I had been working in the voluntary sector in a helping capacity for quite a few years and then in 2006 I qualified with a Diploma in Counselling Competence. I then spotted the BSc Counselling & Psychotherapy which was run by PCI here in Ireland in association with Middlesex, so decided to apply for that.
A lot of similar degree programmes tended to focus on CBT and psychoanalytic approaches which have a place but weren't for me. The more humanistic approach offered by the Middlesex course really appealed. A large component of it was dedicated to personal development and reflective practice.
I really enjoyed the group learning experience and the fact the academic modules were structured in a way that was achievable. Each assessment had three parts to it: academic theory, practical application and personal development.
Adopt an approach of curiosity, not certainty. You really need to be open to different experiences, engaging with other people and self-learning so I think curiosity is key.
My course was the foundation that allowed me to start my own practice a year after completing my degree. Since then, we have grown to a practice with three therapists and are in the process of recruiting another.
By very nature of the way the course was designed, I was connected to lecturers and other counsellors who could help facilitate turning my desire to help others and share my experience into practice.
One of the main pros is you get to meet people in a very real way and spend time with them. Technology is great but it isn't a substitute for interacting with people and relating to them in person.
Additionally, the more I learn in this area and sphere of life, the more I see the impact it has and its capacity as a mechanism for healing. It is definitely a career in its own right.
The con is that when you move into professional practice, there is a degree of isolation in the work place. There isn't the same camaraderie as in other business as most of the day you spend in one-to-one sessions with clients.
I also think that the fact counselling in Ireland is still unregulated is a big con. There needs to be more accountability, better standards and we are not there yet – this is likely to take 6 to 7 years. Until there is a national register, this won't happen.
After a couple of years on the course, you begin to see clients so you begin to establish relationships and learn how to articulate what you can provide. I came from a business background so I also have a good understanding of technology and how to establish and make your presence felt online. I also had a colleague who was also interested in starting up a practice so she came on board and we have been going since 2007.
The expansion of the practice has been a career defining moment. We have a waiting list of clients partly because we provide a fairly low cost service but mainly because people see the value in the help we offer, which is great.
I think the real highlight for me is being able to provide a service that helps people and makes their lives better. If I can help someone in some shape or form, that is the primary measure of success for me personally.
Further expansion of what we offer to clients. We are a small collective of therapists and get together every few months to discuss our short-term, medium-term and long-term objectives. Our long term objective is to found a bricks and mortar practice which will be able to facilitate not only one-to-one sessions but also group sessions and counselling training e.g. teaching dream work and facilitating dream appreciation sessions (I think dreams can provide significant insight and energise people's personal development).
Do the work! Invest yourself in the course and your profession – though it's not easy to balance the demands of work/study/life, your greatest gift to a client is yourself – what you've read and what you know are only parts of what you can offer to people in difficulty. The more you invest yourself, the more benefit you will be in accompanying your clients on their journey.
Find a mentor – speak to people who are well known and highly competent in their field, seek out people who can offer advice and support and at the very least, secure a good supervisor who can model the kind of work you want to do yourself.
Lastly, you need to stay current. There is research being undertaken in the field of counselling and psychotherapy so you need to ensure you keep up-to-date with the latest developments in your areas of practice. This demonstrates your commitment to your field and furthermore, the professionalism of counselling as a whole.