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What it’s Like, Training to Become a Counsellor

February 14, 2020

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In September, I started on one of the most daunting, but hopefully most rewarding journeys of my life  – so far. I went back to college and started training to become a counsellor. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I don’t think I was prepared for just how difficult it would be.

Level 2 Certificate in Counselling Skills is all about learning how to listen. Sounds easy. After all, we listen to people every day: friends, family, work colleagues. We have conversations, talk about our weekend or complain about how shit our day is.

But listening to someone, is a lot more complicated than that. Really listening involves picking up on feelings and emotions, reading between the lines and listening for unsaid words. It’s about picking up on information that people might not be ready to put a voice to yet. It’s not just about learning to listen to someone either. It’s also about asking questions and helping someone to look at their problems from a different perspective.

Being on the course doesn’t mean I can call myself a counsellor. That doesn’t come until the end of Level 4 – so only another 3.5 years to go! Students are called helpers or listeners, and the person who is being helped or listened to is called the helpee. In time, once qualified, this will eventually become counsellor and client.

The course is based around Person-Centred Therapy, which means as a helper, I’m not there to offer advice or solutions. But rather assist the helpee to unravel their problem, and eventually come to their own conclusion of how to deal with it.

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What Should I Expect?

When I enrolled on the course, I had no idea what to expect. I’ll learn a few listening skills, I thought, and become better equipped to help the people who talk to me in confidence. It’s actually more complicated than that, and I’m learning more about myself than I could have ever imagined! Areas I’m having to work on, include opening myself up to feeling vulnerable, becoming more self-aware (learning why I am the way I am), and getting out of my comfort zone.

Vulnerability and Trust

Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection – Brené Brown

What I wasn’t prepared for, was how much I would learn about myself. During practise sessions, you draw off your own experiences. This means stripping back the layers, opening yourself up to a group of strangers, and allowing yourself to be completely vulnerable.

This has been difficult at times. Allowing the words to come tumbling out and trusting the person in front of me. Trusting them wholeheartedly with my thoughts, feelings or inner most fears, trying to remember they’re not there to judge me.

It’s down to me how much I share. But as the weeks pass by and the trust begins to grow, the more comfortable I become. Opening myself up to feeling vulnerable, is an important part of the training, and I’ve found it surprising the things I want to talk about. I’m uncovering things I didn’t even know were bothering me, and I’m surprised how many things are interlinked without me even realising it.

I start off talking about one issue, then find myself going off on a tangent, talking about something else. Each week I come away feeling emotionally drained.

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Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes – Carl Jung

The only way you can help others, is by understanding yourself first.

Values and beliefs are engrained in us from a young age. The way we were brought up, how our parents behaved, the friends we had and the values we picked up from them along the way.

Understanding my own values, where my beliefs come from and why I behave the way I do, is crucial if I want to help others.

Each week, I have to write a learning journal. I record my thoughts and feelings, what I’ve learnt, and if I’ve used any of my skills to help anyone during the week. Becoming more self-aware is something that slowly unravels week-by-week, and the learning journal plays a crucial part in this process.

I’m uncovering internal blocks and learning why I struggle to empathise with some people more than others, and the issues they’re dealing with. By becoming aware of my blocks, I’m able to gain a deeper understanding of myself and why I have certain feelings about specific topics. It also helps me to figure out ways in which to deal with them.

The main thing is, during a helping session, even if someone’s values don’t align with my own, I put my personal feelings aside. I still listen and offer a safe space where the helpee can talk freely, without judgement.

Woman dressed in walking clothes

Comfort Zone

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone – Neale Donald Walsche

Oh boy, is this true! In order to progress, I need to get out of my comfort zone. Each week brings new challenges and some weeks are harder than others. Each session is emotionally draining, and some week’s I just feel broken. But, each time I break, I put myself back together again, knowing I’m making myself stronger than I was before.

If I’d have known exactly what to expect from the course, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have enrolled. I really struggle with group work. So, for me, personal development groups, which is where the whole class discuss a topic together – is my worst nightmare, and I only talk if I have to.

We had a level 3 student come and talk to our class recently and he described level 2 as being turned inside out and back again. I’ve also heard counsellor training in general, be described as being put in a washing machine on a spin cycle. From group discussions to personal presentations, getting out of my comfort zone is something I can’t get away from, because in order to help others, I first have to know myself – inside out.

What Now?

A journey of a thousand miles, starts with a single step – Laozi

I’m just at the beginning of my journey to become a counsellor, but I’m already learning so much. Not just about listening and helping others, but about myself too. I’m slowly peeling back the layers, allowing myself to think, feel and explore issues that I didn’t realise were affecting me so much. As the weeks go by and my self-awareness grows, each step is making me better equipped to help other people – which is the reason I enrolled on the course in the first place.

As my journey of training to become a counsellor continues and my self-discovery grows, I hope you’ll join me for the ride.

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