Deciding you want to become a Counsellor is a big step to take, and with a whole host of information online, it can be difficult to get a feel for what that process may actually look like in terms of time and commitment.
Websites such as BACP and CPCAB are great places to start when it comes to researching new career options and deciding whether or not you possess the personal qualities needed to become a successful counsellor, however, to help you gain a better understanding – we spoke with Tamikah Andrew-Thomas. Tamikah, a successful counsellor herself and head of the Psychology and Counselling department at City Lit, London, recently received recognition from ABC as a Showcase Centre for Counselling – so we thought she’d be the perfect place to start.
Could you tell us a bit about your early background as a Counsellor & Psychotherapist- how did you start out?
I was 18 when I embarked on my journey of training to become a qualified counsellor. I remember the point at which I knew counselling was definitely what I wanted to do. So I sought out training advice from the careers centre who at that time were known as Prospects. Each time I booked in to research counselling courses within or close to my area, I was asked my age. When I responded “18” my answer was always followed with a polite “you do know that counsellors are usually in their late twenties to early thirties when they begin their counselling training? It is because you need a lot of life experience…”. The advisors always seemed so surprised at my response which was simply, “life experience is not determined by one’s age”.
Eventually, I found a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Integrative Counselling at what was then known as Bromley College of Further and Higher Education. I went to the interview not knowing what the ‘Integrative’ meant in this context. I learnt that I was hopefully about to embark on a course in which I would study the three main approaches to counselling, Humanistic, Cognitive Behavioural and Psychodynamic. I was successful at interview and the rest, as they say, is history! 19 years later, counselling is still my Passion!
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to become a counsellor but has no idea where to start?
It is important to find a course that has a coherent progression route. This will begin with an Introduction to Counselling course, which should be at least 30 guided learning hours (10 weeks). Stay away from online counselling courses as your entrance into the field. Counselling is by its very nature relational.
An Introduction to Counselling course acts as a ‘taster’. It provides the opportunity to experience on the one hand what being a counsellor entails and on the other what further training will involve. This often enables students to make a more informed decision with regards to pursuing counselling as a career.
The next stage of training will either be a Level 2 or 3 Certificate in Counselling Skills of 145 guided learning hours (32 weeks). Next will be a Level 4 Diploma of at least 450 guided learning hours (68 weeks). It is the Level 4 Diploma that is still the entry level for qualifying status as a Professional Counsellor.
What are some of the requirements to consider before jumping onto a counselling course?
No previous experience in embarking on the first stage of counselling is required. However focusing on the full progression route (Intro – Diploma), I believe that the ‘real’ work of counselling is the self-work. This can be thought of as an individual constantly standing in front of a mirror, looking at and within themselves at great depth. It requires one to be open, willing and honest. This ongoing process is vital to becoming a competent and proficient counsellor. I also believe that it is impossible to ‘sit’ with another person without first being able to sit with yourself.
It is with the above in mind that I would encourage you to consider where you are in life. Is this the right time for you? What support systems do you have in place? Are you ready? Now, you should not be put off by the self-work and the unknown. But embrace it. I promise that it will be so worth it!
What course might someone take to become an accredited counsellor?
The process of becoming an Accredited Counsellor is based on a specific course guided learning hours met as well as specific requirements at Diploma level. There are then further post-qualifying criteria that need to be met. Individual Counsellor Accreditation will need to be sought through the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). BACP is the professional association for members of the counselling professions in the UK. Further details about accreditation can be found here: www.bacp.co.uk
How long does it take to become a counsellor? Is there only one route or several different ways?
There are various routes that can be taken to become a counsellor. Time length can be anything from 3 years to 7 years depending on the progression.
Here are a few questions from some of our readers:
Laura, 32 – Cheshire: “I’ve long dealt with my own mental health issues but really want to channel my lived experience to help others. What advice do you have if I want to venture into counselling but also want to keep myself safe and not add stress – is counselling for me?”
Tamikah // You’re not alone in your intent. I have spoken to hundreds of prospective students who had the same concerns. The questions to ask yourself and be honest about are; what is your motive for pursuing a career in counselling? Are you at a point in your life in which you will not be triggered to the point of distress by someone else’s experience? Remember, counselling is about the client and not the counsellor. What support systems do you have in place? Counselling training is not therapy although the experience can certainly feel therapeutic.
Sam, 45 – Surrey: “I’m currently working full-time as a teaching assistant in a primary school and I’m seeing more and more mental health issues in my classroom. I want to do something to help but don’t have time to become a counsellor. Is there a course I can take that could improve my awareness and support my pupils more?”.
Tamikah // I would suggest an Introduction to Counselling and the Level 3 Certificate in Counselling Skills. Level 3 is also for those who want to use counselling skills in a helping profession. At this level, you are not qualified as a counsellor.
Alex, 25 – London: “Is it true that you have to complete over 400 hours as an unpaid volunteer before I can become a paid counsellor”?
Tamikah // No this is not the case. You need to be fully qualified as a counsellor before you can be paid for work. The qualifying course must at least be 450 guided learning hours.
Do you have an open day at City Lit where people can come and meet the counselling and psychotherapy department and learn more about the courses on offer?
The Counselling Departmental open days at City Lit will be held on Tuesday 26th February 2019 at 17.00 – 19.00 and Friday 1st March 2019 at 12.00 – 14.00. You will have the opportunity to meet with some of the Counselling Team (including tutors) who will answer your questions and talk you through courses and enrolment.
If you are interested in becoming a Counsellor and want to explore some of your options, why not pop down to the Counselling & Psychotherapy Open Days at City Lit on Tuesday 26th Feb 2019 from 5 pm – 7 pm or Friday 1st March 2019 at 12:00 until 2 pm.