Advice from a former self

Out & About

I am delighted to welcome back our regular guest blogger and 'reporter at large' Barry Heap, his many talents include counselling and journalism, a passionate advocate of Gay Affirmative practice, Barry's articles have appeared in the online magazine

In this posting Barry offers sage advice to students who are about to embark on Diploma or a practice based counselling courses.


Advice from a former self 


So another term starts and another part of the journey to becoming a counsellor begins, I can honestly say that the rollercoaster of emotions is like nothing I have ever experienced on any course or probably ever will again. At the time I would not have thought all of it necessary but having the luxury of looking back, I’m glad even of the less positive interactions, they made me the counsellor I am today.  Of course your journey will be as unique as you are but I just wanted to offer you some perspectives from my time on the diploma:

•    Be a little kinder to you.

After all you are the only person that you will need to look in the mirror for the rest of your life. Partners and friends may come and go. Family have their own responsibilities. The only person who has to deal with the consequences of your actions is you. The mistakes that you make are fine as long as you learn from them.  Don’t chastise yourself, grow. As counsellors. We talk a lot about the unconditional Positive Regard we offer to clients.  I only really came into my own as a therapist when I offered it to myself. The change was subtle yet monumental in my perspective.   By offering I UPR I was able to connect with a stronger part of myself, instead of being self-critical, it said “it’s okay”

•    It’s okay if a person doesn’t like you….

Sometimes we meet a person who for some reason just flat out takes a dislike to you.  No matter how hard we try to engage them in conversation, we are rebuffed. When we try and meet on common ground our attempts to fall short.  Every attempt that we make to get them to acknowledge us as human being are failures. I’m sure you know who I’m talking about. Well guess what? This might not be your problem! It’s theirs! We can waste so much time trying to work out why people do not like us. They just don’t sometimes, it maybe that you’re getting the backlash from someone else. Maybe you remind them of the friend who betrayed them, the absent parent, and the one who cheated. They don’t want to engage with you for their own reasons and that’s really ok! Don’t take it personally, there’s a whole world out there willing and ready to engage with you.

•    …and you don’t need to like everyone.

The person that I described in the above paragraph?  The short tempered dismissive grump.  That was you at some point. And me too. Sometimes we just meet people and they grate.  Just by existing they seem too irate you inside. You’re not sure why, they seem to be trying but each attempt seems to fuel your contempt of them. Maybe you’ll convince yourself why you don’t like them, they’re too loud, and they’re overly opinionated Are these the real reasons? You don’t need to be friends with everyone, it’s ok to dislike someone but at the end of the day they are still a human being with their own thoughts and feelings. Maybe all the negative opinions that you have on them will be proved true, until then you owe them the respect of being treated with civility. Otherwise I think that says more about you as a person.

•    Listen to the positive ,question  the negative

Sounds simple doesn’t it? I think this is the most difficult on the list.  Call it the British reserve, the ironic cynical world that we live in, the self-deprecating humour but we are great at putting ourselves down. Whether it be our physique, mind or heart we are not great at accepting the positive attributes about ourselves. Positive feedback is mainly dismissed and discarded. The person offering it is distrusted and their motives questioned.  The first step is to start accepting what compliments offered, not as sarcasm and without fear that you will be seen as egotistical. Hear what is being said, acknowledge it and accept it.
Negative criticism is far easier to take on it would seem, as such we need a whole new set of tools, listen to what is being said and question if it fits for you.  If you are being brutally honest with yourself you will know if the comments are just. If after considering it, it’s okay to disregard what has been said. It was only another person’s perception of you after all…

•    Quality not quantity.

When it comes to achieving your hours in practice it helps to focus on why you are doing the placement.  I begin the course by having a placement secured and being one of the first into practice. I had graphs and charts plotting client’s attendance and working out when exactly I would need supervision. However life gets in the way while you are making plans.

Clients may not attend, charities can close and generally things may change. I completed my placement in a rehabilitation centre and there wereweeks where no clients would attend and it would be difficult to maintain a positive attitude, I felt that I was not being taken seriously and the time I was volunteering was wasted. However over time I begin to focus on the clients that were attending regularly. I could see the real effort and the progress these clients were making. If one client attended, then I thought about the difference I made in their life. Who was I to judge my worthiness that week; I began the process to become a counsellor not to get a diploma.

If you are a student counsellor or have qualified , please join the conversation! Think of this space as a way to address an attentive audience that extends far beyond your peers or colleagues , please post your ideas in the comments section below … We would love to hear from you !


  • Pauline Johnson



    I start my course in 2 weeks so I am getting my self mentally prepared and possibly getting slightly nervous. 

    Thanks Barry for your reassuring message, I particularly like the bit about being kinder to yourself,



  • Ken

    Outstanding article Barry.


    When I read your words I am catapulted back to my counselling training and I feel you offer a balanced and informed overview of the journey.


    Good to see you here again Barry and I look forward to your next post.