What It's Like to Be a Counsellor

Nidhi P. ('23)

       Ms.Cristina is a counselor at Seisen and has helped many to deal with issues such as family, friendship, stress and more. In this in-depth interview, she talks about what the life of a counselor is actually like and what it takes to be a good one. Going into the picture of her everyday life, issues she helps others to deal with and the makings of a good counselor.


Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself

A: My name is Cristina Varriale and I have been a counselor for about 15 years. I’ve been working at Seisen for 3 years. I graduated from Siena College in upstate New York, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies and a minor in Psychology and English. I got my master’s degree in school counseling from St.John’s University and another master’s degree in education administration and supervision from Fordham University. I work with both teachers and students. I collaborate with teachers a lot, but with counseling, it’s mostly with students, but I have in the past also had other teachers who came to me looking for someone to talk to.


Q: Did You Always Know You Wanted To Be a Counselor? If Not, What and When?

A: No, I wanted to be a few things. I think when I was really little, I wanted to be a writer and then I wanted to be a lawyer for a while. To be honest with you, when I was in the 4th or 5th grade, I used to read these books called Sweet Valley High, where the dad was a lawyer and one of the daughters interned and I thought that sounded like it could be a really cool job. I used to also watch law shows and I thought that was really cool and I wanted to put bad people in prison. I started to get a better understanding of what I wanted to do when my mom died when I was going into grade 7. Being raised as a Catholic, I believed that everything happens for a reason. The only justification there was for God taking away my mom so early was that He provided me an opportunity to understand pain, loss, and grief to empathize with others who had undergone a similar event. At that instant, I decided I wanted to be a counselor.


Q: What Is Your Schedule Usually Like? Busy or Free?

A: It’s pretty busy, but it varies from day to day. If you looked at my timetable, it would look like I have lots of free time, because it's only my classes that I teach there. However, I’m also responsible for all of the students in grades 7 through 12, which I think is about 100 students in middle school and about 250 students in high school. So, that’s a lot. I also teach all the students in 7,8,9 and 10, so I teach 8 classes and have to be available for counseling, whilst also doing a lot of extra stuff. 


Q: What is the Most Common Problem/Issue Students Come to you With?

A: For middle school, I would say the most common problem is friendship issues, which people misidentify a lot like bullying when it’s not really bullying and just conflict. I also try to teach the skills it takes to communicate and stand up for yourself. Highschool is more stress and anxiety and to an extent, sometimes social anxiety. 


Q: What Advice Would you Give to Those Planning on Pursuing your Field?

A: For those who are aiming for the same field, I would highly recommend working on their listening skills. I know a lot of us to like to classify ourselves as good listeners, but we’re not. Good listeners ask questions that are able to infer what people are feeling. For example, by showing good body language and asking a lot of questions. It’s also important for counselors to take care of themselves.


Q: What Would you say are Five Characteristics/Attributes that Make a Good Counsellor?

A: Firstly, you have to be a good listener. Secondly, you have to be empathetic. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and feel with somebody. Compassion is also very important. I think you need to know how to ask good questions. Not only does a good counselor provide advice, but he or she also asks questions to guide people to figure things out for themselves. Another essential attribute is a sense of humor. Counseling can cause some very tough issues to come up and sometimes it’s good to be able to have a sense of humor. Especially when situations get really heavy, it’s nice to lighten up the moment. Finally, it’s important for counselors to have boundaries, both with their clients and around their own time and space.




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