I think it’s always a good idea to get a sense of the person you’ll be dealing with and how they came to be. Here is some of my own story.
When I was 16, going through therapy myself, my school counsellor observed, “You know, you’d make a good counsellor one day.” I was intrigued - I hadn't thought about that before.
From an early age, I had a compassionate heart, high levels of empathy, patience, understanding and respect for the life journeys of others. I loved seeing the people around me grow and find meaning and purpose in life. So my counsellor’s words prompted me to think, and I started re-evaluating what I was going to do with my life. (Previously I was determined that I was going to become an aircraft engineer. I was not going to do any more formal study after Year 12 – and certainly not university!!!) (Ha. Ha. Ha.)
At the same time, I was discovering that following Jesus mattered to me, more than anything. He has such a spirit of gentleness, encouragement, justice and truth. When we feel broken and bruised and burned out, God doesn’t toss us aside as useless, but gently builds us back up and gives us hope.
Don’t you think that this is what our world needs? I did.
So I began studying a Bachelor of Psychology at the University of Western Sydney in 1999, intending to eventually work in private practice to serve my community. I graduated with First Class Honours and a Minor in Neuroscience in 2002. In 2003, I completed training as a Lifeline counsellor while working fulltime and waiting to apply for post-graduate study. In 2005, I graduated from the Masters of Psychology (Clinical) at the University of New South Wales, with Honours.
Overall, I developed a thorough understanding of what it means to be a biological, psychological, social, spiritual, human being; both in theory and in the real world. In particular, I learned how to come alongside and help adolescents and adults manage anxiety, depression, stress, anger, interpersonal issues, communication problems, chronic pain and other chronic health problems (amongst other things); and in helping parents manage oppositional behaviour and anxiety in their children.
As it turned out, my old school counsellor had been right – I did make a fine therapist.
My final placement in my degree had been at what is now the Parent-Child Research Clinic at UNSW. As a clinical therapist and research assistant, I worked with families who were coming to us to help us with our projects or to receive help with their kids' behaviour. Of course, there was also much data collation, transcription, coding and entry to be done! Following the completion of my Masters, they asked me to stay on. I loved my work there, so I was delighted to accept.
From there, I was headhunted to join a private practice in Turramurra, and as the projects I was working on at UNSW started wrapping up, I also joined a well-regarded clinic in the Sutherland Shire. Despite my relative inexperience, I was an acknowledged asset at each of my workplaces owing to the quality of my training and practice, my heart for people and passion for their growth.
Over the years, I focussed on my clients in the Sutherland Shire, honing my skills in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), and building my expertise in an emerging therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT; pronounced as “act”; also referred to as Acceptance and Commitment Training in the coaching sphere).
ACT continues to be the style I prefer and it underpins the stress mastery coaching and training I offer my clients today. It has a solid, well-established research base stretching back to the 1980s, including randomized controlled treatment trials. (I am actually currently on track to being one of the first Australians to be certified in the ACT Matrix. This is a fabulous, simple, elegant and effective tool that helps people deal with obstacles and use everything they are and have so they can live and work meaningfully and effectively. It has been used to great effect from corporate America, to suburban Columbia, Mexico, Europe and Australia, to disease-stricken Sierra Leone.)
ACT derives its name from two of its basic principles – accept what's happening to you instead of using up your energy and effort fighting it, and committing to actually doing what matters to you. This approach has been shown to:
reduce social, emotional and psychological distress
improve burnout, stress, pain management and absenteeism
improve resilience and coping
reduce errors, inattention and distractibility
improve concentration, focus and learning
improve creativity, innovative thinking and problem-solving
improve conflict resolution, relationships, wellbeing and overall life satisfaction.
It does this through a set of easy to learn, generalisable strategies and skills for dealing with difficult experiences so that they impact you less; helping you clarify what's truly important and meaningful for you; and then using that awareness to actually do what matters and so live, work, and serve in thoughtful, meaningful and sustainable ways. This emphasis on doing what matters makes it an ideal vehicle for coaching!
I did love my clinical work. While it is always hard seeing people in pain, it was always so wonderful to see those same people rise up, learn to see themselves and their world in different ways, and walk out of my office for the last time confident in their ability to live life well into the future. But once my first child was born, I needed to reduce my hours at work significantly, and contemplate my future.
One morning, I discovered an “Introduction to Life Coaching” seminar being held by Cultivate Coaching, the coaching ministry of the NSW&ACT Association of Baptist Churches. It was another awakening! Immediately following the seminar, I handed in my resignation and began the coach training and accreditation process. Needless to say, it was an excellent fit! It helped me understand how to walk alongside leaders of every style and position, honed the listening and coaching skills I already had, and reaffirmed one of my own central values - that people matter, and that I am built to support and empower others so they can do what matters.