One morning, just after Christmas 2000, I decided that I wanted to become a counsellor. Yes, just like that. I think I was reading an article in a paper about the incredible impact a good counsellor can have on a person experiencing mental trauma, and I felt that I could be that person. I wanted to be that someone who could help turn a life around.
I had had a few volunteering experiences with vulnerable people since leaving university, and knew that I was a good listener and had a degree of intuition. Now I felt I was ready to make a commitment to this as a career choice, and leave my day job, which was either a remarkably stupid or courageous move, depending on your view point.
I used to tell anyone that asked that I became a counsellor because I wanted to emulate Counsellor Deanna Troi in Star Trek, but people started to believe me so I stopped telling that story. Counsellor Troi was an ‘empath’ for all those non “Trekkies” out there, and could read peoples thoughts, which frankly gave her quite the advantage when choosing counselling as a career.
Having decided I wanted to become a counsellor, I tried to book myself on a course but was advised that I would have to get some more concrete experience working with vulnerable people first. Luckily, an amazing charity in Southampton were recruiting for their volunteer bank at the time and I was accepted to undergo six weeks of training after which I became a volunteer at No Limits, a centre for young people in crisis.
I wouldn’t say that I was a sheltered individual particularly, but certainly volunteering at No Limits opened my eyes to the desperation and sadness of many young people’s lives. Many were homeless, had issues with family, had problems with bullying or being exploited, were experiencing dependency issues or health problems that were causing feelings of isolation. Many just felt that, for whatever reason, they didn’t fit in and some were suicidal. We provided tea, coffee, biscuits and a listening ear. I learnt very quickly not to try and be a ‘fixer.’ Having the confidence to simply ‘be’ with someone while they cry, rant or just sit in silence, is a skill. Offering unconditional acceptance was such a gift to many of these young people.
When I left No Limts a few years later, I was given cards by some of the people I worked with. I’ve still got those cards and they bring back amazing memories of working with some incredibly resilient and inspiring young people.
Meanwhile, I was still pursuing my dream of becoming a counsellor. I researched the different approaches, which fall into three main categories, Psychodynamic, Behavioural and Person Centred, and started to think about which most interested me.
Psychodynamic counselling appealed to me from the beginning. It’s origins are in the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud and during a session, which is typically 50 minutes, the client is encouraged to focus on the unconscious mind and past experiences. The Pyschodynamic approach believes that we repeat patterns of behaviour, often making the same mistakes over and over. Clients are asked to return to childhood experiences and relationships and are fully expected to transfer long buried feelings onto the counsellor, as if they were a key person in their past. This is called the Transference and is a cornerstone of this type of counselling. I chose the psychodynamic approach because I personally believe our childhood experiences impact greatly on our adult personalities, and I was interested in the Transference concept.
Behavioural counselling is about unlearning learnt behaviours (CBT is very popular at the moment) while Person Centred Therapies, developed from Carl Rogers theories, focus on the client being given ‘Unconditional Positive Regard’, warmth and empathy. The focus is more on the ‘now’ than it is on the past.
After an introductory course, I progressed to a one year Access course for the Psychodynamic Diploma and then the full 2 year Diploma, and finally an Advanced Diploma which allowed me to practice privately. During the last three years of training I was required to be in my own therapy. My therapist was a psychoanalyst and I found her very challenging indeed, but eventually came to respect her and the way that she practised. After 3 years of weekly therapy, I felt I was a different person. Some of that was good, some of it not so. My husband and I parted during my training. And although there were many reasons for that outside of my training, part of it was my increased self knowledge.
I volunteered for my first year as a newly qualified counsellor and later built a small private practice and had a regular group of clients. Some came for a few months, some stayed years. It was hard work and good supervision was key. Being able to offload and discuss your clients with an external supervisor once a week is essential.
I hope I offered every single one of my clients my best, such as it was. Some sessions were full of tears and rage, some of laughter. Some clients said virtually nothing, others had to be gently asked to stop at the session end. Some knew what they expected from the counselling experience, others didn’t have a clue. Many would ask when they would be ‘cured’, which of course was something I could not answer.
In early 2017, 16 years after I had decided to become a counsellor, I decided that this period of my life was over and slowly over the next few months I gradually stopped my sessions.
And that was that. I’ve not regretted giving it up. It was always going to have a shelf life, but it was an incredible experience and taught me so much about myself. If I could turn the clock back now to Christmas 2000, I would without a doubt, make the same decision and go through it all again. I hope I changed some peoples lives. Where I didn’t, I hope I helped them to see themselves with a new clarity. Where I didn’t, I hope I listened and that was enough ❤️