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Combating the Crazies

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On June 8th, Robert MacDonald and David West of The Balanced Life Magazine visited the Langley home of Oasis Consulting, where Shelley Brierley reaches out with her message of education, counselling, and therapy. Sipping tea on the sofa in Shelley’s office, we absorbed the atmosphere, a curious balance of business-like intensity, passionate commitment, and garden-like serenity.

The oasis concept reflects Shelley’s mission: “For most of us in our lives, it can get very hectic and very crazy. The only way we can really stop to reclaim ourselves, to be intentional about who we want to be, is to find a kind of oasis, whether it’s in ourselves or in the world, in order to pull back, go inward, and stop and reflect on what’s important to us, who we want to be, where we are going, and how we are behaving toward that. Most people are going so fast they have lost sight of how important it is to do this, or they have lost the skill.

In the midst of life’s frantic journey, an oasis is a place to stop, take stock, plan the next leg of the journey, and prepare to go forward in a meaningful way. “ I believe, a part of effective therapy or counselling is the claiming of time from one’s usual hectic pace of life, going into that oasis to stop and making the time to reflect on what ‘this being is about, at this time, in this universe.”

Shelley developed ‘The Oasis’ because of a need to accomplish the best in her work. “ I was told by an agency I was working in, that I could do only counselling, but I knew I had to do both counselling and teaching in order to be most effective. I had to make a choice, to do as they said and continue to work within that framework, which meant giving up what I knew was best for me, or to honour my ‘inner knowledge’ and go out on my own. It was clear to me that I had to take the leap of faith and open my own business in order to offer my combined skills, and maximize my gifts and my personal potential. It was, and is, important for me to be the best of who I am; to serve those I deal with, in whatever capacity, in a manner that allows me to teach them how to maximize the best gifts or strengths in their life in a way that allows them to be the best they can be.”

Knowing who we are and being true to our selves is not often easy, in a changing world. People lose the key reminders of who they are. “In much of our culture we have sold ourselves out. They say, well okay, I won’t be honest about what I believe or say what I think, as a way of getting this job or having that role. These behaviours leave people feeling they are much less than they can be. When we start to sell ourselves out in that way, I think it’s easy to lose the self.”

The Circle of Strength is a program that Shelley developed to address peoples’ patterns of behaviour in conflict. “The Circle helps people become aware of the dysfunctional elements of their thinking, the relationships they have with people, of the system(s) that they are a part of. The workshop provides a way to recognize the crazy patterns that feed conflict. It helps people to understand the role that they’ve been playing in the pattern. However, it is not just a matter of just changing the role a person plays, because he or she is still in that dynamic pattern.” It is a matter of creating a whole new pattern. By being aware of the dynamics, people become capable of converting their weaknesses to strengths and of creating a new way of being. “Like changing one’s part in a script, it provides the freedom to be creative and to intentionally define who you wish to become as well as showing you the specific behaviours to practice in order to re-create yourself. When you change your lines in a script, you do two things: you change the status quo or the habitual response, and you open up the possibility for other changes, both in yourself and in others. Making shifts and changes in one’s life is an empowering and exciting experience. The Circle of Strength is about changing systems, whether the system is comprised of an organization, a relationship or an individual. Shelley says, “My passion lies in helping people grow and develop their skills, in creating an experience that assists them in finding themselves, and in the delight of in watching it all happen.”

Shelley’s workshops are aimed at teaching both theory and skills. Participants come away with a life-changing paradigm shift. They get clear on whom they want to be and how to get there. Shelley believes in the importance of life-long learning and adaptability. “Change is coming faster all the time and it is going to escalate. The people who are going to survive emotionally are people who understand how they behave and what motivates them because they will be able to use their own strengths and inner motivation to intentionally choose a path, and act on that path. As Ghandi said, ‘Be the change in the world you wish to see.’”

Shelley knows that self-knowledge is the basis for making good life choices, for “stopping the crazies.” With awareness of how we create our problems and react to them, we can begin to make shifts toward better balance in our lives. “You only have choice when you have awareness.” Mentoring others to pass on this message is an important part of her work; i.e. mentoring people like Susan Krautter of Trillium Wellness Centre in Maple Ridge. Whether through teaching, counselling, consulting, or therapy, Shelley feels a strong sense of mission. People can choose to do personal counselling for a session or like Sue, can choose to participate in a 2 year certification program in Responsible Decision Making/ Reality Therapy based on Internal Control Theory, a scientifically substantiated theory of human motivation.

Shelley’s workshop sessions give people “a common language, and a set of questioning skills for planning.” They are able to change from a dis-empowering role to an empowering one. “But if you don’t have the awareness of what you are currently doing or saying, and what the implicit message is in that, you haven’t truly got the choice to change it.”

Shelley, a wife and mother, has an impressive background and credentials. With a Masters of Education degree in Counselling Psychology from UBC, and certification in Reality Therapy, she is a Registered Clinical Counsellor, and a senior faculty member of the International Association for Applied Internal Control Theory. She has conducted workshops and programs across North America, in Ireland, Australia and Indonesia. She worked with young people in treatment centres and with adults in clinical settings before entering private practice in the White Rock and Langley area in 1982. Her ‘minibook’ Blame to Balance (1997), soon to be expanded, discusses the Circle of Strength and the dynamics of personal, professional, and interpersonal patterns of conflict.