Psychological Counselling Skills Workshop, 11-15 Apr 2011

This workshop that was held between the 11th and the 15th of April, 2011 at Banjara was a much awaited one. Ever since I signed up for the IGDCS Course in Counselling Skills, I had been waiting in anticipation. Finally when the day arrived, I was filled with apprehensions about how this course would go and what it would all be about. I was thinking of all the others who would come, their ages, their qualifications, their social status, etc. Not that it mattered to me, but because of the curiosity that had arisen in me about all the others that I was about to get to know. Sreedhar had already told me that they were expecting a small group of 12 to 15 members.

That day I walked in to the Banjara office, registered myself and walked into the classroom. Most of them had already come and I took my seat next to Subha, whom I would later come to know. Ali walked in with a few people a few minutes later. I already knew my mentor Sapna, Asha, Kanmani and Sreedhar, of course. Ali made a brief introduction of Banjara and asked us all to introduce ourselves. The introductions were very brief and very informatory. As expected, we were all from different backgrounds and of different age groups and interests and professions. Mahesh Iyer, fondly called as Mahi, was the eldest of the group of 12 members. Nikita, or Niki, was the youngest. Barely in her teens, she was the most adorable of the group. Myself, Usha, Lakshmi and Lalitha were homemakers while Jayashree and Champa (the champion of the group)were teachers. Subha worked for an NGO, Shalu was doing a programme - HOW HAPPY ARE YOUR KIDS? - basically targeted at high school children; Shriram, a very expressive poet and the most interesting of us all; Pooja or Poo, a HR Professional with Canon. We all relaxed a bit after that.

Ali started the workshop by telling us about what counselling is and what it is not. We had slideshows on the same. Later we were introduced to thoughts, feelings, emotions, moods and temperaments. Each one of us was suddenly asked to say what was going on in our minds at that point of time. We came out with various things that we were all thinking. Later, Asha and Sapna took us through a round of emotions and feelings and taught us they were both different. We did a few activities which clearly indicated the path we were taking. That set the tone for the entire workshop, I should say. All of us began interacting with one another, sharing thoughts that we never thought we would be able to share with others, least of all with those we had met just that morning - total strangers!

In no time, we all knew so much about each other that ensured a smooth functioning of the workshop for the next 4 days. Each one of us had to choose another person through chits and get to know more about them in 2 days time. For that purpose, the partners exchanged numbers to get back in their free time. I had got Shalu's name and we both exchanged our mobile numbers. She called me twice that evening and we exchanged info about each other, our families, our interests, etc.

Sonal, another of Banjara's faculty, taught us about Empathy. When I mention Sonal, I have to say she has the most beautiful smile that is so reassuring and disarming, both at the same time. I took the opportunity of telling her also. About Empathy, Champa gave a very beautiful and a very different version of what it usually tends to become. She highlighted with examples as to how it can pass off as sympathy and compassion. There is a fine line between empathy and sympathy. We learnt that Empathy is to look at things from the other person's point of view and so, it is not sympathy and definitely not compassion.

Kanmani, who is also the coordinator for the DCS Course, discussed the art of listening. She gave us tips on how to master the art of listening and how to listen with acceptance. She emphasized the importance of listening even to the untold things - listening between the lines.

Nalini's interaction with us was the most important from our point of view. She spoke to us about Rapport Building and gave us numerous tips on the same. She spoke about how it can help build relationships and in turn, help the counsellee open up. We had a mock counsellor-counsellee session where she role-played as a stubborn counsellee never wanting to open up to the counsellor. We all got so engrossed and were completely into the situation as if it were real. We did not want the session to end and as a matter of fact, took up some of Reema's time who had already walked into the class and was waiting to take her class. I am sure we all will never forget this particular interaction with Nalini for a long time to come.

Reema, the soft spoken mentor, helped us learn how to give positive strokes to a person in need. Shriram volunteered to say something about himself and all of us, turn by turn, had to give him positive strokes. She said she would give critical comments for each one of us. This session showed us how variously we react when asked to show appreciation. Champa showed her appreciation by reading out a poem she had written about Shriram. I learnt how I should never compare a person with anyone else while giving positive strokes. In the end, Reema herself demonstrated the art of giving positive strokes by saying nice things to Shriram. There we had a lot to learn. Even appreciation is an art!

Dr. Malini spoke about how career counseling should be done. We took up various case studies and discussed how to go about counseling in each one of them. Peer pressure and parental pressure were the two areas of serious discussion. She said a counsellor needs to be partly directive and not be entirely non-directive in her approach, especially in career coounselling.

Child counselling was dealt with in detail. Genie, another soft spoken person at Banjara, discussed how to handle kids under 14 years of age. This included the newborn and all those toddlers who could not express for themselves. She highlighted how the atmosphere should be for the kids to open up. We were told how important it is to maintain our own tone while talking with a kid and how not to talk like the kid himself. She emphasized on the need to keenly observe the kid's actions, read facial expressions, understand his body language, etc. We had access to a couple of case sheets too. We came to know of all the details that make up a case sheet and the IQ test papers.

Asha and Sapna and Kanmani did quite a few activities with us. The outcome of all that was to know our own selves better. Small activities could really teach us know about others better. Through those activities, we came to know how important it is for each one of us to know our own self - to know what we think and what we feel and give importance to them. We were made into groups of three. One would be the counsellor, one would be the counsellee and the other, observer. We were asked feedback later on. A couple of such role plays,and we had a near clear picture of what goes on during counsellor-counsellee sessions.

Ali gave us many case studies and asked questions based on them. It demonstrated how different we all are and how differently we react to the same situations at a given point of time. He taught us about subtle aspects of counselling. He spoke about personal self-disclosure. That is, how much a counsellor can and should reveal about himself/herself and when and how to the counsellee. He emphasized on the role of counsellors in empowering the counsellee.

To sum up things, all that we learnt was the fact that the counsellee is the one who is more important. It is his feelings, his thoughts that are more important. It is his emotions that we as counsellors should concentrate on. We should refrain from giving advice and refrain from talking. It is the counsellee who talks and a counsellor, well, he almost never talks. He should only listen. We learnt that we should give acceptance to the counsellee, maintain eye contact, give positive strokes, and empower the counsellee. That is the main goal of counselling. And most importantly, be genuine and have a extremely humane approach while doing all this. Like I was told, it is not what you say that matters, but it is how you made the other person feel that is more important!

On the final day, we had a small valedictory function. Participation certificates were handed out to everyone and the workshop ended with Lakshmi or Lux, as she wished to be called, saying a few nice things about all of us and about all of the Banjara staff.

While all this was happening on the learning front, something else was happening with the participants. We all bonded as a group on a personal level very well. We bonded over the mini-lunch sessions and discussed personal matters. It was a slow but steady revelation of each one. Soon we had formed a google group. Subha created one and we exchanged e-mail ids and mobile numbers. Although the 5-day session has long ended, I have to mention that we are all in touch with one another. Some of us have been calling each other regularly.

Eight of us are already into various modules of the course. The other four, got so influenced by the workshop that I wouldn't be surprised if they sign up for the course in the near future.

I like to take this opportunity to again thank all of Banjara team for this workshop. To me, on a personal level, I feel I now know what the mentors are expecting from us. I think doing all my future assignments may become a little more easier. It gave me an opportunity to meet and interact with all the others who are doing this course online. Some of the aspects that I learnt, I am already trying to apply in my day-to-day life. I am looking forward for more. So are all the others.

We all want to come back to Banjara and be associated with it for a lifetime. I am now very happy that I took this course online. I know my mentor and all the others are there to help me whenever I reach out to them. They have all been extremely warm. This has been like a crash course in counselling. I know there is a lot more to learn practically. With more such workshops, I know it is possible.

A special mention about Sreedhar. I, and many other IGDCS students often trouble him with our doubts. We always seem to have doubts! He has been extremely patient and very helpful whenever I have called him. Thanks a lot to him. 'Dear Sreedhar, please bear with us for some more time!'

I would like to wind up by saying that counselling, as they say, is a path less traveled. I invite others to come and take this course for empowering themselves firstly and then empowering the society as a whole. Good luck to all!

sandhya's report on counselling skills workshop
Report by Sandhya
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