The business of being human

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RUCHIR SODHANI tells us about his journey from being an IT executive to working as a counsellor in outback Queensland

 Ruchir Sodhani.Indian Link

My job title is… Mobile Rural Counsellor, Lifeline, St George, QLD

I’ve been in this job for… 4 months

My educational qualifications

I worked in the IT industry for over 25 years and loved it. However, slowly I found myself moving away from ‘logic and reason’ to ‘understanding of human needs and frailties’. Moving to Australia meant that my social circle was predominantly limited to similar professionals or corporate warriors. To maintain a connection to older people, I joined groups such as the Australian Plant Society, and was inspired by wonderfully passionate elders who were enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge and were also so kind and loving. After dabbling in Aged Care Nursing, I decided to bite the bullet, quit my job, and do a two-year Graduate Diploma in Counselling. It has been an amazing journey which is still unfolding!

What the job entails…

My job is to provide counselling services to people residing in towns within a 150km radius of St George, Queensland. No formal medical diagnosis or referral is required to access this free service, and anyone can seek help if they are feeling down, confused, stuck, alone, or stressed. The focus is to support people going through tough times in their lives and feeling vulnerable, especially in the current drought.

What’s a typical day like?

I visit a different town around St George every day; a 200km round trip on average. I meet clients at their homes, in the council hall, or at the hospital, or even in the local park or café. Sessions usually last about an hour where we talk about what is happening in their lives, how they are coping with it, what they would like to change, and who or what their supports are. I try to remain attentive and accepting of their situation and of themselves as a person, without passing any judgment.

I also visit and talk to other people, business owners, community groups such as QCWA (Queensland Country Women’s Association), Men’s Sheds, and libraries in these towns informally. I participate in Healthy Ageing groups, give talks in schools, and raise community awareness through workshops and events like R U OK Day. I also work with Probation and Parole to work with people who may be at risk of being disengaged or on the verge of drug abuse.

It is great to have a supportive team and supervisor to allow me to debrief and discuss specific cases and how we could potentially help clients holistically by also connecting them to other services.

The hardest thing about my job

It is difficult to convince anyone about the value of talking about what is happening to them – outside and inside. Opening up to others about our fears, dreams, grief, pain, beliefs, shame, hurt, and regrets and being able to express them is not easy, especially because of our ‘conditioning’ through social norms, stigma, and expectations. Breaking through these barriers in getting people to come and just have a chat over a cuppa is probably the hardest thing – for both me and for my clients.

The best part of my job

It is humbling when someone takes the courageous step of seeking help and companionship, in what may be a very stressful and isolating situation, by inviting me into their inner world of thoughts and feelings. It is my privilege when someone shares the narrative of their lives with me. The reward is in repeatedly finding that talking about things shapes our experience of the world and how we feel. It helps us to gain emotional relief, to make meaning of our experiences, to find freedom from our pain and struggles, and to rediscover our own strengths, wisdom, and confidence to proceed on our journey with hope, good humour and joy. It is in ‘co-discovering’ that change is possible!

How this job has influenced my life

I am grateful for the shift that this job has entailed. Physically, it has meant a move to rural Queensland, giving me a chance to experience life in a small, warm, and friendly community which unfortunately is currently in the grip of drought. On a mental level, it has been a practice of patience, persistence, and perseverance in establishing a new community service and also being available as a ‘yarning post’ for people to talk about whatever is happening to them in their lives. Spiritually, it has reinforced the idea of connectedness of things, the circle of life, and the often difficult ‘business of being human’ in our journey trying to find peace with the world and with ourselves.

Advice for people who may want to get into the industry

I would suggest acquiring a counselling degree by studying through classroom education, especially courses that have small class sizes (10-20) and are experiential and interactive in nature. Not only do you learn about the theories and therapies, but more importantly it allows you to fully engage, explore and reflect upon your own life and the lives of fellow students. This open collegiate environment, with support from practicing counsellors, is critical in being at peace with oneself and being able to focus upon others while being empathic and non-judgmental. Volunteering with Lifeline as a crisis supporter or with other community services also gives you a taste of the process and rewards of establishing healing relationships.