Team Teac Tom: Philip O’ Neill on life in the counsellor’s seat

Teac Tom opened the doors of its first house in 2015. Located at 15 Ormonde Road there is a safe and welcoming space through the bright blue doors. The team, led by CEO Angela Hayes, is supported by Rory Connellan, Clinical Services Manager and Valerie O’ Sullivan, Marketing Executive. A support team of administrative assistants, volunteer listeners, student counsellors, play therapists and professional counsellors ensures that anyone who contacts Teac Tom gets the help and support that they need. The experienced team supports people with a range of mental health issues, especially those who have been impacted by suicide.
One of the longest serving counsellors with the team is Philip O’ Neill.

You are a valued and respected member of the team – how did you come to be involved with Teac Tom?
I met Angela in 2008 in Croí Nua, part of the Aislinn Centre. We shared a lot of the same ideas and goals about helping people. We started off in the Friary Hall and it was a learning curve as we didn’t have our own space at the time. We offered free counselling services to people who had been impacted by suicide. The dream was to have a standalone place for Teac Tom and eventually that came to be. I was delighted to have a place to call home. Now we have more than a dozen counsellors.

How did you get into counselling to begin with?
I did my Diploma in Addiction and I loved it. Then, as I worked with more families, I felt there was something missing and that was Life Coaching skills. Life coaching is about focus, awareness, problem solving. I wanted to give the kids (in recovery) tools to cope outside once they left a very safe environment and be able to live with family members and be a part of their community. When I was younger, I was always uncomfortable in my own skin, I didn’t trust myself or believe in my own potential. A lot of very nice people helped me along the way, and I wanted to do the same for others.

Trust is obviously a very important part of the counselling relationship. Is that hard for some people?
Thousands of people have sat in that chair opposite me, and they have all trusted me to do my job. There’s no halo over my head, I just trust what I’m doing. When people come to me, they are messed up. They are like a nervous wreck and many of them are at death’s door. But when they come in, they go through the journey. They will learn nothing in a session or two, you must follow through in life and commit to the eight sessions, maybe even more. The one thing I ask of them is a verbal contract to promise to keep coming back. Some of them might need to go on and do more sessions and others were OK after a couple of sessions so it varies a lot from person to person.

What advice do you have for people who are worried and how they can mind their own mental health?
We all need a bit of reassurance that life is going to be ok! What I’ve learned over the years is that people always have that innate feeling that they know what is right for them. It’s crucial that people trust that gut feeling. To act on and to do whatever you feel is right and necessary for you. I rely on them to hit the right buttons. People find their own way around issues once you open the door for them to talk.

How would someone know when the time has come to get professional help?
For some people it isn’t always about counselling, but in a way the process is the same. When you sit with somebody you are counselling them because you’re having a conversation that goes both ways. You are being listened to, you are communicating, and you are offering a difference of opinion. It’s a conversation that’s going on. The doctor can be a line of help for that conversation, a person in the community, a family member; whoever it is that you feel you can trust to talk to. Then you can make the move to counselling if you feel you want to get more professional support.

What do you love most about your work?
I’m glad to have my qualifications behind me but they don’t tell the full story of whether I’m doing my job well. I abide by the core conditions of counselling; respect, rapport and unconditional regard for another. I hold those close to me and I feel I can never go wrong with a client because I always work with the client’s best interest at heart.
After that it’s the team here. I can talk to Angela and Rory very openly. When I meet a new client, we go on a journey together. I don’t know where it’s going to take either of us, but I delight in every time I meet somebody new. I’m very happy in my work.

Finally, what do you do to look after your own mental health?
I have a great relationship with my wife and kids and that’s where I get a lot of my strength. I pray for my own strength, to be able to get up and be present in the moment and not to miss the beauty of that. I walk. I talk to colleagues, and I put myself out there. I just try to mind myself and be kind. I don’t hold onto things. I don’t believe in holding onto anybody living rent-free in my head, if they are causing me problems, I get rid of them.
Philip holds Diplomas in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Life Coaching and a Degree in Psychotherapy Counselling. He is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP).
If you would like further information on our counselling services or to book an appointment, please get in touch with our team. / 056 7796592 / Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @teactom

Previous When positive action is controlling the controllable
Next Saint Patrick's Day 1903 in Kilkenny