I have never conducted a poll amongst my colleagues to find out how many of them went into counselling training following an experience of having been in counselling themselves. I suspect it is a significant proportion. I had 8 sessions of counselling courtesy of the NHS many years’ ago, following a traumatic period in my life. It felt like a springboard to something new, a timely examination of the events that had occurred and an exploration of all of life’s possibilities. I have never forgotten the experience or the benefits it brought. From then on, I felt strongly that I wanted to do the same for others, a kind of “paying it forwards”. This desire led to five years’ of studying part-time with the Counselling Foundation (whilst also working, running a home, getting re-married and bringing up a blended family of five children!). The first year focused on the Certificate in Counselling Skills, which taught active listening skills, encouraged the capacity for self-reflection and gave an introduction to the thinking of important psychoanalytic writers such as Freud, Klein, Fairbairn and Winnicott. It was both challenging and inspiring. The four years after this were a whirlwind of studying with my training colleagues in our weekly seminars, attending the experiential group and trying to understand the challenges it presented us with, writing numerous essays, beginning client work, attending supervision groups and reflecting on our client work. It felt fantastic eventually to reach the Holy Grail of all this effort, the Advanced Diploma in Psychodynamic Counselling. A year later I became registered as a counsellor and psychotherapist with the BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy), which confirmed my fitness to practice independently or in an agency. It was an extraordinary six years of personal growth and academic learning.
From the moment I was allocated my first client, it has been a privilege to walk alongside those who are looking to change their lives. It’s a humbling experience. Once a week for fifty minutes, counsellors sit and listen to another human being’s experience of their reality. We acknowledge their truth and use our skills to collaborate with them in their exploration and quest for understanding of themselves and those around them.
Even after more than a decade as a practitioner, this work remains inspiring, challenging, hugely enjoyable at times and yet also, at times, moving and even heart-breaking. It takes courage for a person to admit that life is becoming too difficult to deal with alone. Anyone who refers themselves to any organisation offering support and help with mental health issues has my greatest admiration. Thankfully there seems to have been an increase in understanding and acceptance of the reality of mental health issues over the past few years. It’s no longer seen as weakness to admit to feelings of depression, anxiety or not wanting to be here anymore. As time goes on, let us hope that the cruel stigma that stopped people with emotional and mental challenges from seeking the appropriate help for their difficulties will wither and die.
Fiona di Leo
Bedford Clinical Manager