For March 2022 we profile member Anya Grichina, who runs her own Sydney-based private practice, Intimate Matters, specialising in relationships and sexual health counselling. Anya also teaches PACFA’s Building Your Private Practice course.
Can you tell us something about your pathway to becoming a counsellor?
Mine is a textbook case of a wounded healer. As for so many practitioners, counselling was a big career change for me. I spent 15 years in sales and marketing for the IT and telecommunications industry, a high-pressure job with great financial rewards but very low fulfillment and satisfaction. It came to a point when I hated going to work; every day felt like purgatory. And then a breakup of a significant relationship came along and tipped the already leaking boat of my corporate career. Existential crisis ensued, resulting in me making the decision to retrain and restart my life. When I enrolled into a counselling course at JNI in 2010 I had no idea that counselling and psychology are not the same thing. I knew very little about counselling, but the journey has begun, and my corporate past now seems like a distant history.
You specialise in relationships and sexual health counselling. What is it about these areas of specialisation that interest you?
Back to the wounds that draw us to this profession. Mine was a sexual trauma and relational distress. Of course I did not know that at the time, and my career pathway in counselling appeared to shape up naturally. During my clinical placement with an alcohol and drug rehab I was talking to a client, who said "I am here because of alcohol abuse, and everyone is happy to focus on that, but my relationship is at a breaking point because of my porn addiction, and nobody wants to talk about that." So I offered to talk about it to me, started digging through the available resources looking for some quick professional development, and before I knew it I was enrolled in Sydney Uni's Masters program in sexual and reproductive health. This was one of the best decisions I've ever made. Not only did it lead me to a dream job, but I also met my soon-to-become supervisor, who is still my supervisor now, and keeps shaping my practice and my life in the most positive ways.
One of the best things about working with people's relationships and sexuality is the incredible vulnerability and trust my clients place in me. Men in their 30s and 40s struggle to even think the words "erectile dysfunction", (so) verbalising it to a female stranger is agonising for them. This trust and vulnerability humbles me every day, and gives me energy and never-ending enthusiasm for my work.
What are the major differences for a counsellor between working with individuals and working with couples?
We all learn the importance of being "person-centred" in counselling schools. Yet in couples work, a very strong leadership is required. If you just sit back and be person-centred, you are very likely to be watching an endless re-enactment of what brought them to counselling, on repeat. Structure and direction are much more significant factors in couples work than in work with an individual. But then again, agility and flexibility are also critical. Oftentimes the direction where you thought you will be going needs to be changed on the fly, so the confidence to pull out a different tool and swing the session in a different direction is very beneficial. I started seeing couples after working with individuals for a few years, and I will never forget my first couple - they started a fight right there in front of me, and I was just staring at them like a deer into the headlights! I was totally paralysed by the internal battle of "everything is grist for the mill" and "how long will this go on?" Needless to say, with a bit of practice, saying "Thank you for the demo, let's move on '' becomes second nature.
What theoretical approaches influence your practice as a counsellor?
The luxury of working in your own practice is that I can experiment with any modalities and approaches I find interesting, and I'm not going to lie, every broad therapeutic direction I take is an ensemble of modalities I see as relevant and effective. Lately I've been getting into Ellyn Bader's Developmental Model of working with couples, and my work is heavily influenced by Esther Perel and Martha Kauppi. And of course, Gottman's worksheets often make their way into the sessions. What is also apparent is that the level of sexual trauma in society far exceeds what is visible. Oftentimes what starts as a work with mismatched libido in partners ends up being a work with sexual or attachment traumas in one of the partners. I am getting more and more into somatic work lately also. When it comes to trauma work, integrating top-down and bottom-up approaches works best for me.
You are also an educator at the Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors – what advice would you give to yourself if you were starting out again as a counsellor?
Working with students is such a rewarding part of my life. I often say that the best part of being a counsellor is that no life experience ever goes wasted; we use everything in our work to be better therapists. The best advice I could give any practitioner, including myself, is - never stop looking inwards at yourself as a therapist; try being aware of your own triggers as well as strengths.
You teach PACFA’s course ‘Building Your Private Practice’ – what are some of the benefits and challenges for counsellors/psychotherapists in being in private practice?
This is one of the areas we examine in the course - while some people don't mind a level of uncertainty that comes with working for yourself, for others security of a salary that comes with working for an organisation is more appealing. Full time private practice is not for everyone, and what is a benefit to some of us is a challenge to others. In the course you are invited to reflect on your own reasons and resources for wanting to be in private practice, and whether it really is a good match for you.
Can you tell us what counsellors and psychotherapists learn in the course?
The course is largely oriented towards equipping therapists with the confidence and tools to be able to promote themselves to their potential clients. We cover personal branding, market segmentation, marketing strategies, copywriting, as well as fundamental necessities, such as supervision, insurance, membership of professional bodies, and professional development. The format of the course is interactive. I encourage participants to ask questions, share their experiences, give each other feedback, and ultimately have a better idea of a simple systematic way to promote their practice by the time they complete the course. The opportunities for therapists out there are endless, and I love seeing my colleagues’ success and happiness.
The Building Your Private Practice course is run over 5 sessions, with the next course starting on 5 May 2022. Read more and register.