Providing support and promoting respect for everyone with a visible difference

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Wendy, one of our wellbeing practitioners, speaking to a client.

Wendy gives an insight into our counselling support service

Wendy, one of our Wellbeing Practitioners, explains more about her role and the counselling support sessions we offer to people with a visible difference.

I’m Wendy, a Changing Faces Wellbeing Practitioner. I’m a trained integrative humanistic counsellor and I’ve worked at Changing Faces for nine years.

I get to work with adults, children and parents affected by visible difference on the face and body. Having clients of various ages means I hear unique perspectives from people at all stages of development and life transitions.

The people I work with come from a range of backgrounds and have different cultural and religious beliefs. It’s important to work with the whole person and understand how a person’s visible difference intersects with other aspects of their life, beliefs and their self-identity.

It’s vital clients feel safe to come to us for support and know they will be accepted and understood without judgment or prejudice.

This was an opportunity to talk openly with someone who has knowledge in this subject area. I was able to speak in depth about something I have never talked about with anyone else and explore different methods of how to cope with it. Even if I wasn’t able to practice all of it, it still gave me a lot to think about and work on.

Counselling support client

Why I work at Changing Faces

People finding and using their voice is so important to me. It’s what drives me – supporting people to be able to be their true self and to live the life they want to live.

This can feel difficult, scary, and at times overwhelming. It may involve taking risks and trying things out for the first time. Clients never cease to amaze me with their capacity to be curious, their willingness to be challenged and to think about things from different perspectives.

Being a counsellor means I can support others to find and use their voice, to have their feelings heard – sometimes for the first time in their lives.

When I start working with someone, I say to myself, “What’s the best conversation I can have with this client?”. It’s about stories – the ones told over and over, the ones not told, the ones to be told.

Common themes and areas of focus include working with clients to build their confidence as they approach adolescence and early adulthood, supporting people to make decisions about concealing or choosing not to conceal their condition, decisions about surgery, building resilience to deal with questions and comments from others, navigating dating or going for an interview and helping parents to manage anxieties about their child’s future.

I work with people who have been living with a condition since birth as well as those with a recently acquired visible difference through surgery or injury. Everybody’s experience is personal to them and will affect them differently.

She helped me work things through, and undo 36 years of learnt behaviour – Not an easy task! I’m now no longer hiding, concealing. I feel I’m becoming comfortable with who I really am, and with my appearance. I’m a changed person.

Counselling support client

Clients tell me that our sessions are an important, safe space to have difficult conversations in a non-judgemental setting, as well as a place to be challenged.

What does one-to-one counselling mean?

The one-to-one counselling service at Changing Faces provides time limited therapy – in other words brief counselling to clients of up to 12 sessions. Short-term counselling is often a good way to see if counselling is for you and can help with a specific problem.

Counselling is a dynamic and interactive process, so there are instances when a client enters short-term therapy and during the process becomes more aware of deeper issues or patterns of thoughts and behaviours. Clients may decide that they would benefit from longer-term therapy. If this happens, I make helpful suggestions for my clients to find other support services for when our sessions come to an end.

She let me talk and was non-judgemental. She also had plenty of useful insights and helped me to figure out the best way for dealing with certain difficult situations.

Counselling support client

If you think one-to-one counselling is something you’re interested in, then the first step is to contact our Support and Information Line. They’ll arrange a call to explore the best options of support for you. This is called ‘self-referral’ and you can contact by webform, email or phone, whatever is best for you.

We also accept referrals from health professionals, and there’s a special form on our website for this or they can contact us directly.

If counselling feels like the right option, they’ll organise an assessment appointment, which is a 50-minute space to explore your situation in more depth with a practitioner like me. The practitioner will ask about your visible difference and the impact of this on your mental health, as well as any other issues you may be experiencing in relation to your appearance.

Once assessed, and you and the practitioner agree to start sessions then together you will decide a time to speak each week or fortnight. At the moment, due to COVID-19, these sessions happen via telephone or video call. There’s usually a waiting period for an assessment for sessions, but we’ll talk you through it all.

The work in sessions will vary of course, there are no magic fixes, but the sessions will be collaborative, and you can go at your own pace.

Sessions might help you to cope with your feelings better. They can support you to build your self-esteem, grow in confidence and feel more positive. They might help you to cope with other people’s reactions by discussing techniques to handle everyday situations like staring, questions and comments.

The most valuable aspect of the service was being able to discuss my anxieties and concerns regarding my visible difference with a Counsellor that has experience working with others with a visible difference. I was able to be completely open and honest without the fear of being judged or dismissed.

Counselling support client

Is my condition serious enough?

Clients often come to us and are worried that their condition or concerns about their appearance aren’t ‘serious enough’ and they might be wasting our time. I can assure you, that’s not the case. We want to hear from you.

Sometimes there might be a different type of support available that might be better placed to help you. The best thing to do is get in touch and talk about it.

It may be daunting to take that first step to call us and speak about how you feel, but I often find clients tell me that ‘‘being heard’’ has been hugely important to them. So please do reach out and ask us for help if you need it.

To find out more, visit our one-to-one counselling support service webpage.

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Learn about our Skin Camouflage Service and other specialist wellbeing services, including our support line, Online Community and one-to-one sessions.

Peer Group Chat Service

We offer facilitated peer support for adults with a visible difference. They are held securely by video call (Zoom) or in our chatroom.