Could you make the leap to a flexible career as a counsellor?

Heidi Renton“Why couple counselling?” and “How on earth did you get into it?” are two questions I’m frequently asked. People seem genuinely curious about both the nature of my work, and why I decided to switch careers. So I thought I’d share the questions I asked myself, and the details of the Open Evening I attended, to help others who might also be seeking a more flexible and rewarding professional life.

Should I change career?

In 2013, a workplace restructure made me wish I had more control over my role and my work-life balance. I wasn’t unhappy in my media education work, but it involved a three-hour daily commute, as well as a huge amount of travel, and very long days. Fast approaching my 50s, I realised I was frequently exhausted, and keen to find a different way of working.

I resolved to reshape my working life into an interesting career which was completely under my control. One where I could work as little or as much as I wanted to, right up to – and even beyond – retirement age. And one in which my age and life experience would actually count in my favour, rather than against me.

Would training as a therapist be a good match?

I’d long thought that I might enjoy counselling work, and I was aware that the NHS had recently launched their national Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme. It felt like people were increasingly prepared to talk about mental health issues – so perhaps it was a good time to train for a ‘talking therapy’. After some desk research, I settled on psychotherapy: this ‘classic’ approach, working with the unconscious, made sense to me.

What kind of clients would I prefer to work with?

A conversation with a couple therapist friend proved to be pivotal, as she described the challenges and joys of working with three people in the room. We discussed the importance of couple relationships in our society, how they affect every aspect of our lives, and can be crucial not just to adult mental health, but also the welfare of children. Once that switch had flicked in my head, I was ready to seriously consider undertaking a couple-focused psychotherapy training course. But there was still a lot to think about, such as...

Would I be able to keep working while I trained, and how long would it take?

This was crucial, as I couldn’t afford to give up my current job and throw myself into a full-time course – but I also didn’t want to spend ages training. I set myself the goal of taking three to four years from starting any training, to actually being paid as a couple counsellor (spoiler alert: I achieved it!).

How would I find the right training course?

Choosing the right course was equally crucial. My therapist friend had stressed the importance of finding a course that was accredited by the BACP, so I worked through their list and noted that the Tavistock Relationships training centre was within walking distance of my office. They offered evening classes, which meant I would be able to continue my full-time job whilst training, and also ran a comprehensive Introduction to Couple Counselling & Psychotherapy course. This seemed ideal, as it would give me a taste of what the work might involve, without too hefty a commitment or expense.

Would Tavistock Relationships deliver my long term goals?

The more I read about Tavistock Relationships, the more excited I became.  A real selling point for me was that the next stage would qualify me not just as a couple specialist, but also as an individual psychodynamic psychotherapist. I was also encouraged to learn that I would be taught by the people who write the textbooks on relationship therapy; in my therapist friend’s words, Tavistock Relationships are ‘the gold-standard for couple work’. So there was just one more question to ask myself...

Would my lack of counselling or psychology knowledge hold me back?

Luckily, I had the opportunity to find out more before making a firm commitment. I attended Tavistock Relationships’ Open Evening, wondering whether I would be considered counsellor material. I chatted to therapists who had trained there, and was relieved to discover that my communication skills, plus my natural curiosity and empathy, would stand me in good stead.

I came away buzzing about how rewarding the work can be, and the flexibility that this career path could offer. So I sent off my application, and was invited to an interview. It was more like a fascinating conversation than a formal meeting, and made me feel sure that changing career was the right decision.

When I was accepted onto the introductory course, it felt like such an achievement. I had made the first, significant step toward changing my career, and I couldn’t wait to get started.  And now, three years later and fully qualified, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

The next Tavistock Relationships Couple Counselling Open Evening will take place on 1 November 2019. Click to find out more and register your attendance.

This article has been sponsored by Tavistock Relationships.

Back to listing