Helens Story

Helen ArdenteMy involvement in working with people began with my general nursing training and early married life. People came to me to talk about their difficulties and I became increasingly aware of the counselling aspect of my work as a nurse. I realised I needed better skills to enable me to be a more effective helper in every area of my life. This has motivated me to attend many workshops, seminars and courses over the years.

The first course I attended was a communication seminar at my local church in rural Western Australia. The piece of information which has stayed with me is the “Johari Window”, a diagrammatic representation of areas of awareness in the mind. The window is shown as a square divided in four, the first called by that presenter, ‘I only know’, the second ‘You and I both know’, the next ‘You (others) only know’ and the last, ‘God only knows’. Personal growth is seen as the enlargement of area one into areas two, three and four. This concept was the starting point for my own growth in self-awareness.

In 1989 I undertook an eight week basic counselling course conducted by a professional counsellor, which was very significant for me. While I disagreed with some of the teacher’s basic assumptions on life, this course enabled me to begin confronting areas in my life. It raised my awareness of the possibility of different outcomes in my own life which I began to implement.

At this time I moved to Perth for employment in a large teaching hospital prior to commencing Midwifery. Being in a different nursing environment extended both my interpersonal and nursing skills. The midwifery training course involved learning many new things, meeting people from many different cultural backgrounds and discovering how to successfully relate to them. This course included counselling skills, much needed for some of the sad situations which arose in a high-risk medical environment. I also attended a Grief Management weekend. These two areas of input reinforced what
I had learnt in 1989 and I started developing new skills in dealing with people in many grief and loss situations.

Another significant ‘skill’ learnt through that Midwifery year was the ability to ‘let go’ of patients with whom I had spent time at an emotional level. This was essential in a work environment where I might see a person only once, or for two or three days and then they would be discharged. I found this ability extremely useful when I commenced telephone counselling in 1996. As I was tuned in to letting go, it was much easier to cope with distressing calls, and I rarely needed to call the supervisor for debriefing. However, as a professional counsellor I routinely consult a competent professional supervisor.

In 1993 I entered Bible College to study Christian counselling. The time spent there was a huge growth spurt for me, personally, spiritually and in counselling knowledge and skills development. The course gave me a very good background in marriage and family counselling, communication skills, grief management and theological studies which is still proving useful professionally and personally. In 1994 my husband died accidentally and for this and other reasons I left the college the following year, still however intending to obtain a counselling qualification.

From 1996 to 2001 I was a Telephone Counsellor at Lifeline Perth. In this setting I was consistently able to apply material I had been learning, for instance during a 1997 course for counsellors of survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse, my regular phone counselling shift almost invariably included a call from someone whose immediate needs related to the previous lecture content.

In 1997 I commenced a nursing degree to convert my hospital-based qualifications so I could do post graduate counselling studies. I did this concurrently with the Licentiate of Marriage and Family Counselling, a Christian-based tertiary course integrating several Pastoral Counselling units. In 2000 I started counselling both at Lifeline Perth and in private practice. In 2002 I completed the Graduate Diploma of Counselling at the University of Notre Dame, Fremantle Western Australia.

At Lifeline, as in my private practice, I saw some good results, and some not so satisfying. This is the normal pattern – no-one has complete success in counselling others, in spite of every effort to be the best practitioner one can be. One counselling method which altered client outcomes significantly for me was the Theophostic ® Basic and Advanced Courses which I completed in 2000. This is now the main Christian method I use, especially with people who have suffered any kind of childhood abuse or neglect. These underlying factors may not at first be evident but often are seen as therapy progresses.

My journey into a counselling career and ministry started in 1985 and has not yet finished. I continue to attend many conferences, workshops and courses on various counselling subjects, mostly these days about trauma and abuse. These all add to my knowledge and skills base for counselling. However, the most influential of all ‘methods’ remains Theophostic and various other forms of Christian prayer strategies, only because of the work of the Divine Counsellor, Jesus Christ, who knows the source and origin of our deepest pain and is so willing to work in co-operation with us as we face our own issues and help others do the same.