Last week, I met with Maria Foss Rand—a counselor in Old Saybrook, Connecticut—to discuss the importance of professional guidance in everyone’s life. Although times are changing and more people are open to the idea of counseling, there is still a stigma associated with seeking professional help. Maria wants to change that. She wants to help take away the shame by educating others on the process and the reasons behind her passion for what she does.
Maria grew up in Canton, Ohio and moved to Connecticut to attend grad school in 1987. She had opportunities for alternative career paths, but she decided to go into counseling because she believes she was meant to help others. Counseling is her job, but it is also her way of giving back to the world and doing her part to ease suffering. She has been in practice for ten years and still loves and appreciates every moment she gets to spend listening to and guiding others.
Although her focus is helping people with substance abuse, she welcomes all people who want to improve their lives. However, she doesn’t believe anyone should be forced into counseling. She often receives clients who have been court-ordered to see a counselor, which is not only frustrating for the client but can be frustrating for her. She enjoys seeing the barriers come down and the resentment fade, but she would rather allow clients free will. Her role is to facilitate growth and empower others to do their own work in reaching their goals—a role that works best with people who are open to receiving help and ready to make change.
When I asked Maria about the benefits of counseling as opposed to simply talking with a friend or family member, she emphasized the importance of a neutral party and a safe place. Family and friends can be helpful during difficult times, but they can also be hurtful, bringing in their own biases and patterns. They can sometimes hold a person back from positive change, keeping them stuck in well-known and expected behaviors. Counseling, on the other hand, provides a space where growth is the goal. Maria helps people explore feelings and personal matters in an honest and open manner, always with the intention of learning from setbacks and moving forward in an empowering way.
Typically, when people think of counseling, they think of talk therapy—the classic couch-talk-out-all-your-feelings scenario—but Maria also uses something called cognitive behavioral therapy and person-centered therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is all about helping a person sit with their feelings and emotions, especially the uncomfortable ones, to break the pattern of avoidance and numbing. She sees a lot of people who use drugs and alcohol to avoid or numb, but she also sees people who use more socially-accepted methods of avoidance such as food, work, or simply staying busy. Many times, people aren’t even aware of these behaviors, and that's where Maria steps in. She helps people sit with their emotions, notice their habits of numbing and avoidance, and instead of indulging in them, together she and her clients figure out the reasons behind the uncomfortable feelings. All feelings eventually pass. Maria‘s role as a cognitive behavioral therapist is to guide people through the pain to acceptance, understanding, and the next step forward.
Maria’s other main technique, person-centered therapy, is focused on helping people find their own higher power and purpose in life. It’s about elevating and integrating the three parts of the bio-psycho-social self: body, mind, and social life. She helps people look for and connect with their spiritual needs in order to discover a sense of peace and find a place of grounding. Spirituality doesn’t have to come from religion. Maria, like me, is a lover of nature and the woods. She encourages her clients to step away from the concrete world and reconnect with the natural world on a regular basis. Some of her grounding techniques include mindfulness and meditation, but also tactical practices such as walking outside barefoot and feeling the grass beneath one’s feet. Happiness and peace is all about being present. She believes a person is not full and complete unless they can slow down and sit comfortably with themselves.
Some people prefer to hold feelings in, deny, and even blame instead of searching within and growing. Maria is passionate about helping others bring their feelings to the surface because once they touch the light, clarity is revealed. When people hold in their negative feelings, those feelings begin to fester and can cause a person to become cynical. Maria knows there’s peace in saying what bothers you and rewards in making sense of pain. Rather than blame, we could all benefit by flipping the mirror around and discovering the flaws and opportunities for change within ourselves. We could all benefit from counseling.
To wrap up our time together, I asked Maria what her favorite song is, to which she immediately said “New Year’s Day” by U2. She tries to get people to live their New Year’s Day as often as possible, viewing each moment as a fresh start and chance for positive change. Life is too short to remain stuck in old, negative patterns. Maria is here to guide people into a more rewarding way of life and help break the stigma associated with seeking professional help.
Maria Foss Rand
Avia Counseling Center
251 Main Street, Old Saybrook, CT