College chaplain Richard has worked as a careers counsellor, an employee assistance counsellor and a guidance counsellor at a number of schools in New Zealand, with particular expertise in helping students with Asperger’s syndrome. Now, in his college chaplaincy role, Richard continues to provide counselling to students.
With a Bachelor of Theology and a Master of Education from the University of Canterbury, as well as qualifications from the New Zealand Counselling Skills Institute in Christchurch, Richard has gained not only a wealth of knowledge but also experience throughout his varied career.
“It’s quite hard to make a living from simply counselling, and because I enjoy variety I have always been a counsellor conjointly with either teaching or preaching, which I find helps me to work most effectively.”
Richard handles a huge variety of situations, ranging from family matters, the deaths of loved ones, and depression to just wanting to talk to someone. Over the course of his experience he has learnt that there are many different ways of approaching issues. With counselling, an open mind is a must-have, as Richard often finds himself looking at the same situation from several different perspectives in order to offer the best support that he can.
“At the end of the day, it’s always the client that is at heart, so we have to learn to open our eyes to how the client sees things, as well as offering an objective opinion from a different point of view.”
The desire to help people through difficult times in their lives has always been present for Richard. In earlier years, working at a drug and alcohol-related disabilities centre, Richard gained a lot of life experience through the stories of his clients.
“I love to meet people and hear about their stories. Everyone has a story and often, just listening, you can gain so much from it, as well as giving them [clients] an outlet for what they may be feeling but are afraid to express to friends or family.
“Counselling is something you have to have a passion for, and a passion for people. A lot of it is problem solving. It’s enabling the client to take control of their own lives.”
Richard believes that the best part of being a counsellor is changing how people look at themselves. Instead of focusing on negatives, he helps them to focus on positives and teaches people to thrive, not just survive.
“We are there to support and help them … to make sense of what is happening and lead happier, more fulfilling lives.”
Becoming a counsellor is no job for the meek, however, as some stories can be confronting and heart-wrenching. Being able to walk in another person’s shoes but also being able to snap back to your own reality is something that Richard says is crucial to the job.
“Empathy is big. Being able to relate to people obviously, but also detachment is important. We have to be able to walk with someone on their journey and support them without being dragged down by it. Having faith in something, I have found really helps me do this.”