on top of the world and utterly defeated (sometimes in the same day). So just try to remember that you’re not doing anything wrong if you’re having a hard time. And before you jump to any conclusions about how much happier everyone else is, and how much more fun they’re having than you, go sit down and talk to a friend. You’d be surprised by how many people feel lost and directionless at least some point in their college careers.”
  11. “Try to learn something new, whether it’s about yourself or what you’re studying. School is still so much fun, and it’s the last time you’re going to get the chance. Learn the things you can’t learn outside a classroom, though those things can often be more important.”
  12. “Please please please don’t be afraid to befriend seniors. Some of my most meaningful relationships of my freshman year, if not my entire college experience, were the ones I had with seniors when I was a freshman. I want nothing more than to give that kind of meaning to someone new. I want you to do well, and I want to pass on a legacy at this school through people like you. Also, you guys are precious, and you have a ton of cafeteria swipes. Upperclassmen friends are not hard to make if endless fries and Lucky Charms are involved.
  13. One of my meaningful friends who was a senior when I was a freshman told me just a few weeks ago that my personality hasn’t changed, just that I’ve learned to navigate the world better. And that’s all you need to learn. Enjoy these next four years, ’cause they zoom away a hundred times faster than you think they will. Mine did, and I wish that I was paying more attention to them.”
  14. “My advice for freshmen is to trust their gut in all decisions they make. Do whatever YOU feel most comfortable with regardless of what your friends may think. Be friends with everyone and don’t stand for ‘groups’ ‘your crew’ ‘your girls’ because in most cases that’s just a euphemism for a clique.”
  15. “Boys suck. Accept defeat and eat another donut.”
  16. “I think one of my favorite quotes does a pretty good job at summarizing the advice I would give: ‘For what it’s worth: it’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.’ – F. Scott Fitzgerald”
  17. “Going to the cafeteria alone is not weird; it means you’re okay with yourself.”
  18. “I won’t lie to you: College is going to turn your world upside down in both the best and worst ways possible. You will lose yourself, and you will find yourself again. You will most likely change your major, and your roommates will probably become your best friends. Inevitably, you will see more of them than you ever thought you’d want to (literally – my roommates frequently parade around my apartment in just t-shirts and underwear). But, they are also the people who will come to know you better than you know yourself and some days you are really going to need that. Never let the fear of failure inhibit you from doing what you know you actually want to do. As cliché as this is about to sound, be sure to revel in every bit of these next four years because it will go faster than you could ever imagine.”
  19. “Remember, everyone and I mean EVERYONE has a story so before judging or assuming try to just listen. I still catch myself everyday guilty of this, assuming someone is crabby for no reason or being rude just to be rude– you’ll be amazed at the stories you hear when you let someone talk for five minutes.”
  20. “Take yourself out of your comfort zone. Make yourself deliberately uncomfortable. It is an unparalleled character-building exercise, and you might be able to discern the things you want out of life as well as the things you don’t as a result.”
  21. “You should know that change is both necessary and inevitable, so try to embrace it as best as you can. Growth is a beautiful, incredibly bittersweet process and there is (I’ve learned) nothing to fear from it. At the end of the day, that’s what you’re here for: to learn, to blossom, and to flourish into whoever it is you decide you’re going to be. Part of that process though, is making mistakes; so be kind to yourself, forgive yourself, and then, keep going. The only thing you’ll regret over these next four years are the things you didn’t do, so make sure you do everything you can; go out on weeknights, dress up for themed parties, attend as many of your university’s sporting events as you can, and always call home at least once a week. Do things you never gave yourself the liberty to do in high school, study abroad, revel in your newfound independence in whatever way you see fit, spend at least one summer on campus, and, perhaps most importantly, when you do finally find your voice – don’t ever be afraid to use it.”
  22. “Participate in EVERYTHING, even if its not your thing you’ll probably find that if you participate you always have fun. Do not be that kid who is “too cool for school” because you will miss out.”
  23. “A candle loses no light when lighting others. Build others up whenever you can, support those close to you and help whoever you can – you never know when the tables will turn!”
  24. “I’m not sure I can think of any better advice than that given by Anna Quindlen in one of her commencement speeches. As a freshman I rolled my eyes at these words, I thought good grades, hard work, and sleep deprivation were the answer.
  1. “There will be hundreds of people out there with your same degree; there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living. But you will be the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on a bus, or in a car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your minds, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul. People don’t talk about the soul very much anymore. It’s so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is a cold comfort on a winter night, or when you’re sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you’ve gotten back the test results and they’re not so good. So here is what I wanted to tell you today: Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you’d care so very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast? Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over Seaside Heights, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over the water gap or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a cheerio with her thumb and first finger. Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Each time you look at your diploma, remember that you are still a student, still learning how to best treasure your connection to others. Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Write a letter. Kiss your Mom. Hug your Dad. Get a life in which you are generous. Look around at the saza in the suburban neighborhood where you grew up; look at a full moon hanging silver in a black, black sky on a cold night. And realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted. Care so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread it around. Once in a while take money you would have spent on beers and give it to charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Be a big brother or sister. All of you want to do well. But if you do not do good, too, then doing well will never be enough.”

My Open Letter Of Advice To All Of The Struggling MRU or Mak. or any University Students Out There

College can equally be one of the greatest and most stressful times of your life. Whether you’re new to the college scene or have been doing your best in university courses for a couple of years, you know that this time of the school year has everyone stressed out over midterms. Soon, finals will be here, which means you don’t get much of a break between studying for midterms and the end of the semester.

I know, I’ve been there.

I remember those times when all I wanted to do was sleep for the rest of my life and never walk into another classroom again. People would tell me I should enjoy this time of my life, but all I wanted to do was stress-eat my way through a bag of discounted pancakes, eggs of Kafeero-watch my favorite movies. Since I’ve graduated, though, I’ve realized that those people were right.

Your years in college, no matter how long it takes you to walk across that stage and get your diploma, or degree are truly something special. You don’t have the responsibilities you’ll deal with for the next few decades after you graduate, and you have a multitude of people ready to help you grow and find out who you’re meant to be. Even when you’re in your most stressed-out moments, instead of getting upset and considering dropping out, try thinking about some actionable ways you can grab ahold of your college experience and get the most out of it.

1.   Focus on Scheduling

The reason professors give you a staggering amount of homework isn’t because they think it’s fun to grade all those assignments and papers. It’s because they’re trying to teach you how to learn time management. When I first got to college, I was that person who did all their work last minute so I could enjoy being with my friends and figuring out what the college experience was like.

Let me tell you, that’s no way to survive your next few years of school. Get on top of scheduling your homework out right away. Professors give out homework schedules at the beginning of the semester for a reason! If you know what nights you’re hitting the books, you’ll know when you’ll be free to hang out with friends. This will make your social life way less stressed than if you never looked at a calendar.

2.   Treat Your Body Right

There’s a time and a place for everything, which means your weekend partying needs to be followed up with a time of nourishment for your body. Almost every college student wants to eat well, but I know that’s hard to do, and can be expensive. Cafeterias offer unlimited pizza and burgers, while the healthy food is either limp salad from the salad bar or pre-frozen mini-meals from campus convenience stores that cost way too much.

When it came to buying groceries, I was out of luck. I worked two extra jobs while taking classes, and I still somehow only ever had a collective $5 in my bank account. College is great, but it’s expensive. Don’t let that get you down, though. Try looking up A College Guide To Healthy Eating to help you get on your way to feeling better and looking better without sacrificing more money or time that you would have spent working on homework.

3.   Take a Second Look at Your Finances

Do you know where your money is really going? If you don’t, you probably don’t even realize when you’re overspending on things you don’t need. Most importantly, your money should be going toward your bills and any debt you might have. Then it should cover the necessities, like food and gas, if you drive to class. After that it can be spent on fun things that make you happy.

Still not sure how to budget? Maybe first take a look at how much you’re currently paying for things. Sometimes all you need to do to have some extra cash is change up your lifestyle. One of the biggest bank breakers that I discovered when I did this was living on campus. That’s how I started my college years, and moving off campus turned out to be the best thing I ever did. On average, off-campus housing students save $2,238 more than on-campus students each year.

That’s a whole lot of extra ramen.

4.   Don’t Forget to Put Classes First

You’re there to learn, so don’t forget that school comes first. For me, I got sidetracked when I started making new friends, going out more and participating in clubs. These things are great, and they’re what makes college fun, so they should be pursued in moderation. But I was having so much fun that my grades started to slide. You’re not paying a boatload of cash so you can hit the town every night. You enrolled because you wanted to earn that diploma, so always put school first. Your friends will be there later, and they may even appreciate the reminder that they should be in the library, too.

5.   Take Lots of Pictures

One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t take more pictures and write down more memories while I was in school. After I graduated, I had a few big memories to look back on, but I wish I had charted my experiences. Social media makes this easier now, but don’t forget to export those pictures to your photo gallery, or even print them out and put them in storage somewhere. You’ll thank me later when you want to revisit your favorite memories from your first years at school.

College is stressful, especially this time of year when midterms feel like they’ve kicked your butt and all your professors can talk about is preparing for finals. Take hope in the fact that the stress won’t last forever, and try to enjoy every second that you have, because it ends so much faster than you think. Take it from me — hard work pays off, but don’t forget to enjoy the happy moments while they’re still happening.

How healthy your relationship is? you should know these questions. By Lukonge Achilees

Romantic relationships are about attachment. We need from our partner all the same things we need from a parent when we’re children: assurance that they won’t abandon us, demonstration that they care, reason to trust them, etc. The more you foster this attachment, the healthier your relationship will be. The weaker this attachment, the unhappier and more likely to break up you will be.

1. Do you use a “soft startup” to bring up difficult topics?

One of the strongest predictors of divorce in Dr. John Gottman’s empirical research on marriage was a “harsh startup” to fights. “You don’t care about me!” “You never take out the trash!” “There you go again, going into la la land.” Instead, use a startup that doesn’t attack your significant other. “I’m not feeling happy with the way we’re dealing with the garbage right now.

2. Do you criticize or show contempt for your spouse?

Criticism means, when you bring up issues, you attack them as a person, rather than raise complaints about actions or situations. Contempt means you’re disgusted by them. These usually take the form of superlatives. “You’re lazy. That’s why you don’t help me.” “You’re a cold bitch. Why can’t you ever consider my feelings?”

3. Are you defensive?

When our significant other brings up an issue, do we immediately try to justify our actions? Do we defend ourselves? This is natural if they’re criticizing us, but even when that’s the case, defensiveness escalates the situation, rather than defusing it. If even when they’re aggressive, you can ask “what’s wrong?” instead of “no I don’t!” you dramatically reduce your odds of divorce.

4. Do you make repair attempts?

Repair attempts are anything that de-escalates a fight. It can be an apology, a hug, or a comment. “We’re getting heated. Let’s slow down.”

5. Do you recognize your partner’s repair attempts?

Even more important than making your own repair attempts is accepting your partner’s. If they reach out to you to de-escalate tension, and you ignore them, or attack them, this was the single strongest predictor of divorce in Gottman’s research.

6. Do you know your partner?

What’s your partner’s favorite food? What’s troubling him or her right now? What is he or she trying to achieve? You should know these things off the top of your head. If you don’t, you need to talk to them more.

7. Do you make frequent small gestures of love?

Relationships don’t live on grand gestures. The big fight you had won’t kill your relationship, and the trip to the Bahamas won’t save it. It’s when you hold each other when you get home from work, or you cook for each other, or you remember their birthday. These are the moments that reinforce your attachment every day.

8. Do you pay attention to them?

Just as it’s the small things that build attachment, the small things destroy it. If they come home upset, and you don’t do anything to comfort them, they will feel abandoned, and this will chip away at your relationship. Your moments of ignorance do more to wreck your relationship than anything else, and fights are usually a consequence of feeling abandoned, not the true cause of relationship meltdown.

9. Do you use “I” statements?

A habit of highly successful couples originally proposed in the ’60s by Dr. Thomas Gordon is to speak in terms of “I” rather than “you.” This keeps you talking about facts. “I feel XYZ,” as opposed to “you are doing ABC.” It avoids the criticism and contempt mentioned before.

10. Do you let them influence you?

The more hierarchical your relationship is, the more likely it is to fail. If you are unwilling to consider your significant other’s perspective on things, and everything must be done your way or the highway, there’s a high chance it will lead to the highway.

11. Do you practice loving rituals?

We are what we make habits. If you make a habit out of rituals of love, you will consistently reinforce your relationship without thinking about it. This could be a date night every Friday, a daily cuddle session, or an annual honeymoon. All of the above are good ideas.

12. Do you practice “loving jealousy?”

It’s popular to believe that jealousy is a sign of love and affection. It’s actually a sign of distrust and insecurity. If you’re not comfortable with your lover visiting friends, talking to the opposite sex, or doing anything in general, your relationship will be more miserable.

13. Do you hold your lover responsible for your emotions?

As I mentioned, it’s important to be sensitive and attentive to your partner, but you can’t hold them responsible for taking care of your feelings. You need to take measures to comfort yourself and manage your own emotions too. They are only human. It also helps if, when you need their help, you verbalize that need.

14. Do you continue to improve yourself?

It’s easy to get complacent in a relationship, and most people do. It’s a tendency you need to resist. Keep going to the gym. Keep developing hobbies. Keep making yourself sexier and more interesting.

15. Do you turn towards them?

One of the strongest indicators of successful couples is “turning towards” rather than “turning away.” Individuals in couples often make “bids” for each other’s attention. This can be everything from calling to ask if you need milk to commenting on the pretty bird. The milk and the bird aren’t important. Responding to your lover is. Couples that respond to their lovers’ bids for attention are immensely more likely to stay together years later than those who don’t.

16. Do you deal with your solvable problems?

Most problems in relationships are solvable. They might be big arguments, but they can be resolved through compromise and sensitivity. Couples who sweep these problems under the rug (usually because they use harsh startups and are critical of each other, making talking about problems uncomfortable) grow bitter and miserable.

17. Do you have a system for accommodating your unsolvable problems?

Unsolvable problems derive from differences in core values or dreams. They might involve religious differences, disagreement about kids, differences in desire to travel, etc. These aren’t the deal-breakers we often assume them to be (though they can be). Couples who successfully address unsolvable problems employ habits that minimize the influence these problems have on their relationship.

18. Do you admire your partner?

Partners who admire each other are far more likely to happily stay together. Get in the habit of reminding yourself about your partner’s positive qualities. Remember why you fell in love with them.

19. Are you willing to leave?

Ending the relationship should be the last resort, but it has to be an option. If you are addicted to your partner, or are too insecure to live without their validation no matter how bad the relationship gets, this can kill both of your motivations to work on the problems.

20. Do you keep score?

Some couples think successful relationships are about reciprocity. “He does things for me, I do things for him.” The good things you do for each other should arise because you want to do them, not because you expect reciprocity. You also should be forgetting the missteps, not saving them to bring up in the next fight. If you’re keeping an account of who’s investing more or less, this is a sign of a broken relationship.

The beauty of becoming a social worker. By Lukonge Achilees

On my first day in my first class in what has become an arduous, three-year journey to become a social worker, our teacher told us that we would spend the entire period walking around the college asking people one question: What do social workers do?

The response was overwhelming. About 50% said “take babies away,” 25% of people said “help families in difficulty,” about 10% said something around the lines of “Help make a better world” and the final 15% said something degrading and insulting about social workers.

So what do we do? All of the above.

We aren’t liked. There is a huge stigma that comes along with the title of “social worker.” Yes, sometimes our jobs require that we remove children from their families. We help families and individuals who are experiencing difficulties. We advocate in our communities to make a better, safer place to live. And sometimes we mess up, royally.

But why am I writing this? Why is it so important that people understand what social workers do? Let’s break this down. Social work is broadly defined by Dictionary.com as:

Organized work directed toward the betterment of social conditions in the community, as by seeking to improve the condition of the poor, to promote the welfare of children, etc.

Whoa. Is that all? Social workers are found everywhere. Hospitals, elderly homes, schools, the army, private corporations, social service institutions, community centers, rehabilitation facilities, religious centers, community organizations… We work with children, the elderly, the physically disabled, refugees, families, soldiers, people with mental illness, convicts, and the homeless. There is hardly a person alive who has never dealt with a social worker in some context.

I asked some of my colleagues to come up with a quote describing either social work, or what social work means to them. The results were heartwarming:

“It gives me a reason to get up in the morning.”

“I need to help people like social workers have helped me.”

“I really just couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

But one description of social work seriously astounded me:

A social worker is like a cheerleader, but sometimes they’ve also got to be a coach or a trainer… and it’s also kind of like being a doctor trying to fix people’s problems but then there are also moments like in nursing when you just have to be with someone while they go through it all… and sometimes you might feel like a lawyer or a negotiator or sometimes a secretary or a teacher or historian… and sometimes a politician and sometimes a detective. 

That’s the heart of a social worker.

This description touches me so much because it is so true. I have been called for legal advice, I have had to do homework and tutor students who come to see me, and I have gone to wait for eight hours in an emergency room with a client just to ensure that they feel supported and safe while going to see a doctor.

And yet, we are displayed as the scum of the professional orders; the ones that other professionals use because we get the work done and don’t complain if we need to get our hands dirty. We do the work that others won’t: advocating for the poor and unfortunate, intervening with and perhaps dividing a family, supporting workers on strike.

So how do we do it? This is why social workers are hated so often; we don’t have a right or wrong way of doing anything. Sure, we have general theories and guidelines that we use and apply in our work, but each organization will have different guidelines. We don’t have a defined model like the “medical model” or the “psychiatric model;” instead, we work with our hearts, our heads, and with different theories. We have many diverse models that we use all at once, and in many different ways. But having so many theories leads to many different forms of practice, which then leads to many mistakes.

How can we guarantee similar services when no two services that are needed are the same? Well, we can’t. No matter how similar two people’s separate stories may seem, the service and help that they need won’t be the same. Lately, social work has been under particular stress to become more than just a professional order. There has been pressure to define social work, and give us specific roles. There is also pressure to start applying specific types of intervention; but how can one type of intervention be enough for somebody who has so many roles within one society?

We are not psychologists. We do not fit in to the “social sciences” mold, because social work is not a science, it is an art. Social work is a passion.

Just like any athlete or artist has a passion for what they create, social workers do too. An artist feels what is needed to complete a piece, and while social work will often use facts and theories as a basis for what a client needs, we will most often try to get a feeling of what the client’s priorities are. We work using everything that we are. Just like artists and athletes, we will work ourselves to the bone trying to help our clients.

However, as much as we enjoy and feel compassion for these people, this often leads to burn outs. We are human as well, after all. How is it that the profession that is most likely to help people avoid burn outs, is also the profession that is most likely to experience them? Most social workers have caseloads that are way above the limit that they are supposed to have. Most perform side projects for their agencies, or take on another worker’s caseload that is on a leave of absence. We never stop, and rarely tell ourselves when we have had enough. This is why I am writing this article. This is why I feel there is a need for clarity on what a social worker can help you with. We aren’t miracle workers; we will work with you for months and it may seem like we did nothing for you, but for us it was months of devoting time to you so you can become more like the person you want to be. Yet more often than not, we are the ones who are in need of help and yet have nowhere to receive it.

Who helps the helpers? 

Basic counseling skills

A practical guide for students studying social work, Social work practitioners and health workers in maternal care

By Author Lukonge Achilees

Author Lukonge Achilees during counselling session at Pelletier teenage mothers foundation (PTMOF)

Many health cares faced with the emotional problems of women that they see on a daily basis. They often feel helpless because they would like to help, but are not sure about what they should do, or how they should do it.

The ability to be a good helper or counselor depends on knowing your own feelings and thinking deeply about how you behave.

I am going to help you, understand some basic counseling skills like listening, asking questions and reflecting. There is also an outline for approaches to counseling mothers during pregnancy.

INTRODUCTION

The idea of mental illness is often confusing. We have an understanding of stress, and of psychosis, but there is arrange of emotional distress in between that is often overlooked.

What is mental illness?

Mental illness affects people’s feelings, thoughts and behavior. Mental illness can have negative effects on people’s lives or the lives of their families. Symptoms of illness can include;

  • Changes in mood
  • Changes in a person’s perception of reality
  • Changes in parson’s ability to organize or focus their thoughts.

These changes can interfere with how people are to function at work, within their families or communities.

But mental illness is treatable.

People who have a mental illness may not know about it, or may be ashamed to talk about it. This makes it difficult for them for to ask for help and get treatment.

In contrast to mental illness, mental well being in when a person is able to realize their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to their community.

Mental health is everybody’s business

Mental health care is often seen as a specialist field that only highly trained health workers can deal with eg. Psychiatrists or psychiatric nurses.

Mental illness is far more common than both health and social workers and clients often realize. Poor mental health can affect clients in many ways. That I why it is important that all levels of health workers are able to recognize mental illness.

Why don’t health workers ask about how a client is feeling?

  • Perhaps the answer will require too much time and effort.
  • It may be easier to deal with a physical problem.
  • Perhaps the question reminds health workers about their own personal issues.
  • It is often difficult for health workers to hear about client’s feelings because they may feel unable to offer help to clients

What is counseling?

Counseling involves listening. Counseling is about supporting the woman and empowering her own solutions. Counseling is not about giving advice!

What can counseling provide for woman?

  • A safe to be heard-the woman tells her whole story
  • A way to understand her own distress
  • Someone who will listen without blaming or judging
  • Respect
  • Validation of feelings
  • An opportunity to explore practical options with her
  • An opportunity to look for solutions to her problems
  • Support

What is the process of counseling?

  • Opening: establishing a relation/building trust
  • Exploring: good listening
  • Understanding: clarifying/reflecting/summarizing the problems
  • Deciding on intervention: understanding the situation that the woman is in
  • Exploring the problem to find solutions
  • Helping the woman to plan her own solutions
  • Monitoring and maximizing resilience

HELPING OTHERS

Health workers often see distressed women. It is not always easy to know how you can help or what to do.

Who can help?

Anybody can help! The exercises in this manual help you understand how best to be a helper.

You do not need to be a trained social worker or psychologist to have counseling skills can help everyone to take better care of the women that they see.

What is a helper?

These activities aim to get health workers to think about who would be able to help women in distress, and how that should be done.

Activity: who helped you?

Close your eyes, and think about a period in your life when you were very unhappy. In your mind, choose someone in whom you could confide, with whom you could share your pain. What qualities would you want from that person?

You are most likely to choose someone who would accept your feelings, not try to give you advice whom you could trust, who would not interrupt you, who would “hold” you emotionally and make you feel safe, even if they could do nothing to change your difficult circumstances.

Qualities of a helper

The following characteristics are good qualities a helper:

  • Keeping confidentiality
  • Empathy
  • Positive regard
  • Respect for others
  • Warmth
  • Being genuine
  • Being non judgmental

Confidentiality

A counseling relationship is based on trust. What is told to the helper must not be passed on to other people. Health workers need to understand how important it is to keep information confidential. Professional health workers may share confidential client information with other professionals if it is going to assist the woman’s care.

Activity: Confidentiality

Think of a secret that you have. Nobody else knows about this thing. Think about sharing this information with someone that you trust. How would you feel if they told other people? Some of the emotions that you may feel are: betrayal, anger, hurt, feeling shut down.

Keeping information confidential is giving your trust to someone-and keeping your word. As a counselor, you are in a privileged position to be trusted with other people’s important information.

Understanding others

The activity below is aimed to get health workers to think about what it might be like to be someone else.

Activity: Walking in someone else’s shoes

Think about your favorite pair of shoes. Where have those been with you? How far have you walked in them? Have they been in mud or rain? Have they been dancing?

Think about your best friend. What size are her feet? Would she be able to wear your shoes? Do you know if your feet would ft in her shoes? Do you know where her shoes have been? How has her journey shaped her shoes?

Learning points:

  • It is very difficult to know about other people’s lives.
  • Your journey shapes who you are-and it is not easy to understand something from another’s point of view.
  • There are many ways of seeing and experiencing the world and these depend on our upbringing and beliefs.
  • We need to be able to respect another person’s point of view, even if it is different from our own.
  • We need to recognize difference and similarities between people.
  • It takes a lot of thinking about yourself before you can understand something from another’s point of view.

Understanding yourself

When you are trying to help someone who is distressed, it can be very upsetting for you. It is very important that you try and think about how you feel so that you can help the other person in the best way. This is called self reflection

The following are important points on self reflection:

  • Try to give yourself time-every day-to think about how you feel and why.
  • When working-try to monitor what you feel, and ask where the feelings come from.
  • Try to notice when you feel very strong feelings about something.
  • Try to think about some of your strongest feelings, and see if they link to any of your own experiences.
  • Treat your own feelings with the same compassion and respect you would give to others.

Empathy

The terms empathy are both about feeling for somebody else’s situation, but they often get confused.

What is empathy?

  • Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.
  • Respectfully imagining what someone else’s life is like
  • Entering into the private world of another person, without making judgments.
  • Empathy is showing that you understand the person’s experiences, behavior and feelings.

“To empathize is to see with the eyes of another, to hear with the ears of another and to feel with the heart of another”

How do you show empathy?

It is hardest to empathize with those who are different from us. In order to empathize with another, you need to be.

  • Open-minded: you must set aside, for the moment, your own beliefs, values and attitudes in order to consider those of the other person.
  • Imaginative: imagine the other person’s background, thoughts and feelings
  • Committed: want to understand another person.
  • Knowing and accepting of yourself: knowing yourself and accepting who you are helps to develop empathy for others.

Difference between empathy and sympathy?

Often we hear the words empathy and sympathy together. What is the difference between empathy and sympathy?

  • Empathy: putting yourself in another’s shoes and trying to see the world though their eyes. This does not mean that you feel exactly what they are feeling or that you have been trough everything they have been through.
  • Sympathy: feeling what another person is going through. For instance, feeling the sadness a family is feeling from loss of their child.

A helper needs to feel empathy, because you cannot possibly experience everything that people go through. You use your experiences and your attention to understand the other person’s situation.

COUNSELING SKILLS

In order to learn how to be helpful to someone in distress, there are soe useful counseling skills outlined below. The more the skills are practiced, the easier they are to use.

Listening skills

“Diagnosis helps the doctor, bt for the patient, the crucial thing is the story” Carl Jung

A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he knows”- Wilson Mizner

There is none so blind as those who will not listen” William Slater

Activity: listening

Have you ever had a helpful experience when you talked with someone about a problem? It could have been a friend or a family member who simply listened to you. They did not give you a solution, give you advice or tell you what to do. They simply listened while talked about your thoughts and feelings. Afterwards you felt better, just because you talked about it and felt heard. Sometimes, just the experience of talking to someone who listens can be healing.

Active listening

Active listening happens when you “ listen for meaning”. The listener says very little but conveys empathy, acceptance and genuineness. The listener only speaks to find out if they have heard or understood correctly.

Key points about empathetic listening

  • Listening is active
  • There is more to listening than simply not talking, or lending your ears to somebody.
  • There are verbal and not verbal components to listening. You can listen without saying anything.
  • Listening involves more than just one sense. It is not just hearing with your ears, but also involves observing with your eyes and saying things at times. It can include touch as well.
  • Active listening is also communicating what you have heard and understood.
ACTIVE LISTENING

Why should we use active or empathetic listening?

  • Empathetic listening encourages the woman to talk more about her issues. This allows you as a helper to gain a better understanding of the difficulties and her view of the world.
  • It leaves the woman with the understanding that she has been heard. Just the experience of being heard can be healing.
  • Active listening helps establish a relationship between clients and helper.

Empathetic or active listening involves:

  1. Participating in the world of the other person and being a part of what that person is experiencing.
  2. Hearing words but also listening to how the words are being said
  3. What tone of the voice is being used?
  4. What words are being used to describe the experience?
  5. What body language is the person displaying?
  6. What shows on their face?
  7. What do their hand movements shows?
  8. Do the words flow or are there lots of hesitations?
  9. Listening to what is not being said, or listening to the silences.
  10. In counseling, caring or empathetic listening is an experience where your whole being becomes tuned into the world and experience of another person.
  11. A combination of empathy and listening is a basic requirement for all counseling behavior and in itself is often very therapeutic for the client.
  12. There is healing powered in being listened to, and in being able to talk and be heard by another.

What gets in the way of active or empathetic listening?

  • Being selective: not listening to the full message of what is being said, but hearing only what you want to hear.
  • Being distracted: appearing to listen when really your mind is a million kilometers awys and you have not actually heard a word that has been said.
  • Personal values (what we believe to be important): each of us has different values
  • What is happening in your own life: this may change your perspective about what the woman is going through.
  • Preparing a response: if you are preparing what you will say next, you cannot be listening to the woman.
  • Feeling threatened by what the woman is saying.
  • Culture: sometimes the woman’s culture is different to ours
  • Language: many times we are not speaking I our own language and there can be communication difficulties with this.

Verbal listening

Minimal verbal response: these are verbal responses showing that your listening.

Verbal responses include. “mmm…..mmm,” “uh-huh,” or  “yes”

These minimal responses show the woman that you are listening to her, and encourage her to continue talking.

Non verbal listening

The SOLERF method is a useful way to listen without speaking.

S-Squarely face person- not turned to the side

O– Use Open posture without crossed arms and legs

L- Lean slightly toward the person rather than sitting back in the chair

E- Use Eye contact instead off into deep space.

R- Relax; keep it natural instead of sitting like aboard.

F- Look Friendly and welcoming rather than neutral or scowling.

Remember:

Communication is 55% body language, 38% tone and 7%words. Your client may not remember what was said, but they will remember how you made them feel.

Learning point: Active listening means that you concentrate on what is being said- not on what you need to say or do.

The following activity aims to practice active listening skills. It will also explain how to get more information from the woman by looking at what her body is saying.

Activity: Active Listening

Next time you and a friend or colleague have a chance to caht, think about listening actively. Try to listen without interrupting. Try not to say anything more than two or three words long. Keep her/him talking by saying  “uh-huh”’ really!?’, “tell me more”, etc

Think about the following:

  1. Where you able to keep the conversation going on using only encouraging body language and word or two?
  2. Where you able to keep from interrupting?

Think about what the speaker may feel:

  1. Did they feel they had permission to keep talking?
  2. Did they feel heard?

Listening: a poem

You are not listening to me when…..

You do not care about me;

You say you understand before you know me well enough;

You have an answer for my problem before I have finished telling you what my problem is;

You cut me off before I have finished speaking;

You finish my sentence for me;

You find me boring and don’t tell me;

You feel critical of my vocabulary, grammar or accent;

You’re dying to tell me something;

You tell me about your experience making mine seem unimportant;

You’re communicating to someone else in the room;

You refuse my thanks by saying you haven’t really done anything.

You are listening to me when……

You come quietly into my private world and let me be;

You really try to understand me even if I am not making much sense;

You grasp my point of view even when it’s against your own sincere convictions;

You realize that the hour I took from you have left you a bit tired and drained;

You allow me the dignity of making my own decisions even though you think they might be wrong;

You do not take my problem from me, but allow me to deal with it in my own way;

You hold back your desire to give me good advice;

You do not offer me religious solace when you sense I am not ready for it;

You give me enough room to discover for myself what really going on. Anonymous

Listening Not Listening
Be aware of your own feelings and the way that you are responding Talking about yourself or your own experiences
Try to find a private, quiet place for counseling/support Being over sympathetic Talking with other people, answering the phone
Sit still and look interested Feeling sorry for the person, and then trying to give hope or platitudes Moving around or standing up
Wait for the person to speak after you have given a short introduction Promising to do everything
Give the person an opportunity to tell her story in her own way Breaking confidentiality
Don’t interrupt the person while she is talking Interrupting the person
Show through your body language that you are listening Looking irritated or bored, yawning
Feel relaxed with appropriate silences Concentrating only on the facts and asking lots of questions.
Let the person know that you are willing to listen further Ask a few questions- ask questions only when you need more information to understand the situation. Minimizing the problem (it could be worse!) Preaching or judging Giving inappropriate advice with which the woman doesn’t agree
Make sure that the way you understand the situation is correct.     Reflect back to the person in words what they are feeling and saying. Not believing what the person is saying Feeling uncomfortable with someone else’s feelings. Over sympathetic Feeling sorry for the person and then trying to give false hope.

Asking questions

The questions we ask- open and closed-are important for counseling. They can help a person open up or close them down.

Open questions: is used in order to gather lots of information- you ask it when you want to get a long answer.

Closed question: is used to get specific information-it can normally be answered with either a single word or short phrase.

Open questions

Open ended questions have no correct answer and require an explanation.

For example:

  • What brought you in here today?
  • How do you feel about this pregnancy?
  • How does that make you feel?

Open ended questions are good for:

  • Starting the information gathering part of the session
  • Keeping the client talking

Closed ended questions

Closed ended questions are those that can easily be answered with a “yes” or “no” or brief information.

For example:

  • What is your name and date of birth?
  • Is pregnancy planned?
  • Where do you work?
  • Are you ready to stop doing that?

Closed questions are useful for;

  • For getting necessary information
  • To help the woman focus their discussion.

The following activity gets you to practice open and closed questions. Use your listening skills and remember to use your body language as well!

Activity: practicing different kinds of questions

Next time you get a chance to chat with a friend or colleague, try to practice asking questions.

Ask an open ended questions like, “How do you feel about what has happened within the past few days?”

You want them to be able to go on at some length.

After few minutes, you can try to constrain or redirect conversation by asking a close ended questions such as “Does this make you feel good or bad?” you’re looking for an either/ or answer.

Think about the different kinds of answers that are given when you ask open or closed questions.

How do you think the different kinds of questions make a speaker feel?

Important points about listening

  • It is valuable for a woman to be able to talk and be heard.
  • Talking about important things can be very hard.
  • Women need to be able to speak in a safe place, in their own words.
  • When listening, try not to interrupt.
  • Concentrate on what is being said, not what you need to say or do
  • Listen to the words said, what her body tells you, and what she not saying.

Reflection skills

Reflecting is like a mirror; it gives back to the woman what she has just communicated to us. It lets the woman what she has just communicated to us. It lets the woman know what you understand about what she has shared and communicates empathy.

When a counselor uses reflection, s/he accurately describes the client’s affective state from either verbal or nonverbal cues. By listening for and responding to the feelings of the client rather than the content of their statement you arc communicating that you can accurately sense the world as they are perceiving it. This facilitates the client’s movement toward greater self-awareness and self-understanding. In order to do this, you must listen to how the person says what they say. For example, they may speak more quickly when communicating enthusiasm (or anxiety), more slowly when discouraged, and so forth.

Example:

Client:             “So, I’m wondering if you can help me choose a new major… (pause), I suppose if I did choose, I’d just screw things up again…”

Counselor:       “You’re feeling hopeless about being able to succeed and you’re not sure anybody or anything will help.

Client:             “I just can’t figure out why things have been so difficult here. Everything came so easily to me in high school. Everyone at home still thinks I’m the smartest guy around but they have no idea that I’m really just stupid, but it’s only a matter of time.”

Counselor: “You are embarrassed that you haven’t lived up to  other  people’s  expectations of you. You feel like a fraud and that you will be discovered  at any time.”

Some behaviors you may want to try and follow are:

  1. Listen for the feelings. Remember that what the person is saying is only part of the message being communicated to you.  How the person says it is extremely important (i.e., a change in breathing or in the speed of talk, a sigh, a blush, a stammer, extra emphasis on a particular word). Any of these can be important cues to underlying feelings.
  • Frequent or idiosyncratic words which communicate emotions and feelings should also be noted. These verbal behaviors will give you clues as to the “emotional themes” of the client and their repertoire of “feeling words”.
  • Time your responses. You do not need to respond to every comment. You may simply want to smile, nod, say “Umm-hmm”, etc., until there is an occasional opportunity to reflect the feelings of the client.
  • Reflect feelings. As you listen for and find instances of a client’s expression of affect, reflect these emotions by restating what she/he is experiencing in your own words. If the client should say, “I wish I could talk to my dad about things like this, but I never seem to get up the nerve”, you might respond with something like, “You’re a little bit afraid of your dad?”

Your goal is to understand what the person is experiencing and to communicate “I am with you. . . I can accurately sense the world as you are feeling and perceiving. . .” Don’t worry about making a mistake — usually they will just correct you and go on, knowing that you are trying to understand her or him.

Importance of reflecting

  • Relationship building: reflecting is valuable in building a relationship with the woman by communicating trust, acceptance and understanding.
  • Clarification: reflecting is helpful for women to be able to clarify for themselves their problems and feelings.
  • Information: reflecting helps the counselor get information about the woman and how she views her situation.
  • Verification: reflecting helps the counselor to check her perception of what the woman communicates.

There are four different reflecting skills. These are skills that can be used at any stage in the counseling sessions, but are really important for building trust and exploring the problem.

  • Reflecting feelings
  • Restarting/reframing
  • Affirmation
  • Summarizing

Reflecting feeling

Reflecting what the client is feeling. Focus on feelings NOT the details of what is said.

Example

Woman, “I am the only one working in my family. My mother, my sister and her two children stay with me and my three kids. I can’t afford the school fees for my own children already, so I don’t know what I am going to do now I am pregnant again”

Counselor: “you sound worried and overwhelmed.”

Tips for reflecting feelings:

  • Listening for and reflect both verbal and anon verbal communication of feeling.
  • Read body language and reflect what you see if feelings are not expressed verbally.

The following activity helps to practice naming feelings.

Activity: reflecting feelings

Try to think about all the different kinds of feelings that people have. Some examples are: hate, fear, worry, stress, concern, pride, love, relief

The following examples are how women may talk about their problems. Try to name the feelings in these examples. It is useful to reflect feelings back to a client by saying something like “it sounds as if you are feeling…..” or “it seems like you are feeling……” if you’re not sure, you could ask it as a question, “So, are you feeling……..?”

  1. “I don’t know what to do about my son. He is 14 years and has not been attending school regularly. I found out from his teacher that he has been absent from classes a lot over the last couple of weeks. He also is not coming home until late in the evenings.” (worry/concern)
  • “I was looking forward to having a baby, but now it’s very different to what I was expecting. I love my baby, but I don’t like being at home all day. I miss my work and my friends there. I am used to doing what I want when I want to do it” (disappointment/confusion/loneliness)
  • “I cannot stand my boss. She is so demanding. Whenever she asks me to do something she is so rude. She just interrupts whatever I am doing and tells me that I need to do it now. Then when I do it she always finds a way to criticize how it was done.” (undermined/putdown/frustrated)
  • Things have been difficult with my husband for a while. He works far away and is only home a few times a year. When he comes home, we argue. This is not good for the children.” (Frustration/concern for children)
  • “For years and years I worried about my daughter. Now she finished  A level and just found a job last week” (Relief/pride)
  • “I just lost my job on Monday. Where I am going to find another job? Why do things never work out for me?” (Fearful/stressed)
  • “I lost my first baby. She was born too early and she did not breathe. I keep thinking about her now that I am pregnant again. She would have been 2 years old.” (Grief/loss/sad/worry for the new baby)
  • “Since I came in for my HIV test last week I have not been able to sleep waiting for my test results” (Anxious)  “I had an abortion last year. Since then I cant stop thinking about it, and wondering if I did the wrong thing. I have broken up with my boyfriend. Sometimes I think I am being punished.” (Guilt)
  • “I have been unemployed for 2 years. I do not know what to do about money. My kids and I have been staying with my sister’s family but yesterday her husband said that we have to leave because they do not have money either.” (Desperate/worried)

Restarting/rephrasing

This is saying what you understand the woman to be communicating. By doing this you are letting her know that you understand and, if you don’t are willing to be corrected.

Tips for restarting:

  • Use your own words to explain your understanding of what the woman is saying.
  • Use slightly different words that have the same meaning; do not just repeat what she said.
  • Rephrase both content and feelings.
  • Convey empathy, acceptance and genuineness
  • Be tentative and respective, i.e “I hear you saying….,” or “it sounds like….”

Example:

Woman:I am so angry with my husband. I just want to kill him; he makes me so sad.”

Counselor: “it sounds like your irritation and frustration with your husband has increased and is reaching a climax.”

Start a restating statement with phrases like:

“What I am understanding is……”

“In other words…….”

“So basically what you’re saying is………”

“Do you mean……..?”

“It sounds as if……..”

“I am not sure that I am understanding you correctly, but……”

“You sound…….”

“I gather……”

The activity below helps to practice restarting. Use your own words to show that you understand what the woman is saying to you.

Activity: practicing restarting/ rephrasing

How would you respond to the following statements by restarting or rephrasing? Use your reflecting skills.

1. Client “I start seeing this guy. We spent quite a bit of time together and I really like him. We were really careful and had protected sex. After about two months, my boyfriend said he does not want to use a condom. He said that, if ii trust him I should not ask him to use a condom. Now I am pregnant. I do not know what to do.”

Counselor: It sounds as though you were asked to make a difficult decision that you were not comfortable in making, and now you are unsure of how to deal with the consequence.

2. Client:  (crying) “last night my husband came home really late. He was drunk again. We started arguing, but it is no use. I am so angry at him. He will never change.”

Counselor: you seem to be feeling frustrated by your husband’s drinking, which often leads to arguments. You’re also unsure of how to deal with this problem, which leaves you feeling helpless, sad and hopeless

3. Client: “My mother is getting sick. She is alone in her village and only has one of my brother’s children staying with her. But, I am not sure that the boy is really taking good care of her. I am so worried because they are far from the hospital and he will not know what to do if she gets sicker.”

Counselor: it sounds like you are incredibly anxious at the moment, worrying about your mother’s health. You also seem to be concerned that the boy staying with her will be unable to look after her if necessary.

4. Client: “Lately my first born girl has been teased a lot at school. They call her names and say that she is ugly. Last night she was crying again. I get so angry at those cruel kids and want so badly to stop this.”

Counselor: it seems that you are worried about your daughter, who is being bullied at school, and that it leaves you with feelings of anger and frustration. It also sounds like you have a strong desire to protect her, but are ensure how to do this.

5. Client: “My husband passed away last month. He was sick for some time but he refused to be taken to the hospital. Now I have just found out I am HIV+. So, now I feel so confuse. I realize my husband had AIDS and he didn’t tell me, and I must have got HIV from him.”

Counselor: you sound like not only have you suffered a major loss, the death of your husband, but now you are left to deal with a life changing illness. Also you are left feeling a sense of betrayal that your husband did not tell you that he had AIDS.

Affirmation

This encourages the woman in the choices she has made. Affirmation can be for choices, knowledge or behavior.

  • This skill is very similar to how a teacher affirms or verbally rewards a learner, or how a parent might encourage a child by saying “well doe” or “you have done a good job” or “ you have done your best”
  • This may begin with the counselor affirming the client for choosing to come for counseling.
  • But, unlike the affirmation of the teacher to the learner, the key skill is something the woman can do for herself, rather than depend on the counselor for it.

For instance, instead of saying “I am so proud of you for coming back to get your test results, ” the counselor should say, “you should be very proud of yourself for returning for your results” or “…for making the choice to use a condom this weekend.”

Affirmation is an important skill for empowering clients; by affirming them, we are encouraging women in the healthy decisions and behaviors they have chosen and helping them to continue making similar choices.

Summarizing

Summarizing highlights the most important areas, feelings, or themes of what the woman has been saying.

Usefulness of summarizing:

  • Draws together the important points and make them clear.
  • Reviews the session, then briefly describes the most important points and says what could be covered next time.

Example

Counselor at the end of the counseling session

“Today you have been talking a lot about the overwhelming amount of responsibility you feel for all the family members staying with you. We have looked at ways for you to let go of things that you have no control over. We have looked at choices for responding and behaving where you didn’t see yourself as having a choice. In our next counseling session we could look at whether those new thoughts make any difference to your feelings of being overwhelmed.”

The following activity puts together all the skills you have learnt so far, and helps you to practice. It is not always easy to do it right! Learn from the mistakes that are made. The more you practice, the easier it is to use the new skills.

Activity: putting the skills together

When you next have a chance to chat to a friend or colleague, try to use active listening, reflecting feelings, restarting, summarizing and affirmation

Get ready to listen actively

Think about your encouraging body language.

Think about non verbal encouragers

Use open ended questions like “how are things going for you today?” you want the speaker to go on at some length.

Think about what the speaker is saying and reflect it.

Think about the speaker

  1. Do you think tat the speaker felt they were being heard with empathy?
  2. What did the speaker feel when they left the session?

Think about listening

  1. How did you feel inside yourself when you were listening?
  2. Did you feel you were on the same page as the speaker? If not, why not?
  3. How accurately do you think you were able to summarize the speakers information? 10%n90% why?
  4. Were you able to reflect back the person’s feelings?

Don’t worry if you are completely accurate. That is why the listener “plays it back” to the speaker using a tentative tone.

Remember, the person may forget what you said, but will never forget how you made them feel!

APPROACHES TO COUNSELING

The guidelines below offer general approaches for counseling pregnant women and mothers.

Before you start

Before meeting a mother for the first time, it is helpful to check any information that came with the referral, e.g. any screening forms, background history, letters from other health workers. It would be best to plan to see the mother 4 to 6 times, but there is always a chance you will only see her once, as she may not come back, or you may not have more time.

In the beginning

  • It is important to create a safe and supportive environment for the mothers. Reassure her that it is a good idea to get an opportunity to talk before the baby is born so that she feels more prepared when the baby comes.
  • Work out with her why she is with you today and what she expects from talking with you.
  • Listen carefully and don’t interpret or analyze. This creates safe space for her to voice the complexity of her feelings around pregnancy and childbirth. She can then even reach her own solutions, both emotionally and practically.
  • The mother will hopefully describe her life as she understands it. Tread gently. You may threaten your relationship with her if you treat her story as a collection of symptoms, habits or problems.
  • Look for examples of previous healthy coping and problem solving abilities.
  • As counselor, you may act as a bridge between crisis and coping.
  • Mothers need to know that they are worthy of sensitive and reliable care.

Containment

When feelings are painful and overwhelming, the woman may need someone to help her to hold and understand those feelings. This is called containment.

Think of a jug, when there is too much water in it, it over flows, and another container may be needed to hold the water until some of the water in the first jug has been used up. Feelings can be like this. Someone else might need to hold the painful feelings until the person is ready to deal with them.

When you work with feelings, it helps if you understand;

  • Your own fallings-where they are similar or different to others’ feelings.
  • That the feelings that you have when you work with people are valuable clues about how they may feel.
  • That getting to understand your feelings can take time. We need to have patience with ourselves and other people
  • That if your own jug is too full, you will not be able to hold someone else feelings as well.

Counseling as an intervention

If a mother is ready, you may feel certain interventions are necessary. Counseling may be used to:

  • Provide containment
  • Offer supportive suggestions
  • Offer encouragement and sensitive advice
  • Explore the problem and resolve these with new skills and support systems
  • Explore how childhood problems may be affecting pregnanacy and being a mother (this usually requires a lot of counseling skill and time)
  • Bring closure to unresolved issues
  • Provide information on emotional or physical aspects of preganancy, birth, birth and post partum
  • Provide information on infant emotions, responses and resources available
  • Provide referral to another agency, if necessary.

Practical tips

  • If the mother is in crisis or has severe prolonged symptoms, recommend a mental health professional. If she refuses, offer another appointment and follow up with phone calls.
  • If the mother is isolated and stressed but not in crisis, offer another appointment. Get the mother to explore other options such as listening to music, walking, talking to a friend etc.
  • If the woman is feeling very angry, offer another appointment and get her to write a letter to a person she is angry with, getting out all her feelings. She can decide to send it or not.
  • If the woman was abused as a child, reaffirm that it was not her fault, explore further if she will allow, otherwise simply be supportive. Try to link previous sexual abuse to trauma and labour, and the possibility that she may feel anxiety during labour. By talking about this, you can help her prepare, understand, her possible reactions and learn ways to cope with the anxiety.

Problem management

Managing problems is only possible if the counselor and the woman have lots of time together. This can’t be done in one session. In order to help the woman cope with her problems, it is important to understand how each person fits into the environment around them. This mother may be part of a family, a community and a society that could help her. On the other hand, those around her could be part of the problem.

There are several possible steps to managing problems:

  • Understanding the problem
  • Looking at options
  • Setting goals
  • Developing a plan of action
  • Monitoring and evaluation

Understanding the problem

There may be many solutions to a problem, but in order to understand what will work best for the woman, all the parts of the problem must be understood. Some issues may be hidden.

Activity: understanding problems

Try to think of a mother in your community that has problem. One problem often has many parts to it.  Try to break it down into smaller a part that’s that together make up the whole problem.

Think about the problem in the following ways:

What makes it difficult for the woman as an individual?

What helps her to cope with her problem?

What about her family makes this problem better or worse?

What about her community makes this problem better or worse?

What are different parts to her problem?

Looking at options

The counselor helps the woman to list the parts of the problem, and priotize what needs to be dealt with first. Then the counselor and the woman can discuss how the problem could be managed. The counselor and woman talk about different ways of putting solutions into action. Each option will have advantages and disadvantages.

In assessing options, it is important to positively reinforce coping behaviors that the woman shows. Resilience is a term used to describe the positive ability to cope with stress and difficulties. For example, even though it may feel difficult for a woman to get out of bed, she has come to an appointment. This positive behavior needs to be recognized.

Providing the woman with skills to cope with the problem will help her to feel stronger and more able to deal with what she needs to do-these coping skills help her to feel more in control of her situation.

Setting goals

The counselor helps the woman to decide on simple goals that may be successfully achieved. Smaller goals may lead, over time, to reaching larger goals.

Developing a plan of action

The woman needs to decide what will work best for her and the counselor helps to draw up a plan of action. The woman should feel empowered that the actions she chooses will help her to reach her goals.

Monitoring and evaluation

When the woman carries out the plan of action, both woman and counselor need to talk about how effective the action plan has been. They meet to look at how things are going, and look for solutions to any new problems that might occur. The counselor provides support as they work through the steps of problem management again. Where appropriate, the woman is affirmed for her choices of actions.

Even when you have practiced all the skills and approaches to dealing with women in distress, it is sometimes difficult to know ho to respond when.  The table below gives some guidelines

Possible responses for dealing with mothers in distress

General guidelines If she says… Don’t say…. You could say……
Don’t be judgmental I hate my husband Hatred! That’s an extreme emotion! What bothers you about him?
Don’t impose your morals. There is no God God loves you, even when you doubt him When did you start to think that?
Empathize; don’t sympathize or pity I am such a failure I feel terrible for you You are finding everything very difficult right now?
Don’t encourage blaming It all his fault He is a terrible husband Tell me how he is involved
Don’t try to solve the mothers problem. Help her find her own solution What should I do? Why don’t you ask your mother for help? What are your choices? Lets talk about them
Emphasize the positive I am so tired because my baby cries all the time You are lucky to have a healthy baby. It takes courage to say how you really feel.
Don’t be shocked. I smacked my baby really hard. You shouldn’t hit your baby, no matter how you feel. That must make you feel frightened and ashamed. How often has it happened? REFER AND BE FIRM
Don’t negate feelings. I want to kill my self Don’t be silly, you have so much to live for. Do you really think suicide is away out? Express concern. REFER AND EXPLORE
Don’t make false promises. I will never be the same again. Things will turn out fine for you in the end. That must be scary feelings.
Don’t say you know how she feels I feel terrible I know how you feel Tell me about your feelings

Caring for the counselor

One of the biggest problems for people working in the helping or caring professions is ‘burnout’. This can happen when you give too much of yourself to your work, but do not know how to take care of your needs.

If you don’t care of yourself, you can start to feel;

  • Exhausted
  • Lacking in motivation
  • Loss of job satisfaction
  • Resentment of the work that you have to do/people that you work with
  • Isolation from colleagues
  • Sick

Working with women who are traumatized can be particularly stressful.

  • Trauma disorganizes-it may make women feel muddled and interferes in their usual ways of coping.
  • Trauma interferes with relationships and trust-this may make it feel that it is hard to help women. Don’t blame yourself.
  • Trauma makes you feel exhausted and overwhelmed, if you can recognize this, then you can take steps to look after yourself.
  • Try not to take on too much. If you are overwhelmed, you will not be able to care for yourself or the woman your care
  • Look for signs of burn out-in yourself and your colleagues then you can act before it is too late.

Try to get your health facility or organization to think about taking care of the staff. The following points may be helpful to you:

  • Recognize the stressful nature of your work- what are the particular stresses that you and your colleagues have to deal with?
  • Try to take some time to think about your own needs-not just those of your clients
  • Help to develop systems of support (formal and informal) for yourself and your colleagues.
  • Speak to the leadership within the health facility or organization so that they can protect and support staff.

Basic counseling skills

A practical guide for students studying social work, Social work practitioners and health workers in maternal care

By Author Lukonge Achilees

Lukonge Achilees counseling young mother at Pelletier Teenage mothers foundation (PTMOF)

Many health cares faced with the emotional problems of women that they see on a daily basis. They often feel helpless because they would like to help, but are not sure about what they should do, or how they should do it.

The ability to be a good helper or counselor depends on knowing your own feelings and thinking deeply about how you behave.

I am going to help you, understand some basic counseling skills like listening, asking questions and reflecting. There is also an outline for approaches to counseling mothers during pregnancy.

INTRODUCTION

The idea of mental illness is often confusing. We have an understanding of stress, and of psychosis, but there is arrange of emotional distress in between that is often overlooked.

What is mental illness?

Mental illness affects people’s feelings, thoughts and behavior. Mental illness can have negative effects on people’s lives or the lives of their families. Symptoms of illness can include;

  • Changes in mood
  • Changes in a person’s perception of reality
  • Changes in parson’s ability to organize or focus their thoughts.

These changes can interfere with how people are to function at work, within their families or communities.

But mental illness is treatable.

People who have a mental illness may not know about it, or may be ashamed to talk about it. This makes it difficult for them for to ask for help and get treatment.

In contrast to mental illness, mental well being in when a person is able to realize their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to their community.

Mental health is everybody’s business

Mental health care is often seen as a specialist field that only highly trained health workers can deal with eg. Psychiatrists or psychiatric nurses.

Mental illness is far more common than both health and social workers and clients often realize. Poor mental health can affect clients in many ways. That I why it is important that all levels of health workers are able to recognize mental illness.

Why don’t health workers ask about how a client is feeling?

  • Perhaps the answer will require too much time and effort.
  • It may be easier to deal with a physical problem.
  • Perhaps the question reminds health workers about their own personal issues.
  • It is often difficult for health workers to hear about client’s feelings because they may feel unable to offer help to clients

What is counseling?

Internee Student at PTMOF, during counseling ssession

Counseling involves listening. Counseling is about supporting the woman and empowering her own solutions. Counseling is not about giving advice!

What can counseling provide for woman?

  • A safe to be heard-the woman tells her whole story
  • A way to understand her own distress
  • Someone who will listen without blaming or judging
  • Respect
  • Validation of feelings
  • An opportunity to explore practical options with her
  • An opportunity to look for solutions to her problems
  • Support

What is the process of counseling?

  • Opening: establishing a relation/building trust
  • Exploring: good listening
  • Understanding: clarifying/reflecting/summarizing the problems
  • Deciding on intervention: understanding the situation that the woman is in
  • Exploring the problem to find solutions
  • Helping the woman to plan her own solutions
  • Monitoring and maximizing resilience

HELPING OTHERS

Health workers often see distressed women. It is not always easy to know how you can help or what to do.

Who can help?

Anybody can help! The exercises in this manual help you understand how best to be a helper.

You do not need to be a trained social worker or psychologist to have counseling skills can help everyone to take better care of the women that they see.

What is a helper?

These activities aim to get health workers to think about who would be able to help women in distress, and how that should be done.

Activity: who helped you?

Close your eyes, and think about a period in your life when you were very unhappy. In your mind, choose someone in whom you could confide, with whom you could share your pain. What qualities would you want from that person?

You are most likely to choose someone who would accept your feelings, not try to give you advice whom you could trust, who would not interrupt you, who would “hold” you emotionally and make you feel safe, even if they could do nothing to change your difficult circumstances.

Qualities of a helper

The following characteristics are good qualities a helper:

  • Keeping confidentiality
  • Empathy
  • Positive regard
  • Respect for others
  • Warmth
  • Being genuine
  • Being non judgmental

Confidentiality

A counseling relationship is based on trust. What is told to the helper must not be passed on to other people. Health workers need to understand how important it is to keep information confidential. Professional health workers may share confidential client information with other professionals if it is going to assist the woman’s care.

Activity: Confidentiality

Think of a secret that you have. Nobody else knows about this thing. Think about sharing this information with someone that you trust. How would you feel if they told other people? Some of the emotions that you may feel are: betrayal, anger, hurt, feeling shut down.

Keeping information confidential is giving your trust to someone-and keeping your word. As a counselor, you are in a privileged position to be trusted with other people’s important information.

Understanding others

The activity below is aimed to get health workers to think about what it might be like to be someone else.

Activity: Walking in someone else’s shoes

Think about your favorite pair of shoes. Where have those been with you? How far have you walked in them? Have they been in mud or rain? Have they been dancing?

Think about your best friend. What size are her feet? Would she be able to wear your shoes? Do you know if your feet would ft in her shoes? Do you know where her shoes have been? How has her journey shaped her shoes?

Learning points:

  • It is very difficult to know about other people’s lives.
  • Your journey shapes who you are-and it is not easy to understand something from another’s point of view.
  • There are many ways of seeing and experiencing the world and these depend on our upbringing and beliefs.
  • We need to be able to respect another person’s point of view, even if it is different from our own.
  • We need to recognize difference and similarities between people.
  • It takes a lot of thinking about yourself before you can understand something from another’s point of view.

Understanding yourself

When you are trying to help someone who is distressed, it can be very upsetting for you. It is very important that you try and think about how you feel so that you can help the other person in the best way. This is called self reflection

The following are important points on self reflection:

  • Try to give yourself time-every day-to think about how you feel and why.
  • When working-try to monitor what you feel, and ask where the feelings come from.
  • Try to notice when you feel very strong feelings about something.
  • Try to think about some of your strongest feelings, and see if they link to any of your own experiences.
  • Treat your own feelings with the same compassion and respect you would give to others.

Empathy

kelly feels empathetic toward client during counseling session

The terms empathy are both about feeling for somebody else’s situation, but they often get confused.

What is empathy?

  • Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.
  • Respectfully imagining what someone else’s life is like
  • Entering into the private world of another person, without making judgments.
  • Empathy is showing that you understand the person’s experiences, behavior and feelings.

“To empathize is to see with the eyes of another, to hear with the ears of another and to feel with the heart of another”

How do you show empathy?

It is hardest to empathize with those who are different from us. In order to empathize with another, you need to be.

  • Open-minded: you must set aside, for the moment, your own beliefs, values and attitudes in order to consider those of the other person.
  • Imaginative: imagine the other person’s background, thoughts and feelings
  • Committed: want to understand another person.
  • Knowing and accepting of yourself: knowing yourself and accepting who you are helps to develop empathy for others.

Difference between empathy and sympathy?

Often we hear the words empathy and sympathy together. What is the difference between empathy and sympathy?

  • Empathy: putting yourself in another’s shoes and trying to see the world though their eyes. This does not mean that you feel exactly what they are feeling or that you have been trough everything they have been through.
  • Sympathy: feeling what another person is going through. For instance, feeling the sadness a family is feeling from loss of their child.

A helper needs to feel empathy, because you cannot possibly experience everything that people go through. You use your experiences and your attention to understand the other person’s situation.

COUNSELING SKILLS

In order to learn how to be helpful to someone in distress, there are soe useful counseling skills outlined below. The more the skills are practiced, the easier they are to use.

Listening skills

“Diagnosis helps the doctor, bt for the patient, the crucial thing is the story” Carl Jung

A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he knows”- Wilson Mizner

There is none so blind as those who will not listen” William Slater

Activity: listening

Have you ever had a helpful experience when you talked with someone about a problem? It could have been a friend or a family member who simply listened to you. They did not give you a solution, give you advice or tell you what to do. They simply listened while talked about your thoughts and feelings. Afterwards you felt better, just because you talked about it and felt heard. Sometimes, just the experience of talking to someone who listens can be healing.

Active listening

Active listening happens when you “ listen for meaning”. The listener says very little but conveys empathy, acceptance and genuineness. The listener only speaks to find out if they have heard or understood correctly.

Key points about empathetic listening

  • Listening is active
  • There is more to listening than simply not talking, or lending your ears to somebody.
  • There are verbal and not verbal components to listening. You can listen without saying anything.
  • Listening involves more than just one sense. It is not just hearing with your ears, but also involves observing with your eyes and saying things at times. It can include touch as well.
  • Active listening is also communicating what you have heard and understood.
ACTIVE LISTENING

Why should we use active or empathetic listening?

  • Empathetic listening encourages the woman to talk more about her issues. This allows you as a helper to gain a better understanding of the difficulties and her view of the world.
  • It leaves the woman with the understanding that she has been heard. Just the experience of being heard can be healing.
  • Active listening helps establish a relationship between clients and helper.

Empathetic or active listening involves:

  1. Participating in the world of the other person and being a part of what that person is experiencing.
  2. Hearing words but also listening to how the words are being said
  3. What tone of the voice is being used?
  4. What words are being used to describe the experience?
  5. What body language is the person displaying?
  6. What shows on their face?
  7. What do their hand movements shows?
  8. Do the words flow or are there lots of hesitations?
  9. Listening to what is not being said, or listening to the silences.
  10. In counseling, caring or empathetic listening is an experience where your whole being becomes tuned into the world and experience of another person.
  11. A combination of empathy and listening is a basic requirement for all counseling behavior and in itself is often very therapeutic for the client.
  12. There is healing powered in being listened to, and in being able to talk and be heard by another.

What gets in the way of active or empathetic listening?

  • Being selective: not listening to the full message of what is being said, but hearing only what you want to hear.
  • Being distracted: appearing to listen when really your mind is a million kilometers awys and you have not actually heard a word that has been said.
  • Personal values (what we believe to be important): each of us has different values
  • What is happening in your own life: this may change your perspective about what the woman is going through.
  • Preparing a response: if you are preparing what you will say next, you cannot be listening to the woman.
  • Feeling threatened by what the woman is saying.
  • Culture: sometimes the woman’s culture is different to ours
  • Language: many times we are not speaking I our own language and there can be communication difficulties with this.

Verbal listening

Minimal verbal response: these are verbal responses showing that your listening.

Verbal responses include. “mmm…..mmm,” “uh-huh,” or  “yes”

These minimal responses show the woman that you are listening to her, and encourage her to continue talking.

Non verbal listening

The SOLERF method is a useful way to listen without speaking.

S-Squarely face person- not turned to the side

O– Use Open posture without crossed arms and legs

L- Lean slightly toward the person rather than sitting back in the chair

E- Use Eye contact instead off into deep space.

R- Relax; keep it natural instead of sitting like aboard.

F- Look Friendly and welcoming rather than neutral or scowling.

Remember:

Communication is 55% body language, 38% tone and 7%words. Your client may not remember what was said, but they will remember how you made them feel.

Learning point: Active listening means that you concentrate on what is being said- not on what you need to say or do.

The following activity aims to practice active listening skills. It will also explain how to get more information from the woman by looking at what her body is saying.

Activity: Active Listening

Next time you and a friend or colleague have a chance to caht, think about listening actively. Try to listen without interrupting. Try not to say anything more than two or three words long. Keep her/him talking by saying  “uh-huh”’ really!?’, “tell me more”, etc

Think about the following:

  1. Where you able to keep the conversation going on using only encouraging body language and word or two?
  2. Where you able to keep from interrupting?

Think about what the speaker may feel:

  1. Did they feel they had permission to keep talking?
  2. Did they feel heard?

Listening: a poem

You are not listening to me when…..

You do not care about me;

You say you understand before you know me well enough;

You have an answer for my problem before I have finished telling you what my problem is;

You cut me off before I have finished speaking;

You finish my sentence for me;

You find me boring and don’t tell me;

You feel critical of my vocabulary, grammar or accent;

You’re dying to tell me something;

You tell me about your experience making mine seem unimportant;

You’re communicating to someone else in the room;

You refuse my thanks by saying you haven’t really done anything.

You are listening to me when……

You come quietly into my private world and let me be;

You really try to understand me even if I am not making much sense;

You grasp my point of view even when it’s against your own sincere convictions;

You realize that the hour I took from you have left you a bit tired and drained;

You allow me the dignity of making my own decisions even though you think they might be wrong;

You do not take my problem from me, but allow me to deal with it in my own way;

You hold back your desire to give me good advice;

You do not offer me religious solace when you sense I am not ready for it;

You give me enough room to discover for myself what really going on. Anonymous

Listening Not Listening
Be aware of your own feelings and the way that you are responding Talking about yourself or your own experiences
Try to find a private, quiet place for counseling/support Being over sympathetic Talking with other people, answering the phone
Sit still and look interested Feeling sorry for the person, and then trying to give hope or platitudes Moving around or standing up
Wait for the person to speak after you have given a short introduction Promising to do everything
Give the person an opportunity to tell her story in her own way Breaking confidentiality
Don’t interrupt the person while she is talking Interrupting the person
Show through your body language that you are listening Looking irritated or bored, yawning
Feel relaxed with appropriate silences Concentrating only on the facts and asking lots of questions.
Let the person know that you are willing to listen further Ask a few questions- ask questions only when you need more information to understand the situation. Minimizing the problem (it could be worse!) Preaching or judging Giving inappropriate advice with which the woman doesn’t agree
Make sure that the way you understand the situation is correct.     Reflect back to the person in words what they are feeling and saying. Not believing what the person is saying Feeling uncomfortable with someone else’s feelings. Over sympathetic Feeling sorry for the person and then trying to give false hope.

Asking questions

The questions we ask- open and closed-are important for counseling. They can help a person open up or close them down.

Open questions: is used in order to gather lots of information- you ask it when you want to get a long answer.

Closed question: is used to get specific information-it can normally be answered with either a single word or short phrase.

Open questions

Open ended questions have no correct answer and require an explanation.

For example:

  • What brought you in here today?
  • How do you feel about this pregnancy?
  • How does that make you feel?

Open ended questions are good for:

  • Starting the information gathering part of the session
  • Keeping the client talking

Closed ended questions

Closed ended questions are those that can easily be answered with a “yes” or “no” or brief information.

For example:

  • What is your name and date of birth?
  • Is pregnancy planned?
  • Where do you work?
  • Are you ready to stop doing that?

Closed questions are useful for;

  • For getting necessary information
  • To help the woman focus their discussion.

The following activity gets you to practice open and closed questions. Use your listening skills and remember to use your body language as well!

Activity: practicing different kinds of questions

Next time you get a chance to chat with a friend or colleague, try to practice asking questions.

Ask an open ended questions like, “How do you feel about what has happened within the past few days?”

You want them to be able to go on at some length.

After few minutes, you can try to constrain or redirect conversation by asking a close ended questions such as “Does this make you feel good or bad?” you’re looking for an either/ or answer.

Think about the different kinds of answers that are given when you ask open or closed questions.

How do you think the different kinds of questions make a speaker feel?

Important points about listening

  • It is valuable for a woman to be able to talk and be heard.
  • Talking about important things can be very hard.
  • Women need to be able to speak in a safe place, in their own words.
  • When listening, try not to interrupt.
  • Concentrate on what is being said, not what you need to say or do
  • Listen to the words said, what her body tells you, and what she not saying.

Reflection skills

Reflection of feelings during counselling session

Reflecting is like a mirror; it gives back to the woman what she has just communicated to us. It lets the woman what she has just communicated to us. It lets the woman know what you understand about what she has shared and communicates empathy.

When a counselor uses reflection, s/he accurately describes the client’s affective state from either verbal or nonverbal cues. By listening for and responding to the feelings of the client rather than the content of their statement you arc communicating that you can accurately sense the world as they are perceiving it. This facilitates the client’s movement toward greater self-awareness and self-understanding. In order to do this, you must listen to how the person says what they say. For example, they may speak more quickly when communicating enthusiasm (or anxiety), more slowly when discouraged, and so forth.

Example:

Client:             “So, I’m wondering if you can help me choose a new major… (pause), I suppose if I did choose, I’d just screw things up again…”

Counselor:       “You’re feeling hopeless about being able to succeed and you’re not sure anybody or anything will help.

Client:             “I just can’t figure out why things have been so difficult here. Everything came so easily to me in high school. Everyone at home still thinks I’m the smartest guy around but they have no idea that I’m really just stupid, but it’s only a matter of time.”

Counselor: “You are embarrassed that you haven’t lived up to  other  people’s  expectations of you. You feel like a fraud and that you will be discovered  at any time.”

Some behaviors you may want to try and follow are:

  1. Listen for the feelings. Remember that what the person is saying is only part of the message being communicated to you.  How the person says it is extremely important (i.e., a change in breathing or in the speed of talk, a sigh, a blush, a stammer, extra emphasis on a particular word). Any of these can be important cues to underlying feelings.
  • Frequent or idiosyncratic words which communicate emotions and feelings should also be noted. These verbal behaviors will give you clues as to the “emotional themes” of the client and their repertoire of “feeling words”.
  • Time your responses. You do not need to respond to every comment. You may simply want to smile, nod, say “Umm-hmm”, etc., until there is an occasional opportunity to reflect the feelings of the client.
  • Reflect feelings. As you listen for and find instances of a client’s expression of affect, reflect these emotions by restating what she/he is experiencing in your own words. If the client should say, “I wish I could talk to my dad about things like this, but I never seem to get up the nerve”, you might respond with something like, “You’re a little bit afraid of your dad?”

Your goal is to understand what the person is experiencing and to communicate “I am with you. . . I can accurately sense the world as you are feeling and perceiving. . .” Don’t worry about making a mistake — usually they will just correct you and go on, knowing that you are trying to understand her or him.

Importance of reflecting

  • Relationship building: reflecting is valuable in building a relationship with the woman by communicating trust, acceptance and understanding.
  • Clarification: reflecting is helpful for women to be able to clarify for themselves their problems and feelings.
  • Information: reflecting helps the counselor get information about the woman and how she views her situation.
  • Verification: reflecting helps the counselor to check her perception of what the woman communicates.

There are four different reflecting skills. These are skills that can be used at any stage in the counseling sessions, but are really important for building trust and exploring the problem.

  • Reflecting feelings
  • Restarting/reframing
  • Affirmation
  • Summarizing

Reflecting feeling

Reflecting what the client is feeling. Focus on feelings NOT the details of what is said.

Example

Woman, “I am the only one working in my family. My mother, my sister and her two children stay with me and my three kids. I can’t afford the school fees for my own children already, so I don’t know what I am going to do now I am pregnant again”

Counselor: “you sound worried and overwhelmed.”

Tips for reflecting feelings:

  • Listening for and reflect both verbal and anon verbal communication of feeling.
  • Read body language and reflect what you see if feelings are not expressed verbally.

The following activity helps to practice naming feelings.

Activity: reflecting feelings

Try to think about all the different kinds of feelings that people have. Some examples are: hate, fear, worry, stress, concern, pride, love, relief

The following examples are how women may talk about their problems. Try to name the feelings in these examples. It is useful to reflect feelings back to a client by saying something like “it sounds as if you are feeling…..” or “it seems like you are feeling……” if you’re not sure, you could ask it as a question, “So, are you feeling……..?”

  1. “I don’t know what to do about my son. He is 14 years and has not been attending school regularly. I found out from his teacher that he has been absent from classes a lot over the last couple of weeks. He also is not coming home until late in the evenings.” (worry/concern)
  • “I was looking forward to having a baby, but now it’s very different to what I was expecting. I love my baby, but I don’t like being at home all day. I miss my work and my friends there. I am used to doing what I want when I want to do it” (disappointment/confusion/loneliness)
  • “I cannot stand my boss. She is so demanding. Whenever she asks me to do something she is so rude. She just interrupts whatever I am doing and tells me that I need to do it now. Then when I do it she always finds a way to criticize how it was done.” (undermined/putdown/frustrated)
  • Things have been difficult with my husband for a while. He works far away and is only home a few times a year. When he comes home, we argue. This is not good for the children.” (Frustration/concern for children)
  • “For years and years I worried about my daughter. Now she finished  A level and just found a job last week” (Relief/pride)
  • “I just lost my job on Monday. Where I am going to find another job? Why do things never work out for me?” (Fearful/stressed)
  • “I lost my first baby. She was born too early and she did not breathe. I keep thinking about her now that I am pregnant again. She would have been 2 years old.” (Grief/loss/sad/worry for the new baby)
  • “Since I came in for my HIV test last week I have not been able to sleep waiting for my test results” (Anxious)  “I had an abortion last year. Since then I cant stop thinking about it, and wondering if I did the wrong thing. I have broken up with my boyfriend. Sometimes I think I am being punished.” (Guilt)
  • “I have been unemployed for 2 years. I do not know what to do about money. My kids and I have been staying with my sister’s family but yesterday her husband said that we have to leave because they do not have money either.” (Desperate/worried)

Restarting/rephrasing

This is saying what you understand the woman to be communicating. By doing this you are letting her know that you understand and, if you don’t are willing to be corrected.

Tips for restarting:

  • Use your own words to explain your understanding of what the woman is saying.
  • Use slightly different words that have the same meaning; do not just repeat what she said.
  • Rephrase both content and feelings.
  • Convey empathy, acceptance and genuineness
  • Be tentative and respective, i.e “I hear you saying….,” or “it sounds like….”

Example:

Woman:I am so angry with my husband. I just want to kill him; he makes me so sad.”

Counselor: “it sounds like your irritation and frustration with your husband has increased and is reaching a climax.”

Start a restating statement with phrases like:

“What I am understanding is……”

“In other words…….”

“So basically what you’re saying is………”

“Do you mean……..?”

“It sounds as if……..”

“I am not sure that I am understanding you correctly, but……”

“You sound…….”

“I gather……”

The activity below helps to practice restarting. Use your own words to show that you understand what the woman is saying to you.

Activity: practicing restarting/ rephrasing

How would you respond to the following statements by restarting or rephrasing? Use your reflecting skills.

1. Client “I start seeing this guy. We spent quite a bit of time together and I really like him. We were really careful and had protected sex. After about two months, my boyfriend said he does not want to use a condom. He said that, if ii trust him I should not ask him to use a condom. Now I am pregnant. I do not know what to do.”

Counselor: It sounds as though you were asked to make a difficult decision that you were not comfortable in making, and now you are unsure of how to deal with the consequence.

2. Client:  (crying) “last night my husband came home really late. He was drunk again. We started arguing, but it is no use. I am so angry at him. He will never change.”

Counselor: you seem to be feeling frustrated by your husband’s drinking, which often leads to arguments. You’re also unsure of how to deal with this problem, which leaves you feeling helpless, sad and hopeless

3. Client: “My mother is getting sick. She is alone in her village and only has one of my brother’s children staying with her. But, I am not sure that the boy is really taking good care of her. I am so worried because they are far from the hospital and he will not know what to do if she gets sicker.”

Counselor: it sounds like you are incredibly anxious at the moment, worrying about your mother’s health. You also seem to be concerned that the boy staying with her will be unable to look after her if necessary.

4. Client: “Lately my first born girl has been teased a lot at school. They call her names and say that she is ugly. Last night she was crying again. I get so angry at those cruel kids and want so badly to stop this.”

Counselor: it seems that you are worried about your daughter, who is being bullied at school, and that it leaves you with feelings of anger and frustration. It also sounds like you have a strong desire to protect her, but are ensure how to do this.

5. Client: “My husband passed away last month. He was sick for some time but he refused to be taken to the hospital. Now I have just found out I am HIV+. So, now I feel so confuse. I realize my husband had AIDS and he didn’t tell me, and I must have got HIV from him.”

Counselor: you sound like not only have you suffered a major loss, the death of your husband, but now you are left to deal with a life changing illness. Also you are left feeling a sense of betrayal that your husband did not tell you that he had AIDS.

Affirmation

Woman Having Counselling Session empathy and affirmation,encouragement

This encourages the woman in the choices she has made. Affirmation can be for choices, knowledge or behavior.

  • This skill is very similar to how a teacher affirms or verbally rewards a learner, or how a parent might encourage a child by saying “well doe” or “you have done a good job” or “ you have done your best”
  • This may begin with the counselor affirming the client for choosing to come for counseling.
  • But, unlike the affirmation of the teacher to the learner, the key skill is something the woman can do for herself, rather than depend on the counselor for it.

For instance, instead of saying “I am so proud of you for coming back to get your test results, ” the counselor should say, “you should be very proud of yourself for returning for your results” or “…for making the choice to use a condom this weekend.”

Affirmation is an important skill for empowering clients; by affirming them, we are encouraging women in the healthy decisions and behaviors they have chosen and helping them to continue making similar choices.

Summarizing

Summarizing highlights the most important areas, feelings, or themes of what the woman has been saying.

Usefulness of summarizing:

  • Draws together the important points and make them clear.
  • Reviews the session, then briefly describes the most important points and says what could be covered next time.

Example

Counselor at the end of the counseling session

“Today you have been talking a lot about the overwhelming amount of responsibility you feel for all the family members staying with you. We have looked at ways for you to let go of things that you have no control over. We have looked at choices for responding and behaving where you didn’t see yourself as having a choice. In our next counseling session we could look at whether those new thoughts make any difference to your feelings of being overwhelmed.”

The following activity puts together all the skills you have learnt so far, and helps you to practice. It is not always easy to do it right! Learn from the mistakes that are made. The more you practice, the easier it is to use the new skills.

Activity: putting the skills together

When you next have a chance to chat to a friend or colleague, try to use active listening, reflecting feelings, restarting, summarizing and affirmation

Get ready to listen actively

Think about your encouraging body language.

Think about non verbal encouragers

Use open ended questions like “how are things going for you today?” you want the speaker to go on at some length.

Think about what the speaker is saying and reflect it.

Think about the speaker

  1. Do you think tat the speaker felt they were being heard with empathy?
  2. What did the speaker feel when they left the session?

Think about listening

  1. How did you feel inside yourself when you were listening?
  2. Did you feel you were on the same page as the speaker? If not, why not?
  3. How accurately do you think you were able to summarize the speakers information? 10%n90% why?
  4. Were you able to reflect back the person’s feelings?

Don’t worry if you are completely accurate. That is why the listener “plays it back” to the speaker using a tentative tone.

Remember, the person may forget what you said, but will never forget how you made them feel!

APPROACHES TO COUNSELING

Therapist consoling a woman in the clinic

The guidelines below offer general approaches for counseling pregnant women and mothers.

Before you start

Before meeting a mother for the first time, it is helpful to check any information that came with the referral, e.g. any screening forms, background history, letters from other health workers. It would be best to plan to see the mother 4 to 6 times, but there is always a chance you will only see her once, as she may not come back, or you may not have more time.

In the beginning

  • It is important to create a safe and supportive environment for the mothers. Reassure her that it is a good idea to get an opportunity to talk before the baby is born so that she feels more prepared when the baby comes.
  • Work out with her why she is with you today and what she expects from talking with you.
  • Listen carefully and don’t interpret or analyze. This creates safe space for her to voice the complexity of her feelings around pregnancy and childbirth. She can then even reach her own solutions, both emotionally and practically.
  • The mother will hopefully describe her life as she understands it. Tread gently. You may threaten your relationship with her if you treat her story as a collection of symptoms, habits or problems.
  • Look for examples of previous healthy coping and problem solving abilities.
  • As counselor, you may act as a bridge between crisis and coping.
  • Mothers need to know that they are worthy of sensitive and reliable care.

Containment

When feelings are painful and overwhelming, the woman may need someone to help her to hold and understand those feelings. This is called containment.

Think of a jug, when there is too much water in it, it over flows, and another container may be needed to hold the water until some of the water in the first jug has been used up. Feelings can be like this. Someone else might need to hold the painful feelings until the person is ready to deal with them.

When you work with feelings, it helps if you understand;

  • Your own fallings-where they are similar or different to others’ feelings.
  • That the feelings that you have when you work with people are valuable clues about how they may feel.
  • That getting to understand your feelings can take time. We need to have patience with ourselves and other people
  • That if your own jug is too full, you will not be able to hold someone else feelings as well.

Counseling as an intervention

If a mother is ready, you may feel certain interventions are necessary. Counseling may be used to:

  • Provide containment
  • Offer supportive suggestions
  • Offer encouragement and sensitive advice
  • Explore the problem and resolve these with new skills and support systems
  • Explore how childhood problems may be affecting pregnanacy and being a mother (this usually requires a lot of counseling skill and time)
  • Bring closure to unresolved issues
  • Provide information on emotional or physical aspects of preganancy, birth, birth and post partum
  • Provide information on infant emotions, responses and resources available
  • Provide referral to another agency, if necessary.

Practical tips

  • If the mother is in crisis or has severe prolonged symptoms, recommend a mental health professional. If she refuses, offer another appointment and follow up with phone calls.
  • If the mother is isolated and stressed but not in crisis, offer another appointment. Get the mother to explore other options such as listening to music, walking, talking to a friend etc.
  • If the woman is feeling very angry, offer another appointment and get her to write a letter to a person she is angry with, getting out all her feelings. She can decide to send it or not.
  • If the woman was abused as a child, reaffirm that it was not her fault, explore further if she will allow, otherwise simply be supportive. Try to link previous sexual abuse to trauma and labour, and the possibility that she may feel anxiety during labour. By talking about this, you can help her prepare, understand, her possible reactions and learn ways to cope with the anxiety.

Problem management

Managing problems is only possible if the counselor and the woman have lots of time together. This can’t be done in one session. In order to help the woman cope with her problems, it is important to understand how each person fits into the environment around them. This mother may be part of a family, a community and a society that could help her. On the other hand, those around her could be part of the problem.

There are several possible steps to managing problems:

  • Understanding the problem
  • Looking at options
  • Setting goals
  • Developing a plan of action
  • Monitoring and evaluation

Understanding the problem

There may be many solutions to a problem, but in order to understand what will work best for the woman, all the parts of the problem must be understood. Some issues may be hidden.

Activity: understanding problems

Try to think of a mother in your community that has problem. One problem often has many parts to it.  Try to break it down into smaller a part that’s that together make up the whole problem.

Think about the problem in the following ways:

What makes it difficult for the woman as an individual?

What helps her to cope with her problem?

What about her family makes this problem better or worse?

What about her community makes this problem better or worse?

What are different parts to her problem?

Looking at options

The counselor helps the woman to list the parts of the problem, and priotize what needs to be dealt with first. Then the counselor and the woman can discuss how the problem could be managed. The counselor and woman talk about different ways of putting solutions into action. Each option will have advantages and disadvantages.

In assessing options, it is important to positively reinforce coping behaviors that the woman shows. Resilience is a term used to describe the positive ability to cope with stress and difficulties. For example, even though it may feel difficult for a woman to get out of bed, she has come to an appointment. This positive behavior needs to be recognized.

Providing the woman with skills to cope with the problem will help her to feel stronger and more able to deal with what she needs to do-these coping skills help her to feel more in control of her situation.

Setting goals

The counselor helps the woman to decide on simple goals that may be successfully achieved. Smaller goals may lead, over time, to reaching larger goals.

Developing a plan of action

The woman needs to decide what will work best for her and the counselor helps to draw up a plan of action. The woman should feel empowered that the actions she chooses will help her to reach her goals.

Monitoring and evaluation

When the woman carries out the plan of action, both woman and counselor need to talk about how effective the action plan has been. They meet to look at how things are going, and look for solutions to any new problems that might occur. The counselor provides support as they work through the steps of problem management again. Where appropriate, the woman is affirmed for her choices of actions.

Even when you have practiced all the skills and approaches to dealing with women in distress, it is sometimes difficult to know ho to respond when.  The table below gives some guidelines

Possible responses for dealing with mothers in distress

General guidelines If she says… Don’t say…. You could say……
Don’t be judgmental I hate my husband Hatred! That’s an extreme emotion! What bothers you about him?
Don’t impose your morals. There is no God God loves you, even when you doubt him When did you start to think that?
Empathize; don’t sympathize or pity I am such a failure I feel terrible for you You are finding everything very difficult right now?
Don’t encourage blaming It all his fault He is a terrible husband Tell me how he is involved
Don’t try to solve the mothers problem. Help her find her own solution What should I do? Why don’t you ask your mother for help? What are your choices? Lets talk about them
Emphasize the positive I am so tired because my baby cries all the time You are lucky to have a healthy baby. It takes courage to say how you really feel.
Don’t be shocked. I smacked my baby really hard. You shouldn’t hit your baby, no matter how you feel. That must make you feel frightened and ashamed. How often has it happened? REFER AND BE FIRM
Don’t negate feelings. I want to kill my self Don’t be silly, you have so much to live for. Do you really think suicide is away out? Express concern. REFER AND EXPLORE
Don’t make false promises. I will never be the same again. Things will turn out fine for you in the end. That must be scary feelings.
Don’t say you know how she feels I feel terrible I know how you feel Tell me about your feelings

Caring for the counselor

One of the biggest problems for people working in the helping or caring professions is ‘burnout’. This can happen when you give too much of yourself to your work, but do not know how to take care of your needs.

If you don’t care of yourself, you can start to feel;

  • Exhausted
  • Lacking in motivation
  • Loss of job satisfaction
  • Resentment of the work that you have to do/people that you work with
  • Isolation from colleagues
  • Sick

Working with women who are traumatized can be particularly stressful.

  • Trauma disorganizes-it may make women feel muddled and interferes in their usual ways of coping.
  • Trauma interferes with relationships and trust-this may make it feel that it is hard to help women. Don’t blame yourself.
  • Trauma makes you feel exhausted and overwhelmed, if you can recognize this, then you can take steps to look after yourself.
  • Try not to take on too much. If you are overwhelmed, you will not be able to care for yourself or the woman your care
  • Look for signs of burn out-in yourself and your colleagues then you can act before it is too late.

Try to get your health facility or organization to think about taking care of the staff. The following points may be helpful to you:

  • Recognize the stressful nature of your work- what are the particular stresses that you and your colleagues have to deal with?
  • Try to take some time to think about your own needs-not just those of your clients
  • Help to develop systems of support (formal and informal) for yourself and your colleagues.
  • Speak to the leadership within the health facility or organization so that they can protect and support staff.