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Am I qualified to be a counsellor?
Am I qualified to be a counsellor?
6 Oct 2018

How do you explain the rich tapestry of life events that qualify you for counselling people who need assistance in dealing with life, or in making decisions? There are the obvious things: the training, the professional reading, the conferences and seminars attended over 20 years. These I have done. I have degrees to prove I am a thoughtful practitioner; I have years of experience that show I am familiar with the rhythm of personal work with couples and individuals from all walks of life. There is also what I refer to as my previous life: high school teaching, drama teaching and training in improvised theatre, and special education experience. Experiencing marriage, and my parenting two boys (now men) are also in the mix. All sorts of spiritual and community involvement, creative exploration and deep and constant friendships: these, too, shape my work with people. But which parts of my background most qualify me for sitting with people, listening and exploring personal, intricate pain in my clients’ lives? My qualifications, beyond all the professionalism required, comes from cleaning out the cobwebs in my own life. Facing my own pain, and joy, and despair and exhilaration. I see the notion of being a “Wounded Healer” as central to my work. I live as a person who is tootling along, bumbling at times, and tripping up on occasion, but in it all I am committed to learning and growing as a human being. This is what qualifies me. Not the pieces of paper, though I need them. Not the professional experience, even though it is invaluable. My engagement with myself and my own life in its imperfection, colour and richness is the background material I draw on in the counselling room every day. All the hours I have spent being a client is my touchstone for the usefulness of what I do in my work. The landscape of internal exploration is not scary for me…it is a familiar, well-travelled path. There is a saying: trust the process. I do. I trust it because, as a client I had to learn to trust the moments of terror and uncertainty, the ups and the downs, the weeks when we the therapist and I felt lost or stuck. I equally trust the client to have the resources and strengths to sort out what they need. I am there to help clients help themselves, and where possible, to offer input that may be useful to them. I deeply understand what it is like to be misunderstood or shamed by a counsellor; equally I know in my bones what it is like to be truly heard, deeply respected and trusted by the therapist. There is a profound difference between those two experiences. All of this informs my practice when I sit with my clients, when I train, when I supervise. I say to those who want to train as a counsellor: study and get your degree, and work on your own self-knowledge and personal growth. If you do not do both, you may miss the juicy, alive experience of working with others. And you may rob your clients of the best bits, the richest experience of healing that you could have offered. The counsellors who helped me had done their own inner work. They had cleaned out their own closets and were actively working with their own selves, even as they worked with me. I am so thankful they did!