What is counselling, and how can it help me?

Counselling is a process that helps you figure out, first, what you want and need. Then, depending on what that is, we also work on getting you:

  • greater personal resources and deeper relationships to help you meet challenging times,
  • more insight into your memories and the meaning you give them,
  • greater compassion for and acceptance of yourself, and mostly
  • a way to see yourself, other people, and the world in a new and more helpful way.

The idea is to help you work toward living a life that is more fulfilling, connected, and resourceful—however you might come to define those things.* And, ultimately, to have so many internal tools and such strong and helpful relationships that you don't need counselling anymore to manage your everyday life.

How do we do this? Is it like other treatments, such as taking a pill or getting a root canal?

In fact, counselling is very different: it's more like physical therapy (for your inner self) than it is like a medical or dental treatment. It's not a cure; it's an ongoing process that we start together, and that you continue when counselling ends. You are an active and necessary participant, and up to a point, the more "work" you do in and out of sessions, the more you get out of it. That doesn't mean you need to have all the answers or be an expert—that's where I come in.

At the heart of this process—what makes it work—is a very important relationship. I am trained, first and foremost, to help us form this relationship, to keep it safe for you and make it a collaboration, and to build on it to get you the life you want.

We all need to feel safe, respected, and tuned into on a deep level. We can get this from the people around us sometimes, but it can be difficult. Counsellors are trained to offer this to clients above all else. And unlike a friend, parent, or other loved one, our only aim is to serve you and your goals, not our own. We don't punish or manipulate, we encourage, we gently question, and we try to help you stay true to what you really want and need. We do this work in a way that, first and foremost, respects your values, the way you see the world, and your strengths/abilities/wisdom.

When you feel safe, respected, and tuned into on a deep level, you can feel more comfortable with yourself, and then you can find the courage to delve into topics that are otherwise very difficult to discuss. It can also be important to have another person there to explore these topics with, rather than just thinking about them alone. This is because of the importance of resonance—to feel that you have been seen, heard, and then still accepted by another person. That feeling alone can transform us.

This relationship is probably unlike any you've had. It's non-judgemental, encouraging, and has only the aims and goals that you choose. It might also feel a little lopsided—it's almost entirely about you and what you want/think/feel/need, rather than being about the counsellor. Rest assured that counsellors don't mind this—it's how the process works best.

And the way that process works is that we come together. I ask some questions, including what you most want for yourself, your life, and your relationships. If you feel lost and don't really know, we talk more until we identify a few core areas to focus on. Then we explore these areas, and do it at a pace that feels safe to you. It sounds simple, but through that exploration and through talking to me, you gain new perspective for yourself. You actually rewire your brain. We explore connections between topics, making your life seem clearer, and drawing new meanings for you. With these new meanings, and with the renewed hope you find in counselling, you start to think, feel, and act differently, which improves your relationships. Those strengthened relationships and greater internal resources help you manage the normal ups and downs of life—and even the bigger ones that might have knocked you flat before.

This is a very general description—many of the specialties I offer (processing loss and grief, depth psychology, and coaching) have a few extra steps, but the general outline is the same. I hope that it gives you a sense of what we could do together. For more information about how the process works, please feel free to call me. You can also read Approach, What makes counselling worth it?, and How do I prepare for sessions?

*This entry, up to the point marked, was adapted from the definition of counselling adopted by the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy, 1986, as quoted by Glenn Sheppard, Ed.D. CCC, in his post on the Canadian Counselling & Psychotherapy Association's website, n.d.)


Can you tell me more about your services?

Relationship coaching and counselling

Both the root of our troubles and the source of our life's meaning seems to come from relationships. Whether you are having trouble with your partner, your boss, your children, your parents, your friends, and/or yourself, I have experience helping with:

  • new ways of seeing relationships
  • learning to trust and to be trustworthy
  • seeing more and better choices in how you deal with others and how you see their actions
  • feeling empowered to ask for what you need
  • feeling more positive about your interactions with others and their views of you
  • anxiety and panic in social situations
  • difficulty with intimacy
  • shame and its affects on relationships
  • overwhelming emotions and how to manage them around others
  • finding and keeping friends
  • improving relationships with parents, siblings, children, and other family members
  • anxiety and confusion around social expectations
  • improving your sense of self-worth to help your relationships with others
Therapy for anxiety, depression, trauma, and loss

When we are anxious, depressed, afraid, grieving, or suffering in another way, life can start to lose its meaning, relationships can start to fray or slip away, and we can feel trapped and hopeless about how to make our lives better. The hardest part is that we can often feel as though it's up to us, alone, to change things—even as we fear that we are, ourselves, the problem. But with counselling, you can see improvement with any of these really difficult feelings—you don't have to do it alone, and you shouldn't have to feel like you do.

Counselling can help you:

  • uncover hidden strengths
  • find the hope you feared you'd lost, and start to think about the future
  • see and acknowledge successes you have already had, even the small ones, and stay encouraged when you face setbacks
  • feel unstuck and start to move forward in life
  • cope with the fear and the negative ways of seeing the world that might be holding you back
  • put your experiences in perspective and draw important meaning from them to move forward
  • process loss and its profound effects on your life
  • be gentler to yourself and become your own best ally
Positive psychology

Positive psychology is a bit newer than other forms of counselling, and it looks very different from what you might have seen on TV or in movies. At its core, it focuses on what is strong and right in your life, rather than only seeing problems, suffering, or shortcomings. It's not that you aren't allowed to talk about what you don't like about life or about yourself, it's just that there is an equal or greater emphasis on what you would rather do, who you would rather be, and the ways in which you are already doing that or working toward it. Study after study has shown us that negatively defined goals are much, much harder for humans to achieve (e.g., "Stop being so hard on myself). When these goals are switched around to describe what we do want (e.g., "Be kinder and more accepting of myself and others"), it's much easier to move ahead and to take steps toward the lives we want. In the same way, the more we can focus on what we are doing right in our quest to change, the more we can stay encouraged and keep doing those healthier things.

Depth psychology

Depth psychology involves a deeper level of listening from the counsellor. At the same time that I hear you speak of current experiences, I am trained to hear beneath them and help you make connections between what's happening now, what you want to happen, and what might have happened a long time ago. I was trained in Adlerian depth psychology, which is both a philosophy and a set of techniques. It focuses on encouragement and on helping you to explore your past—especially childhood experiences—to find the unspoken rules you have lived by. Then it helps you to rescript these rules and beliefs in a way that fits better with your current life and actual choices. Many people find that this process feels enormously freeing, and transforms them on a deep level.

Identity exploration

Whether you are adjusting to a new stage of life, a recent loss, or a need to explore who you are and who you want to be, I have experience helping you manage this process.

You might be questioning your sexuality, gender identity, choice of career, the faith you were raised in, or any number of these things. Get help with:

  • questioning basic beliefs in light of new experiences
  • feeling safe and supported while you explore these important questions
  • how to manage the coming-out process/when to tell important people in your life about your new insights
  • how to stay true to yourself and advocate for your needs in relationships
  • examining the role of your upbringing in your life up until now
  • becoming more aware of why you do what you do, and learning to make choices more mindfully
  • how to deal with others' reactions to your revelations
Coaching for students and others who work alone

Are you working on your own—perhaps writing a thesis, trying to start a business, or make it through a school year—and struggling?

I have experience helping people work through some of the challenges unique to working on your own:

  • learn to maintain focus, manage anxiety, and fight procrastination
  • learn to work better with yourself—improve the way you motivate yourself to get started, keep going, and finish
  • get to know your own best way of working and learn to respect your own process
  • learn to take good care of yourself and identify needs that might not be met, and then work on how to meet them (combat loneliness, isolation, and listlessness)

What is your approach?

One thing you might already know is that there are a lot of different ways for a counsellor to serve you. And for that reason, it's wise of you to be reading this right now—it's a good idea to know how I work, so you can make an informed decision about whether I'd be a good fit for you.

Here's what you can expect from Compass Counselling:

  • An approach that respects you, what you are able to do (strengths), and what you would like your future to look like.
  • A relationship that might be unlike any other: truly accepting, genuine, and encouraging.
  • A counsellor who really tunes in to you, pays attention to how you are doing, and helps you feel welcome to share feedback about what's happening at any stage in the process.
  • Help to feel safe so that you can share your deepest concerns; with that safety in place, and once I know what changes you want, I can ask questions to encourage you to look at things in a new way—without making you feel undermined or shaky.
  • An approach that stays away from stereotypes and clichés, respecting you as an individual with unique experiences.
  • I take responsibility for managing the counselling process, and for helping you figure out what you want, but the choices are yours and I won't dominate or boss you, or pretend I know more about your life than you do.

If you'd like to know more about my counselling philosophy, please see Approach.


Why does it cost so much?

It’s a very special process—it takes a lot of training to do it well.

You might not know very much about counselling yet. If you’d like to know more about how the process works, you can take a look at What is counselling? For now, it might be enough to know that although counselling looks fairly similar to some other activities—such as talking to a friend, family member, mentor, or spiritual advisor—it is in fact different in some important ways. The conversations that you and your counsellor have with each other have the power to change the way you see yourself, the world around you, your relationships, and your life. These conversations have been shown in studies to literally change a person’s neural circuitry in a way that is similar to (but longer-lasting than) antidepressants and other psychotherapeutic drugs. I hope that doesn’t sound scary—we are trained to be sure that these changes are ones that you have asked for, and to check in with you when things are moving too fast or when you are too uncomfortable.

Friends, other loved ones, and clergy are essential to wellbeing—I have no doubt about that. A counsellor does not replace them. But a counsellor is trained to set aside her own way of seeing the world, her own wants, and her own problems so that she can lead you through these life-changing conversations. It is unusual for other people in your life to be able to do all of those things, plus help you work through challenges and build strength the way a counsellor is trained to.

In BC, this training takes a significant financial, personal, and time commitment (around $50,000 in costs, plus about three years as a student, during which time trainee counsellors must work for free in a practicum for anywhere from 6 months to a full year). It stretches your mental, physical, personal, and financial resources. I found it enormously rewarding, and I also found it challenging. The process for becoming a solicitor, for example, is in many ways easier.

It involves some significant overhead costs to the counsellor.

Because of the way we currently structure mental healthcare, as you probably know, it is difficult to qualify for government-sponsored services. This makes it more difficult for all of us to fund the counselling we need, and it also places counsellors in a difficult position—that of needing to become business owners as well as experts in our field. There simply aren’t enough jobs in agencies for the number of counsellors in our geographical area, and in a way, that is better for you—it means that there are counsellors willing to go into private practice (and not because they want to make more than their agency counterparts, but because they want to practice in their field, period; most of us have lower take-home pay than agency workers).

As you might know, there are a lot of costs involved in running your own business—everything from insurance to advertising to utilities and beyond. And most people would prefer to go to counselling in a convenient place that feels safe and inviting to them, and we must make sure that the space safeguards our clients’ privacy (that conversations cannot be overheard, etc.). All of these considerations add to the overhead for the business. In addition, although you might spend only 50 minutes engaged in discussion with the counsellor at each appointment, they will likely spend anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours or more on your case during each week that they see you. This time is spent writing case notes, doing research on your particular issue to serve you better, seeking supervision for their practice from mentors, liaising with your other care providers (only if you have agreed that they should), and getting outside training to provide the best possible care to you and other clients—in addition to administrative tasks for the business.

As a result, the fee that you pay to your counsellor does not represent their hourly wage. On the contrary, the field is underpaid relative to other professions.

Our society tends to view mental wellbeing as the responsibility of the individual.

The fact that counselling is so expensive—and therefore out of reach for so many people—might strike you as morally wrong, or even offensive. I can only say that I agree with you on this point. Unfortunately, our society as a whole has tended to view mental wellbeing as each person’s individual responsibility, which could be viewed as having led to all sorts of ills. This view makes it harder for people to seek help when they need it (and most people do need help at some point in their lives), and it makes it much harder for them to get help to pay for these services when they need that help.

What if we, as a society, paid for more people to get counselling? What if we, for example, paid for parents to get free couples counselling—without the child welfare ministry needing to be involved first? Would those co-parents then go to work and function better, feel a lot better themselves, have more rewarding relationships with their children, have children who grew up healthier and happier (and children who needed less counselling for depression, anxiety, or relationship problems as adults)?

Perhaps we can all advocate for such social change. In the meantime, we must work out sliding scales, payment plans, and other ways of providing or accessing services.

The good news is that, despite its seemingly great expense, counselling provides benefits that many find make it worth paying for.


What makes counselling worth it?


It can help you in as little as one session.

After the first or second session, you should start to already feel many benefits, if your counsellor is a good fit for you at this time in your life. You are a crucial part of the process, too—it isn’t just something that is done to you. How you prepare for the sessions, and what you do in between to maximize their effectiveness, will greatly influence how much you get out of them. And if you can't afford too many sessions, you can let the counsellor know; she'll help you get the most out of the sessions you can attend, and then advise you on steps you can take on your own to continue the positive change.

It can literally change your life.

In only one session, you might begin to see yourself and your life in a very new way. Of course, you can change your life for the better, immediately, all on your own. Counselling is a very good way to jumpstart that process—and a very good thing to turn to when you feel stuck. It isn’t just being aware of the thoughts and feelings you experience that helps, but the act of sharing them with another person, and saying them out loud, can be enormously transformative. You carry these boons with you through the rest of your life—they are not just limited to the 50-minute session in which they occurred.

Most of us spend a ton of money trying to forget our problems, so why not spend some on solving them instead?

How much money do you spend, each week and year, on avoiding unpleasant memories, worries for the future, stress over work or relationships, and other thoughts and feelings that trouble you? And it’s not just your bar tab that might be high—you might spend a lot of money and time shopping, or escaping through movies and television, or even travelling. That’s not to say that a certain amount of these things can’t be very healthy and beneficial—but ask yourself this: would you need cable, or the joys of planning a fancy trip, or that daily Frappuccino, if you felt like you knew how to take good care of yourself, you felt your life was on track, if you had fulfilling relationships, and if you really liked yourself and your work? Would those kind of benefits be worth trading in cable for, or staying at a 3-star instead of a 4-star hotel, or skipping the mall on the weekend? What would you be willing to give up in order to look ahead to a healthier, more meaningful life?

The benefits you get usually last the rest of your life.

Are there some conversations you can recall from your life that changed you forever, and added immeasurably to your sense of wellbeing, or purpose, or ability to be good to yourself or other people? If so, that is what counselling seeks to give you. If you haven’t had those yet, then you are in for a real awakening. Counsellors are trained to help make those conversations happen, and to help you integrate those gains—really take them in and make them your own for the rest of your life.

Spending the money this way will make you a lot happier than any possession could.

When we do something that promotes our wellbeing and our ability to have meaningful relationships, we give ourselves something much more important than money or things. That's not to say that it would be right for a person to have to choose between proper food or housing and getting the help they need, but most of us don't have to worry about this choice. We spend our money on a lot of distractions in the hope that it will make us happier.

But similar to #3 above, what do you think you might no longer need if you were able to live the life that you actually want? What would you be willing to trade if you could feel more comfortable with yourself and your ability to manage your choices and relationships?

The cost can be helpful—it's an investment that provides focus and motivation.

Humans are funny—for some reason, we place a much higher value, most of the time, on things that we have made a sacrifice to obtain (or attain) than we do on things we get for nothing. For that reason, the financial cost of counselling doesn’t have to be seen as all bad—it can help a person to focus and prioritize the work involved in counselling in a way that they might not be able to do if they got it for free. The two things most essential to seeing positive change through counselling are 1. focus and 2. motivation. Paying for it, for most people, adds a lot to their ability to summon up both.




Olivia Kienzel


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