Each month, the 'Day in the Life' series offers participating PACFA members the opportunity to share their unique personal and professional experience as dedicated Practising & Registered Clinical Counsellors and Registered Clinical Psychotherapists who embody the art and science of holding space for others.
This month we open the door on Counsellor Nina Curtis.
I'm a Counsellor, Family Therapist, and Supervisor in the Hunter Valley. My qualifications include a Bachelor of Counselling, a Graduate Diploma in Couple and Family Therapy, and a Graduate Diploma in Family Dispute Resolution.
For over a decade, I've been working with NGOs. About eight years back, I started my own private practice in East Maitland, NSW. Through this practice, I offer both face-to-face and online therapy sessions for couples, families, and individuals. I also provide professional and clinical supervision to various professionals in frontline community support services.
My therapeutic approach draws from a mix of modalities, and I'm fortunate to have a specialised supervisor in Trauma Informed Stabilisation Treatment. I catch up for monthly supervisory sessions with an individual, couple, and family therapist. I'm also currently studying Janina Fisher’s Certified Clinical Trauma Professional Training. My passion lies in trauma-informed practice.
I've dedicated one day a week for the past eight years to work at Tocal College as counsellor for the students. Tocal College caters to around 100 residential students, aged between 16 and 22, aiming to equip them with agricultural qualifications. The college has always focused on young individuals from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, especially those facing disadvantages. The staff at Tocal College are committed to addressing the unique needs of each student, no matter their background.
At the start of each year, we organise a workshop called the Kick Start workshop, which includes a series of exercises for new students. This workshop helps us connect with the students and allows them to get to know us and each other better.
Tocal College has a sprawling property that serves as the base for students to learn practical skills across various commercial areas, preparing them for the workforce. While they acquire these practical skills, we also emphasize nurturing their personal growth and encouraging them to explore their own identities. Using a collaborative case management approach and the unwavering support of our staff, I work hard to ensure that each student refines their emotional and social abilities alongside their practical skills. Naturally, this comes with challenges, as each young person arrives at Tocal with a unique life journey. Nonetheless, we put in our utmost effort to help them shine from within.
A Day in the Life as a Counsellor with Nina
6.30am Lemons and Dreams Routines
I wake up and drink a hot lemon water followed by coffee and the morning routine conversation with my partner around sleep, dreams, and “what’s on top” which could include world frustrations, home routines or family matters.
7.30am: Mind-Body Connection
At 7:30am, I participate in my Pilates reformer class on Zoom, valuing its dual impact on my physical and mental well-being. Pilates offers a full-body workout that enhances strength, flexibility, and posture. Its focus on mind-body connection, with controlled breathing akin to meditation in motion, resonates deeply with me. Regular practice not only maintains my physical fitness but also provides a mental respite, aiding stress relief and inner balance amidst a hectic schedule.
8:30am: Preparing for clients
Depending on whether I am in my private rooms (in Maitland), on ZOOM (at home inMindaribba) or at Tocal College, as I will be today, I will prepare and plan my day and say hello to relevant client notes, pop some incense on in my study and welcome Mo, my cat who enjoys sleeping in a box while I am working.
9:00am: Debrief with Colleague
First thing at Tocal College, I debrief with student welfare support, Lakin. She has the day-to-day involvement in all student welfare matters and is highly skilled in her role.
10.00 am to 4.30pm: Working at Tocal College with Counselling Clients
I see students for one-hour sessions which involves a mixture of relationship support, anxiety and past trauma treatment. Sessions are designed to allow students to manage their autonomic nervous system state (window of tolerance) between hyperarousal and hypoarousal as they often return to class or the student common room after their session.
I particularly like using Janina Fishers ‘Fragments of Self-Model’ as Janina says that “no recovery from trauma is possible without an ending to issues of safety, care for the self, reparative connections to other human beings, and a renewed faith in the universe”. The therapist's job is not just to be a witness to this process but to teach the patient how. Tocal college staff offers this support to students so well. Janina goes on to say that “healing is the outcome of reversing long-standing patterns of self-alienation and building the capacity to love and accept ourselves.”
To manage the autonomic nervous system, sessions are sometimes done outside in nature, walking or with a dog. We decide what the student needs are at the time.
I also use Janina Fishers ‘Living Legacy of Trauma’ flip chart as a psychoeducational tool to highlight and elicit where a student has been in their window of tolerance and encourage a discussion around strategies had and could have. The flip chart describes Amygdala hijack which I find normalises the physical aspect of the emotional states and reassures the student that they are “not going mad”.
A lens of safety is always held with students at Tocal and if a safety plan is required then this is discussed with the student. Safety plans include the collaboration between Deputy Principal, James, and welfare support, Lakin to ensure the student and the plan is supported.
After the counselling day is over, I complete my notes and head home. It is a privilege to work with the students and staff at Tocal College.
5:00pm: Cats, Dogs and Sudoku
As soon as I arrive home, I walk Ted our beautiful and naughty eight-year-old cattle dog, play with Mimmy and Mo, our 2 darling (inside only) cats and do a little bit of Sudoku.
6:30pm: Dinner and Relax
On the menu tonight is one of my favourite dinners, my partner’s Spaghetti Bolognese! After dinner I typically watch something on Netflix; currently the Line of Duty, Schitts Creek, or Ted lasso. I also love to interrupt my neural pathways for the day with embroidery.
Sleep is important to me, so my bed-time routine starts at around at 8:30.
Open the door on your day
The ‘Day in the Life’ series is created and edited by PACFA Registered Clinical Psychotherapist® and founder of The Psychosynthesis Centre, Jodie Gale.
Each month, the ‘A Day in the Life’ series will offer participating PACFA members the opportunity to share their unique personal and professional experience as dedicated Practising & Registered Clinical Counsellors and Registered Clinical Psychotherapists who embody the art and science of holding space for others. Click here to read more and to find out how you can open the door on your day.