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What is it? Who benefits? How to find it? What the ESRA service offers?

From the outside Norma*, appeared to be a well adjusted, rather jolly woman with a delightful family (charming husband and two daughters both doing really well in school), a satisfying career and wide circle of friends. She and her husband have travelled widely and are brilliant hosts.

Only one of her friends – if pressed - would say that there is a touch of sadness in Norma's face and that sometimes she is unduly quiet.

One day, while watching a children's program on TV she became unaccountably distressed and to the amazement of her daughters and a friend (it so happens it was the one who had noticed the 'touch of sadness') rushed out of the room, saying she needed to be alone. She returned after a few minutes and apologized saying, "I don't know what just came over me "

Her friend (a social worker) sent her a note with a flyer about a counseling service. Maybe it was ours…

I don't know what it was which made Norma sad sometimes and distressed on this occasion. I don't know, because the specific details of a client are kept confidential by the counselor. I supervise and train counselors. I do not usually need to know details of the difficulties a client brings. My work and that of my colleagues is to try to help counsellors deal with their work of enabling and empowering client to face and understand their difficult feelings and work through them. Indeed, in following that process of supporting the counsellor, I was able to guess that Norma had some incident in her early childhood which still caused her pain. I further guessed that it was an incident which we would recognize as child sex abuse, but which seems to have been considered at the time to be 'just uncle being too boisterous'. This turned out to be the case. It was never spoken of at the time or subsequently, but the memory lingered on in Norma's mind and on this occasion was triggered by a seemingly unrelated happening on children's TV.

Who would have thought that Norma needed help? But most of us do need help from time to time, particularly at times when it seems impossible to do what we want as there is some barrier in the way. It may be something which feels too unimportant to really matter but which sticks in our mind and can cause pain after many years. Take for example a woman I know, who as a child heard an acquaintance of her mother say, "What a beautiful daughter you have" and then heard her mother respond casually, "Ah, but her brother is much more beautiful". The woman carried that remark deeply within, invested it with great meaning and allowed it to fester and erupt years later.

Often a counselor deals with the usual difficult feelings which arise after a death, or a sudden life change. They are usual only in the sense that all humans experience such shocks, changes and sorrows in the course of a normal life. Each of us experiences them differently and meets them according to our natures and the special circumstances. A counselor understands this and approaches each person with dignity and respect

I have learnt never to underestimate the power of the support which a counselor can bring to those experiencing grief. It is a power which can be helpful to many of us who find other difficulties in life; very often difficulties which seem inexplicable to us but which make us feel stuck in a fog from which we cannot move out.

It is now well known that stress is not only responsible for emotional and mental illness but also physical illness. Levels of stress are higher today than ever in the world generally and of course within Israel. As our lives become more complex, it becomes increasingly important to learn how best to cope with everyday challenges

For those of us who have made life changing decisions once considered firm and permanent, it is a particular challenge when events turn out to be different from what we expected. Even robust personalities are taken aback to find that things 'aint what they used to be' or what was anticipated or hoped for. Relationships are threatened or end, friends and family seem to undergo personality or behavior changes; aliyah turns out to be not what you thought it would be; children grow up. The list of potential pitfalls is immense and one thing is certain - nothing is certain.

So what do counselors do to make things better? On the surface, the answer appears to be very little. The main thing is that they listen. The training, apart from studying the science of human development and behavior, emphasizes and practises the art of listening in such a way that empowers the person who is coming for help to find resources that for a time they could not see they had within themselves, rooted in their own experience and strength and their own circle.

This is done gently, kindly and most of all with a respect for the dignity and situation of each person. The proof and demonstration of this is the very strict rule of confidentiality. As I emphasized before with the description of 'Norma', each counselor is required to have supervision by a professionally trained worker who oversees the service, aiming at giving each person who comes for help the best possible service. It also gives support to the counselor to sustain her work and to ensure that the guidelines are followed scrupulously.

I hope I have described clearly what makes a good counselling service such as the one set up by ESRA. If you have been experiencing some difficulties or 'blocks' and find it hard to overcome them on your own, do not hesitate to contact the service. You will be received with respect and kindness and the process will be explained so you will make your own choice as to how and if you want to proceed. Call Susan 052 698 9088.

*'Norma' is not of course a 'real' person but the story is true none the less. It is based on many years of experience of direct work with people, real people, who under the surface are struggling with something that could be shared and helped.

Countrywide Counseling: ESRA offers a one-to-one confidential counseling service with a trained counselor. Open to all. Support with loss, transition, and life changes. Help is just a call away. Call Susan 052 698 9088 or Elisheva 058 720 9794 



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