In 2019, I took on one of the biggest challenges of my life. I went back to college and started training to become a counsellor. I’ve heard people say that being a counsellor is a second career. Something else has already come before it, and somewhere in your 30s or 40s, you realise it’s time for a change.
Depending on how long you count as a career, in my case, it’s probably my third or fourth! CAD Technician, self-employed photographer and then printer; aerobics instructor, gym instructor and personal trainer – giving advice on health, well-being, and nutrition, listening to people’s concerns about life, love, exercise addiction and eating disorders. It’s this last list that’s important. This is what made me realise, I felt much more fulfilled, providing a safe space for someone to unload their problems, than I did putting them through a training session.
Training to Become a Counsellor
At first, people started confiding in me during their initial assessment, because filling out a health questionnaire opens up some interesting discussions. But before long, I’d hear a voice shout from across the gym and look up to find someone gesturing towards the assessment room, because they wanted a quiet word. Or someone would approach the gym desk and ask if I had a minute to talk somewhere private.
At first, I didn’t understand what was happening. I felt a little uncomfortable, like I was intruding in their private life – prying almost – even though they’d approached me. But soon, I realised people were coming to me because they trusted me. Occasionally, when someone asked if what they told me, would remain confidential. I’d compare the office to Las Vegas. ‘It’s like Vegas’ I’d tell them. ‘What happens in the office, stays in the office.’
When I started training to become a counsellor, I was 41 and it soon became clear why people said it was a second career. By this time, you have enough well-rounded life experience to take the good, the bad, and the questionable decisions; the pain and the grief, the break-ups, and the make-ups, and use it to understand what people are going through. That’s not to say you can’t do it in your twenties, my class is filled with amazing people spanning many ages. But for me, I know damn well I couldn’t have related to people and empathised with them, the way I do now.
Empathy is a strange and powerful thing. There is no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgement, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of “You’re not alone”. – Brené Brown
Life’s a Journey, not a Destination
Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes – Carl Jung
This journey is a long one – 4-years overall, and there’s a lot to learn. Not only about theory, ethical frameworks, and mental health. But about myself too. Becoming self-aware and exploring my beliefs, values, and views of the world; where they come from and how to push them aside when I’m faced with someone whose values don’t align with my own.
Level 2 started building the foundations and taught me how to listen – because really listening, is harder than you think. It opened the door to self-awareness, feeling vulnerable, and getting out of my comfort zone – something I normally fight against. But I survived and here I am on Level 3, 10-weeks away from completing my second year of training.
I’ve opened myself up to digging deeper, uncovering internal blocks, and peeling back more layers than ever before. I think the road ahead might be rocky, but as I continue on my journey, I hope you’ll join me for the ride.