I haven’t really blogged before about why I am retraining to become a counsellor. Partly because the question seems so personal. It goes to the core of who I am and what I want out of life. Also, a lot of what happens in class and in the experiential workshops involves other people , which would not be appropriate to talk about outside of that setting.
As I started University this weekend the question of why I want to be a counsellor has played on my mind. To not write about my personal journey seems wrong as if I am withholding part of my life.
So why do I want to become a counsellor?
Because I think I would be good at it. I find people and the stories we tell ourselves fascinating. In the darkest of times, counselling has been a life line for me. Sitting opposite somebody who had no investment in my life and to who I could tell anything was extraordinarily liberating. Watching how my counsellor was with me, was the first time I realised that this was something I could do.
But I put it off for years. I was too fucked up. I was too young. I hadn’t done a psychology degree. It was too expensive. It wasn’t the right time. How would I fit it around work? The excuses were endless.
Looking back maybe I was right, but I was also terrified of trying and failing.
Then last spring a colleague mentioned in passing that she was doing an Introductory Counselling course. I felt consumed by envy. I wanted to do that! So I did.
Walking into a room full of strangers and saying I wanted to be a counsellor was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Skipping the small talk and starting to learning about people from their insides out was hard. It took me a long time to get back into the rhythm of studying again.
But then I got sick and I had to have an operation missing the penultimate session. If I missed another I would fail the course. So seven days after my operation, my stomach swollen and bruised, I left my house for the first time to go into the college. I wanted to be a counsellor that much.
I passed and did further courses. A year later I applied for the degree at the University of Brighton. It was very competitive and I was warned I was unlikely to get in the first time I applied.
In the interview, which at times strayed more therapy than an interview they asked if I would still want to me a counsellor ‘If my sister had not been hit by that car’. The question threw me so much that I was certain afterwards that I had flunked the interview. Because how can I ever know who I would be without that? What ifs are particularly unhelpful. It happened and that shaped me into who I am today.
They offered me a place and this weekend we had our first two-day teaching block. One of the tutors said that on her introductory course, the tutor begun by saying: ‘You are all here because you failed your first two patients.’
Meaning your parent’s. Ouch. When she said that, it struck such a chord in me, because I did. It has taken me years to realise that I am not responsible for helping anybody else. For a very long time, subsuming myself to help other people was the only way I knew of being in the world. As if unless I had a purpose, people would not like me.
Which is to use counselling parlance, bullshit.
Learning to resist that urge to ‘help’, to ‘rescue’, to ‘save’ is something I still struggle with and perhaps I always will. In the end, every counsellors learns that you can’t help anybody. All you can do is be alone in a room with another and listen and hope that through that process of being heard they can help themselves. This is what I hope to accomplish, sitting with that feeling of helplessness and being OK with it.
Wish me luck?