“This course should come with a health warning.” – I remember this very clear message as I went for my interview for the Graduate Diploma in Professional Counselling Studies and in hindsight, I can see what they meant! The course is, without doubt, one of the most difficult, in-depth, warts and all experiences I have ever had. Yet at the same time, it is also one of the most liberating, eye-opening and character-building experiences of my life. But what comes next after qualifying as a Counsellor…?
I remember feeling quite liberated at the thought of no more PD, no more essays and compulsory reading, no more naked truths or REAL feedback but after nearly a year of qualifying, I have grown to genuinely miss these things. Having finished the course, it has helped me realize just how precious these experiences were and how unlikely it is to come across the same situation again. I remember everything being on hold until “I have finished my counselling course…” and then all of sudden, I found myself exactly there. I am a qualified counsellor…now what?!
It felt like the stabilizers had come off my bike and now I was not only left to ride on my own, but I had to go and find my own bike too! The message was very clear from all that I spoke to – “It’s almost impossible to get a counselling job out there you know!” There was a part of me that really didn’t want to accept that and I suppose it does have an element of truth but I refused to be disheartened. This is what I wanted to do, this was what I worked (and paid) so much for and what I wanted as my career!
After Qualifying as a Counsellor
I suppose the main thing that I have learnt is to get out there and do all that you can and be pro-active in your search for opportunities. My first employment came out of a simple chat I had with someone quite soon after qualifying about what they suggested I did next to try and gain experience and employment in the counselling field. They were extremely helpful and provided lots of different avenues and then months later they happened to have an opening for a counsellor in a couple of organizations – BINGO! You never know what simply making an enquiry about counselling work may lead to. There may not be anything when you enquire but things can change and people will remember that you made the effort to enquire in the first place.
I know for certain that with each person you ask, your enthusiasm, personal-development and commitment to the cause will shine through. From the people that I know on my own counselling course, the ones that truly believed in counselling took the time to go the extra mile and really pushed their personal development are the ones that now find themselves in counselling employment. Not only will this come through to employers, but it will also come through to your clients. The saying is true – You can only go as far with your client as you have gone with yourself. And really this is a good mantra for the whole of counselling work, the more you put in, the more you will get out.
The knock-backs and challenges
I wouldn’t like to paint a completely rosy picture, as I did have my fair share of knock-backs along the way when I applied for various counselling positions after qualifying as a counsellor. However, these can be great ways to build as a person and a counsellor. What came across to the panel in the interview that they did and didn’t like? What was missing from your application that meant you weren’t shortlisted? These are the questions that will all form the journey that you will soon find yourselves on.
When counselling jobs do come up, they will often be met with many applicants and so it can be a bit of a battle, but I think that given the profession we are in that this is only to be expected. As mentioned before, there is a great deal of work and effort put into becoming a counsellor and it isn’t something that takes a couple of weeks training. The people that we are dealing with and the nature of our work needs people who are gifted in this area, who go the extra mile and aren’t afraid to take risks and sometimes this can lead to a tough and thorough application process.
One way of making sure that your work as a counsellor is always growing is to stay in any work that you can as a counsellor and sometimes this can often mean working as a volunteer. If an employer sees that you are willing to gain further experience unpaid, this will speak volumes. It will also help you grow as a counsellor a great deal and be able to offer more to your next client. For myself and others, I know, staying on at your counselling placement is often a good option. Equally, others are happy to leave and gain experience in another area. What matters is gaining further experience as a counsellor wherever possible. Tasks such as reading counselling books or taking part in courses to continue professional development can also make a big difference to your work. However, I know I was ready for a bit of a break from education and reading after my course finished!
I think the main thing that I would like to offer from this article is that it isn’t easy to walk straight into a counselling job but it is possible. I wouldn’t like to offer the pessimistic view given by most or to paint a completely unrealistic picture. However, what I would like to offer, is that if you want a job in counselling enough, and you put the time and effort into doing what you can to achieve this, you will reap the rewards eventually. People will see the effort you have put in since qualifying, they will see how much you want to work as a counsellor and they will see your commitment to providing a good quality of service to each and every client. Who wouldn’t want to employ someone like that!? Good Luck.