I went to a conference on Saturday. It was the Bridging the gap student event put on by the BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy).
So it was both really inspiring and deflating. Not in equal measure I feel.
The deflation ….
Firstly the average salary of a counsellor in the UK? £11,000. That is deflating in terms of what it means about who will come and work in the industry. I’m sorry but the majority of the attendees filled the UK stereotype of a counsellor. White, middle aged, middle class, female. One speaker pointed this out saying right at the start of their training they asked a tutor why that was so. His response was “Because they have white, middle aged, middle class husbands that can pay for them to play at counselling”. I don’t believe these people are playing at it at all I’m sure the vast majority are committed caring individuals but there’s some truism in the statement and that stereotype sadly. However as someone who is definitely not one of those categories – I’m certainly a male and doesn’t associate with another despite all appearances – I’ll be working class till I die no matter what house I own, car I drive or career I follow (for me being working class is in my genes not in my bank balance) I may have some unique selling points to offer clients.
Now the inspiration…
Loads of it. People talking about how they forged out a private practice using ingenious methods like swapping their spare room with someone else. Genius! Don’t want to counselling in your own home but can’t afford to rent somewhere? Know someone with the same problem? Do you both have a room you could convert to a counselling space? Yes? Then you use theirs they use yours and let your clients know it is only a business arrangement that you use that room. Simple genius!
One thing really struck me was a talk which touched on do we as a counselling profession actually help with the oppression of the minority and the diverse? By helping these folks integrate into society are we simply oppressing their individualism to ensure they look more like the rest of us? Like… WOW man! Got me thinking. Also if you work for an organisation to counsel staff or other stakeholders are you simply propping up a failing institution by helping those people cope week to week rather than deal with the systemic issues within that organisation? Say you took one day a week to counselling the staff of a company and every week every one of your clients moaned about the hours they have to work, that they are taking work home at the weekend and it was damaging their families lives etc? And that they all broadly said “Talking to you is the only way I cope getting through the week”. You look at the nice regular fixed income this company is providing and that you’ve promised complete confidentiality to your clients and that nothing will go back to the employer? But really… what should you do?
Actually those two situations sound bleak but to me that was actually inspirational about the value of being a counsellor to those people, to society and to the institutions we may be employed by. But it is an ethical dilemma labyrinth.
The big thing that really came out to me though was – be authentic, be who you are as a person as a counsellor, don’t just play the role as a counsellor. If you are acting a part you truly aren’t underneath the client will smell a phony and soon depart and you’ll never reap the benefit of helping people with the exploration that is potentially available to them. The inspiration far outweighed the deflation btw.
Okay now… where was I with that Case Study!