Counselling experience? Hang on. I might have that.

With my placement interview #2 coming up tomorrow, I can’t help but feeling the jitters especially with the recent setbacks concerning lack of counselling experience. And so as I was tossing and turning around in bed last night unable to put my mind at ease, a thought struck me. Isn’t counselling about offering guidance and support to others in their life decisions and understanding the causes of distressing thoughts? If so, the certificate in counselling course I was on last academic year does that.

Throughout the year, we were paired up in triads which changed every 2-3 months and we went through 3 changes. The triad sessions consisted of a speaker, listener and observer and were conducted in confidential environments where every group had their respective rooms. The most important point here is that, the issues and problems that were brought to each session were real and personal to each of us. We were not performing situational role plays. The listener guides the speaker through their genuine problems and offers the speaker a place to voice their concerns in a confidential environment. Here, we brought many deeply buried matters that have never been discussed with non-significant others (and we were a complex bunch, aye?). For the speaker, this allowed us to explore and understand ourselves better. For the listener, because of the trust placed on you, the degree of empathy and sensitivity offered does not pale in comparison to counselling offered in formal settings. Thus, I believe there is a case for concrete counselling experience.

The start of a new ‘year’ and some survival tips

September for most people signify a new chapter in their life. Going into university or starting a new year after the summer break. For me, I don’t form my resolutions on New Year, it has always been before the start of an academic year; what I plan to achieve, who I plan to impress, how much weight I plan to lose (:P), where I plan to be by next September etc. This year is no different.

I am finally entering the beginning of the last stage of my long education haul. It is enormously exciting and perplexing. This is it. Studying and working professionally in what I have strived for all these years. I know a few friends too who are entering their qualifying professional degrees this year as well and we share together a sense of having persisted with our dreams and achieved it. This is especially true with one friend of mine whom I went to university with, we have always talked about what kind of work experience we should get, if it’s even worth it, or how long it’ll take us if we even get there. Nostalgia.

On a lighter note, here are some survival tips! It’s for anyone who would be embarking on a new academic year. (extract from ‘When you’re the new kid in school’ :

  • Remember that the new place will give you a new chance.For at least the first day, you’re exotic. Especially in a school where there isn’t much coming and going, you’re someone special. Yes, it’s true you left what is familiar. But the new place is also a new opportunity. Nobody knows who you are, who you hung out with, or what to expect from you. If you didn’t quite like who you are or the reputation you had, you have a chance to start over. If you did like it, you can take that confidence with you and make a big splash.
  • Get oriented. If at all possible, visit the school before school starts. It’s hard enough to start over without also getting lost all the time. Ask your folks to arrange a tour. Figure out where the principal’s office is and how to get to the library. Ask for a map of the layout of the school. No time for this? Well, asking for directions is one way to begin to get to know people.
  • Do a little research. Get on the Internet and find out about the school. There’s probably a website. If there isn’t one for the school, look for the town’s site. You can find out about sports teams and events. You can learn what clubs are active and how the teams are doing. You can even check out what is usually served for lunch.
  • Take the time to assess. When you’re lonely, it’s tempting to grab onto whoever grabs you. But you want to take the time to look things over and figure out who’s who. As you know, as soon as you start hanging with a particular group, it will be hard to change your mind.
  • Dress for the group you want to join. For most teens, clothes are code for who you are. Wear a clean, neat, but kind of neutral outfit the first day. Get up in time to shower and do your hair. Jeans are generally fine as long as they’re clean and not flashy. Presenting yourself neutrally the first few days gives you time to figure out the informal rules for dress among the students. Once you’ve got it down, you can dress to fit in with the group you want to accept you.
  • Avoid cafeteria stress the first day. Pack a lunch so you don’t have to stand in line wondering whether to accept someone’s invitation to join their table or, worse, to have to walk the long mile in front of everyone to an empty table. Confidently sit on the edge and watch for a few days. Sit in a way that broadcasts confidence. You’re not a reject. You’re taking the time to think about who you’ll choose to be with.
  • Introduce yourself to teachers. First impressions do matter and you want to make a good one. Try to get to classes a bit early or to stay a few minutes after class to introduce yourself and to tell them where you’re from. A few minutes of politeness will get things off on the right foot.
  • Join something. A fast way to get to know some people is to join a team, a club, the band, a service organization, or student activities. People who share the same interests are likely your kind of people. Even if you don’t make real friends at first, you’ll learn some people’s names and you’ll have a few people to say hi to in the halls.
  • Take charge. Once you’ve got an idea who you want to meet, it’s up to you. Take a deep breath, pull up your big boy or big girl pants and start introducing yourself. Set a goal of meeting at least one new person a day. Say hello to the person who sits next to you in English class. Strike up a conversation with the person who has the locker next to yours. Remember – people like to talk about themselves. Think of a couple of questions you can ask each person and the conversation will take off almost by itself.
  • Keep but don’t retreat to old friends. Skype and Facebook and Twitter and texting and email and even the phone can let you stay in touch with old friends. That’s all good. But it can also be quicksand. If you let yourself spend hours and hours communicating with old friends, you’ll make it less likely that you’ll find new ones. By staying so connected to people who live hours away, you might keep yourself lonely in your own backyard

Full reference: Hartwell-Walker, M. (2011). When You’re the New Kid in School. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 5, 2011, from

Counselling Psychology? How?

Since I updated my status to the current university and degree, people have questioned me about my choice. Why another degree? Why this subject?

It does seems like I have been in education forever. At times I have hoped to get a proper full time paid job which offers me stability. Rather than unsociable part-time works coupled with taxing demands of a full time education leaving me with a virtually nonexistent social life. I have watched with jealousy my friends in the finance, law or engineering industry climbed up the career ladder, successfully earning and affording. Well, you’re probably asking, with all these discontentment in mind- Why don’t I just switch career path? That is a question I have asked myself numerous times. Considering my best subjects at high school and college had always been accountancy, economics…basically finance related. Switching into the mental health sector have been a radical and admittedly an experimental decision. Nonetheless, 6 years down the road I have not regretted nor even think about quitting.

Having said that BPS (British Psychological Society) quoted an average of 7 years to be a professional psychologist, 6 years have passed for me and I’m only at the beginning of my qualifying degree which by the way lasts for 3 years ie. a total of 9 years. However, I studied in a Scottish university which means 4 years to get an undergraduate degree, 1 year out for work experience, 1 year for counselling skills training (which is pre-requisite for most if not all doctoral level training programmes albeit it could be a shorter one) and at the 7th year I’m in a doctoral programme. You can see that I haven’t wasted much time considering the work experience you have to obtain too prior to entering the final throw of the HPC (Health Professions Council) system. Therefore, 7 years seems like a very optimistic figure. Also, if that is the average figure, it suggests that most people who achieved chartered status only had this one aim in their further education path!


Let me start with some background info

So what is it about being a professional psychologist that takes such a long time?; counselling psychology not excluded. In the UK, psychological related fields are regulated by BPS (British Psychological Society) and HPC (Health Professions Council). There are 9 possible areas to specialised in to become a chartered psychologist;

For more information on each category please click on the one you’re interested in which will bring you to its official description on BPS’s website. There are other positions that ends with the title psychologists however the list presented above are the only ones that are recognised by the HPC. For the purpose of this post, I will concentrate on counselling psychology.


As you can see, the route to calling yourself a counselling psychologist is to undertake an accredited doctoral training programme or through the independent route (which involves a lot more self regulating). To put it simply, for me the fundamental difference between counselling psychology and other fields like accountancy for example is the location of training. Graduates enter a multinational company (not necessarily, but for simplicity sake) as a graduate trainee/recruit and they are trained on site and depending on performance goes for career advancing exams such as ACCA. This is similar to the principles of clinical psychology training whereby trainees are employed by the NHS (National Health Service). However, counselling psychology is less established than clinical psychology thus receive less funding therefore most if not all courses are self-funded. Also, clinical psychology trainees train (paid) in NHS clinical and community settings exclusively whereas counselling psychologists have the choice to train (unpaid) in NHS settings, charitable or private settings.

You probably wonder then, why not train to be a clinical psychologist since you get paid on training whereas counselling psychologist don’t? I have once aspired to be a clinical psychologist but I concede that it is extremely difficult to get onto the course. The success rate for the year 2010 was 21% ie. 1 in 5 applicants obtained a place. These figures are drawn from Clearing House, the central body responsible for processing applications for clinical psychology. Unfortunately there isn’t a central body for counselling psychology and we make applications to individual universities therefore numbers can’t be obtained. I’m aware that for my current university, the professional tutors reported a total applications of about 80 of which about 40 obtained an interview and 20 were accepted onto the programme ie. 25% chance. Higher probabilities there.

It is also the case that in the UK, they do not accept international applicants as their main aim is to “to train clinical psychologists to work in the UK on a long term basis“. Therefore this has been a very big discouragement for me if not the initial defining criteria for me to opt out of this career path. I have personally clarified this with the Clearing House before and the international applicants they were considering were in the process of applying for permanent residency. There wasn’t any chance of me applying for permanent residency yet even though I intend to stay in the UK as I feel at home here having spent most of my teenage life here. The only option I have was to leave or consider other fields. Counselling came into mind.

End of part 1



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