For See Differently counsellor Brett Longfellow, watching a client filled with a sense of empowerment and agency is his ultimate goal.
Research tells us that people with vision impairment are 25% more likely to suffer from depression and other mental health challenges, with younger adults almost five times more at risk of serious anxiety or depression compared to adults 65 and older.
For many others, they encounter feelings of loss, isolation and helplessness.
Brett and his colleague Ruth Groat have spent over 38 years combined working specifically with people to support them in their vision change journey.
It is this experience which makes them particularly skilled to tackle the challenges that their client may present.
“Our counselling really focuses specifically on their experience with vision loss and this specialisation means we have a deeper understanding of what our clients are going through,” Brett said.
“There are so many visual conditions that we have seen and our knowledge of these conditions and the different stages of vision loss gives us a deeper understanding when speaking to our clients.
“We also understand the challenges of navigating the aged care or disability sectors and are able to connect our clients with services both within See Differently and outside and support them to advocate for themselves in a system they may feel lost in.”
Emotional and physical impact
Brett believes time spent addressing the emotional challenges of vision loss can have a profound impact on quality of life.
“Often prioritised are the many changes that clients may encounter when they experience low vision, or legal blindness and are referred to occupational therapy, adaptive technology, optometry, orientation and mobility and other support services,” Brett said.
“But we also need to consider how it might affect our self esteem, independence, plans for the future, even how we perceive our role within our family… how think about ourselves can completely change very quickly.
“Our job as counsellors is to walk with you through what can be a challenging time and remind you that you are still the person you were before and empower you to use your resilience to recapture the independence and self-control you have at hand.”
Diagnosis and grief
When Brett speaks about his role as a counsellor for See Differently, he talks a lot about grief.
“It is understandable that we would grieve the life we had imagined for ourselves and our family,” he said.
“In the past, it was believed that we move through stages in a certain order, but we now know that it is not that simple, and it is more cyclical and triggers various emotion’s.
“There is no finish line either. Someone may reach a level of acceptance, however as their vision deteriorates or other things change, we can experience those challenging feelings again.
“It is not a straightforward process and we are there to support our clients and their family wherever they are.
The See Differently counselling team works with people across a range of ages and backgrounds and who are at different stages in their journey.
This means every day and every client is different, and Brett and Ruth are ready to work through a wide variety of challenges, from mental health crises to developing coping strategies, building confidence and gaining a more positive perspective.
“We don’t go out and have a set formula – everyone in a situation would respond differently so it is important that we respond to every persons own needs ” Brett said.
“For someone who has felt like their choice and control has been taken away from them, it is even more important to listen and empower them to make decisions in their life.
“We can chat over the phone or FaceTime, or we can meet in person at home or a public place. Whatever would make the client feel most comfortable.”
Working as a team
For Brett, being a counsellor for See Differently is more than just a job.
“It is incredible to see someone who has been feeling overwhelmed or traumatised getting their independence back and realise that life does go on after a vision loss diagnosis.
“Supporting people through difficult times and seeing that person continue on their journey with a better understanding of their vision loss and more able to cope is very fulfilling .”
To find out more about how Brett and the See Different counselling team can support, please call 1300 944 306, or email Contact@SeeDifferently.org.au.