Welcome the first instalment of You, Me & The RC, a series in which I convince a very patient Rehabilitation Counsellor to let me buy them coffee and probe them about what it means to be an RC. Would you or someone you know like to be featured? Reach out here.
Meet Ross Miller
Ross has been working in the disability sector for over 30 years. As a guy with a hearing and visual impairment (Ross is legally blind and affectionately refers to himself as a "blindie"), he brings a unique level of insight and personal experience to his work.
How did you discover Rehabilitation Counselling?
I knew that I wanted to work with people. I actually found social sciences and Rehabilitation Counselling as I was looking through a university course guide... The course at Lidcombe [University of Sydney] just looked like a good bet to me. I didn't know where I wanted to end up but it was exactly what I was looking for.
Did having a visual and hearing impairment influence your choice to become an RC?
Well, no, not at all! But it does impact the way I work with people. I've had my fair share of experiences where people have had opinions about what I can and can't do. One of the great lessons is that you must take personal responsibility, even if you have been treated badly by the system, because you cannot rely on others to do so. And so I try to impart that onto my clients, too.
When you see opportunities or barriers, don't put the responsibility on others to follow them up or chase them down. Making your own decisions is the only way forward and assigning blame and abdicating your responsibility to others will never give you control over your health and livelihood.
How do you help your clients figure out what their personal role in their recovery should look like?
This is the sort of thing that can take a couple of sessions - to really understand someone's situation and their perspective on what's happening for them. You can't go preaching to people right away if you don't fully understand their sense of what their role should be. It really is a matter of serious listening and trying to get a grip on how they see their place and where eventually they would like to be.
I've created a few posters that I keep in my office which talk about this idea of taking back control. From the moment you get injured, your employer wants part of you and your time, your doctor wants part of you and your time, and so does your insurer and your physio and all the rehab people... and suddenly, you have lost of all your independence and power.
Because everyone else wants something from you, no one is going to give you that power. You have to take it for yourself and take control. It's not about being defiant but rather taking in advice and information and asking yourself how you want to apply it all so you can get your life back.
Is there often a "lightbulb" moment for your clients?
A lot of them, yes. But we will all work with people who just don't want to take ownership. There's not a lot we can do about that. I can't make the change happen for someone else, but I can give the resources and support they need in order to make it happen if they choose to take ownership over their lives again.
Ross, you're pretty well known to us as the King of Transferable Skills.
What's the key to an excellent Transferable Skills Analysis?
You really, really need to take the time to break down each skill. I see people coming up with a list of only 5 or 6 transferable skills for a client and I think that's hilarious.
Take something like "computer skills". I've seen people write something like "good computer skills" in a report and leave it at that. No. You have to break it down.
Even if you break it down into "basic Excel skills" and "intermediate Word skills", what do you really mean by that? Get specific. What can they do in Excel? Can they enter in formulas, manipulate data or do they just know how to type numbers into cells? In what context are they using it - for banking, accounts, for marketing data? These small things add up to a much larger skill-set that can be transferred into a new role.
It's the same thing for communication skills. We use communication for so many different reasons in many different ways. What are the specific tasks? In what environment? Who are they communicating with? What outcome do those skills help a person achieve in each context? You have to delve into that stuff.
That's how you end up with 5 pages of transferable skills for a client! And it's all legitimate stuff that they can use in a new role.
What's your most memorable client story?
I remember one client where we really got to help someone turn their life around.
We worked with a gentleman who had been a labourer his whole life, totally illiterate. He was roughing it out in a park when we started working with him. We got him involved in a Work Action Group that we used to run, it was a club that covered what it took to get back into employment.
Beyond just helping him find work, we helped him work on his relationships and day to day functioning. It was amazing when an employer called saying that they wanted to hire him - they were so impressed that he was the first person they thought of!
We still talk about him now, especially with my clients today, as an example of how people can turn their lives around when they're supported in taking back personal responsibility for their future. You can move forward even with barriers, if you make that choice.
Any advice for working with people who have a visual impairment?
It's not that different to any other condition you work with, in that you need to know the research and what's available for each person's injury or condition. How can you help them if you don't have an idea of what the symptoms are like, what the supports are like and what could help? So yes, research.
Especially for blindies, there is so much great technology that we can use. On my iPhone and iPad, this stuff is there out of the box, and it's same with Samsung too. I have a hard time believing that blindies can't use the internet when I do it everyday - I've learned it.
But I'm still waiting for my hearing aids to come with bluetooth built in!