Last week I was asked to speak about counselling to a group of professional contractors—electricians, plumbers, carpenter, builders, and other tradesmen. Waiting for my turn to speak, I was sitting next to an electrician telling me about his work. He said to me that most electrical accidents can be avoided if people have the right tools and the right training. “Most injuries are people messing with the wiring in their homes when they don’t know what they are doing,” he said. He didn’t get psychotherapy—how it was any use to him. He wasn’t rude or condescending, he just did not see how it fit into his life of working, finding customers, paying the bills—just doing what needs to be done.

Sitting and listening to the guest speaker ahead of me talking about the realities of getting work in a struggling economy—making do with less, I quickly rethought what was supposed to be a talk on dealing with stress. When it was my turn to speak, I began with the following analogy:

“As an electrician or plumber, you are not born knowing how to wire a house or hook up a sewer line. You are born with the ability to learn things. You probably picked up a some skills through watching others and other skills through trial and error, but most technical skills are learnt in a trades course. In our emotional life it is the same—we are wired to connect and we do learn emotional skills by watching and interacting with others and by trial and error, but when there is a crisis—a tragedy, relationship conflict, depression—these skills are often not enough. Avoidance in crisis also doesn’t work—it is kind of like me seeing smoke coming from the electrical box in my house and putting duct tape over it. This is where psychotherapy comes in; in counselling we find the tools you need to deal with your inner renovation and renewal issues.”

I was not trying to be patronizing or to blatantly sell myself but wanted to connect with what these people knew about using the right skills in the right way at the right time. I truly think psychotherapy is like an emotional trade school; and by this I do not imply that I was or am better than anyone else in that room at dealing with emotional issues but, just as tradesmen need to run through ideas with someone and follow a basic way of working with their projects, in counselling we do the same with the emotional areas of life. As the contractor, I can point out where things may be getting stuck and then suggest, through getting to know my clients, some tools they might be able to use.

I didn’t make an Oscar winning speech, but it did break the ice and I was then able to respond to questions about specific issues and later to talk about stress. I did get a few phone calls the next week regarding services. Getting more clients was not my goal but it does indicate that it really is up to me to talk to people in a language they understand, which is what psychotherapy is all about. I thought the thank you card I got a few days later was funny—addressed to “The Electrical Counsellor.”