|MAR 2014 » Articles Index|
Theosophy in the Counselling Profession
An interview with USA TOS member, Barbara Bradley Hebert
Over the years, we have interviewed Theosophists about how they apply theosophical principles in their jobs. A TS member in New Zealand has talked about how his theosophical convictions have helped him in his work as a staff training officer in prisons. A Catalonian professor of neurology answered the question, “Does Theosophy have any application in dealing with your patients?” A New Zealand specialist in the education of the deaf aged three to six has explained to us how Theosophy influences the way she works with children. A social worker in Seattle, Washington talked about how theosophical principles and the theosophical worldview influenced her work over 36 years.
In this article, Barbara Bradley Hebert of Covington, Louisiana, who is a member of the National Board of the Theosophical Society in America, answers a similar question. Barbara is a college counsellor.
TOS: What does college counselling actually involve? Is it something to do with giving career advice to college students or with sorting out their psychological problems?
Barbara: At Southeastern Louisiana University, I am the Director of the University Counselling Center. We provide free psychological counselling, or therapy, to students, faculty and staff.
TOS: How many students are there?
Barbara: We have approximately 15,000 students with approximately another 1,500 individuals who are faculty and staff.
TOS: Are the teachings of Theosophy of direct or indirect use to you in your work?
Barbara: The principles of Theosophy are invaluable to me, both directly and indirectly, at work on a daily basis. For example, my theosophical beliefs align perfectly with my counselling skills. As a counsellor and as a theosophist, I believe that all individuals have their own path. In my role as a counsellor, I simply serve as a facilitator to help my clients find their own answers, their own path. I respect each individual thoroughly and completely as a divine spark of the Universal. This unconditional positive regard, a basic skill requirement for an effective counsellor, is a part of my life as a theosophist. I strive to empower clients to look within and find their own answers which are compatible with who they are.
Furthermore, like many in the helping profession I see a great deal of humanity's sadness in my day's work. My theosophical beliefs provide me with a perspective through which I can view ‘man's inhumanity to man’ without feeling overwhelmed. My perspective allows me to use my theosophical ‘glasses’ and centre myself; thus, I am much more effective with my clients.
TOS: Haven’t you ever had a client through your office who seemed a hopeless case, divine spark notwithstanding?! Theosophy puts a great deal of emphasis on the importance of self-mastery and spiritual unfoldment through personal effort but do you think that people really change all that quickly? Has your work with college students made you pessimistic or optimistic about the pace of change?
Barbara: I have certainly had more than one student through my office who has made me wonder if there is a spark! That thought is ‘the slayer of the real’ to me. Reality, with a capital R, reminds me that there is a divine spark, even if I can’t find it. As a theosophist and a counsellor, I work to remember that the individuals in front of me are unique and special in their own way – even if I, with my limited sight, can’t see that uniqueness, that divinity within.
My perspective is that people don’t necessarily change quickly, and many people seemingly don’t change at all. However, once again my theosophical beliefs help me continue to work with clients who are unwilling to change or who move very slowly. The understanding that this is just one lifetime out of many, that there are lessons to be learnt (of which I am unaware), that the lessons will somehow be learnt one day, that the individuals have the right to make their own decisions thereby creating their own karma, are all helpful to me in accepting them wherever they are on their own path.
I do certainly become pessimistic at times about the pace of change as well as about the incredible amount of sorrow and hurt in this world. When I feel the cynicism and pessimism beginning to overtake me, I try very hard to re-centre myself and see the situation from a more universal perspective.
There have been some nice surprises along the way. I once had a student at high school level who seemed to be beyond help. His family situation was dreadful – substance abuse, violence, poverty. He hated school, and he would not even make eye contact with me. He simply sat in his desk with his head down. I tried every technique I could think of with this student and nothing seemed to make a difference. Then, one day another counsellor talked about a specific technique which appealed to the ‘magical’ side of clients. I adapted the technique for use with this student. I said to him, “I have a gift for you. Please stand up so that I can give it to you.” He very slowly looked up at me and even more slowly stood up. I cupped my hands together and extended them toward him. I said, “I know it looks as if there is nothing in my hands, but there is. It is a very special gift for you. It is a magical golden ball of love. When I give you this golden ball of love, it will fill your whole being with love so that whenever you feel scared or alone, you will know that this golden ball of love is within you.” I reached forward and placed my hands on the boy’s chest as if putting the ball of love into his heart. He looked a little shocked and then he smiled and said “Thank you.” I wish I could say that the impact of this technique was immediate, but it wasn’t. However, the student did begin at times to respond to me when I spoke with him. Several years later I found out that he had married, was working full-time at a job he enjoyed, was buying a house and was not using drugs. I don’t know if the golden ball of love sustained him, but I like to think that it may have had an impact on him in some way, encouraging him to see his own spark of golden light within. As a theosophist, I do believe that every interaction with another has an impact of some sort whether we see the result or not.
TOS: Are you ever tempted explicitly to mention theosophical ideas – spiritual evolution, reincarnation, karma – to your clients?
Barbara: Yes, I’ve been very tempted, but I do not explicitly talk to clients about these ideas unless the client brings up the topic. I am much more likely to bring up some of the theosophical concepts in a more implicit manner. For instance, when a client experiences the death of a loved one my theosophical ideas become relevant. As always, I try to be very sensitive to clients and their backgrounds. However, I am comfortable asking about their religious beliefs about what happens after death. If it is appropriate, I share my belief that we are never separated, even through death. I tell the client that I believe that love connects us to those we love, even after death. Frequently I use the symbol of a golden thread of love which connects us with a loved one both living and dead. As a theosophist, of course, I never want to proselytise. As a counsellor, my job is to meet clients where they are. I move very gently around the whole religion and ethics arena. I live in a very small, rural, conservative area, and I try to remember that when I am dealing with clients. Also, I believe that the way I live and the way I interact with others (all based on my theosophical convictions) speaks more strongly than words.
TOS: Has your job helped you in your own spiritual journey?
Barbara: Absolutely. My job makes me look at myself as a person, makes me look at my motives, makes me look at my own issues. I try to be self-observant so that my issues don’t have an impact on my clients. I also want to be self-observant because I am encouraging my clients to be self-observant.
Sometimes I wonder what effect I would have on clients if I were able to approach them consistently in a spirit of oneness, going into interviews with my heart fully open.
TOS: There doubtless have been clients with whom you have established a solid, consistent, heart-to-heart connection…
Barbara: Yes, I believe so. It amazes me how frequently clients look to a counsellor or to a special teacher or friend for the only positive support they receive. Many children are born into situations where there are no supportive adults, and in fact, the adults in the lives of these children may provide a very seriously negative environment. I continue to be appalled by the number of children who live with adults who are being destroyed on a daily basis by alcohol or drugs. (I hesitate to call it a family because the adults do not even begin to provide a situation that one would recognise as a family.)
Thus, it is extremely important for every one of us to be aware of the possibility that not every child has had the opportunity to be born into a loving, caring family. As theosophists, we may wish to focus on only the good and the positive as we are frequently encouraged in theosophical literature; however, it is also important to balance that focus with a recognition of the reality into which some children are born. As theosophists and citizens of this planet, it seems we have an urgent calling to assist the children. They are truly the way of the future.
TOS: To close our interview, can you share with us any meditative technique, or affirmation, or mantra, that helps you achieve the serenity you need when dealing with deeply troubled clients?
Barbara: Yes. I don’t know who the author is, but there is a meditation I learned from my grandmother, a theosophist of many years. I say it frequently to myself. Here it is:
|Top | Articles-index | Homepage|