by Fiona Brophy

It has been 5 months since my journey started at sunny Sunfield. Truly it is a place of light and love. I knew I wasn’t starting just any job… but rather a journey at a light-filled university of life. My attitude in entering this position was from a place of not-knowing and a desire to listen and learn and be sensitively and reverently responsive. I was not there to fix but to flow.

Many days, and still now, I have to hold back my tears… when the residents sing in the morning… one of many sacred moments. When they open their hearts and tell me their struggles.

Every day I have an entourage of happy, welcoming people, opening my office door and being always so willing to help! I was overwhelmed by how, friendly, kind, honest, spontaneous, open, eager to meet people, to talk, to learn, to help and to grow, these Sunfield residents are! I struggled in the beginning to understand everyone. I was at a disadvantage. Slowly I learned how to tune my ear and understand each person’s language and communication style. I learned how doing small basic things independently and having a responsibility is cherished. I learned how resilient the residents are because of their open hearts, their child-like purity, faith, empathy and unquestioning hero approach.

I learned that every day is a new one, grudges disappear, moods are volatile but short-lived, noise is plentiful, repetition is normal, routine gives security, being straight and honest is necessary and plenty of patience and attention is necessary.

So, I gave attention, listened and learned and tried to take it slowly.

Paying attention is the most basic and profound expression of love.   – Tara Brach

 By far the most important form of attention we can give our loved ones is listening… True listening is love in action.  – M. Scott Peck

 Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.  – Weil

The following needs and challenges, amongst the residents, became evident.

  • Need for attention: To be listened and taken seriously.
  • Low self-esteem and self-confidence.
  • Overly dependent, neediness, poor self-expression and reluctance to take responsibility.
  • Lack of full awareness of and use of their own inner, God-given, resources.
  • Low self-management skills: High impulsivity, acting out, reacting and lack of emotional management and self-discipline.
  • Habits and repetitive behaviour patterns: Often irritating to the staff and other residents. Some residents have long patterns of behaviour, that they are, mostly, unwilling to change and are not very self-motivated to change. It is a tough one as they get something out of this behaviour and change takes time. A work in progress! Could also be attention-seeking as even negative attention is better than no attention.
  • High levels of anxiety, stress and fear of making mistakes and getting into trouble.
  • Unresolved past trauma.
  • Unresolved grief and fear of loss.
  • Attachment issues.
  • Poor body posture, lot of stooping, sluggishness and walking like a much older person.
  • General immaturity and childishness. Not owning or acting on the fact that they are adults. In a sense giving their power away by playing small.
  • Some bullying and teasing, putting down each other.

The approach in addressing their needs and challenges in effective and sustainable ways will benefit as many residents as possible.

 Individual Counselling and Coaching:

Personal growth process:

I started by seeing as many residents as I could for orientation, get to know and relationship-building counselling sessions.  Many showed a keen and sincere interest in knowing themselves, accessing their own inner resources and embarking on a therapeutic personal growth process. There is a need for them to develop more inner ego strength and become more self-aware so that they can look at unhelpful habits and behaviour patterns and have the confidence to change. Willingness is the best way to begin such a process! The residents seem to like the structure of the individual counselling sessions, receiving an Appointment Slip and their names on the board on a Monday for the week ahead. They feel reassured when they know that they will be given uninterrupted time to receive individual attention. They inform their House Mother of their appointment and try to remember their appointment themselves by pasting the slip up on their wall.

Developing self-awareness, self-discipline and taking responsibility:

Encourage taking responsibility, self-discipline and being more self-contained. Helping residents to learn to wait, to use their appointment for speaking about things that trouble them and not running to various staff for the same thing.

Relax the body, improve posture, address impulsivity, emotional volatility, hyperactivity and poor coordination.

Residents tended to expect others to do for them and see the Social Worker as someone to get things done for them. Therefore, the approach adopted was to acknowledge that they are adults, motivate them to want to behave like adults and equip them with the knowledge and skills to take more responsibility, manage emotions and improve communication skills. The idea being to help the residents to access and use their own inner resources and so become more self-empowered to address their challenges themselves. I worked on this through coaching the residents in counselling sessions in anger and stress management skills, mindful breathing, CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, i.e. thought awareness and changing thinking through affirmations, emotional processing and communication skills.

But what of those who are not in counselling sessions, what of the hall full of residents, who, due to the Covid restrictions, no longer have outings, day trips, coffee mornings, shopping days, functions, volunteers and visitors?

A lot of my therapeutic work has been inspired and influenced by awareness and learning of the interaction of the body, mind, emotions and spirit. I studied Massage years back and then did courses involving working holistically. T’ai Chi was one of them, did some training in China in 2019. I studied EFT, Emotional Freedom Technique as well as Meditation and Mindfulness practice.  I will write about this in my next article.