20 January 2023
In this Q&A, PACFA Board member Maree Armansin shares her secret for staying motivated, discusses how counselling has changed over the years and explores the surprising universality of client issues.
What brought you to the role of Counselling Representative on the PACFA Board?
Counselling has been part of my life for a long time. I started my career in New Zealand as a Primary School teacher and loved it. When I moved to Australia in the late ‘70s I worked for the Federal Government in a program for unemployed youth (CYSS) in several states--it was challenging and required daily use of counselling skills which I had no training in.
A new Graduate Development in Counselling course was developed in Queensland; I applied and was accepted. It was experiential, dynamic; it grew us all as adults and I had my found my ‘tribe.’ I immediately joined Qld Counsellor’s Association (QCA) and over the years, I volunteered on the Committee. Finally, in 2018, I became President. At the end of 2020, QCA joined PACFA fully and became PACFA QLD and I was convenor of their Leadership Group.
What do you think is essential to staying motivated and effective as a practitioner during a lengthy career?
I believe the key thing to staying motivated and effective as a counsellor is realising that you are always learning new things. When we graduated, we all thought we’d made it and were now ‘Counsellors’!
Certainly, as you grow in experience and continue to study and learn, you gain a toolbox full of models and tools which you can utilise, but I believe in a person-centred approach: being authentic and open to what works for the client ensures that you are staying present and effective. It’s also vital to do your own work so you’re dealing with your own issues as they arise. Finally, you need balance in your life; you need to have joy and experiences that fill you up so that you are energised and fully there for your clients. Have a rich life outside of your work.
What continues to surprise you as a practitioner?
It continues to amaze me that over the years, no matter how much growth in technology, advancements in all sorts of areas, discussions, and academic research into mental health as well as more openness to people seeking help, clients still present with the same fundamental issues. A loss in sense of identity, significance, being competent and feeling under-valued and situations of trauma, grief and relationship issues are often presented.
I guess we will never do ourselves out of work as the human condition continues with all its characteristics, key events and situations.
How has the position of counselling shifted in the mental health landscape during your time you have been a counsellor?
While I hope support for mental health has improved and systems have changed, we are still a long way from where we need to be. Mental health has been put on the table and society is very aware of the term. When I worked with youth in the ‘80s, anyone diagnosed with a mental health disorder was locked away and removed from the community. The drugs then were more recreational and there was no ‘ice’ which has had a major impact on mental health today.
Counsellors are still sidelined in this space and almost ‘locked away’ or not acknowledged for the huge work that they do in the preventative space. PACFA is working extremely hard to turn this around, and hopefully we will see great inroads for counsellors' work to be fully recognised in this space.
What motivated you to stand for the Convenor of the College of Counselling position?
I must say I am humbled to have been appointed to this position but have been part of counselling associations for many years, being QCA President and then Convenor of PACFA QLD - so it seemed like the next progression. I was also excited to see that there are many student members in the group so would like them to discover their own ‘tribe’ with us and be able to reach out and have a group where they feel they belong and can be supported in this fulfilling, wonderful professional career.
It's an exciting time to be involved and there are a lot of changes occurring where I believe counselling will finally have its deserved place alongside all other professionals in this amazing work.
If you love what you’re doing, keep doing it. Broaden your world to experience other agencies, groups and networks. Counselling in private practice can be lonely, so reach out and join up with others in your area or attend PD in your State PACFA group. Ensure you have a great supervisor. Keep studying and reading – it's never too late, I didn’t start my two master's degrees until I was 36. Do the work you need to do on yourself. Have a rich life outside your work; have a laugh and look after your colleagues.