Being a counsellor: what it means for me by Richard Mason Smith

Being a counsellor

I am proud and very honoured to be doing the work that I do with people, whom in some cases, in their ‘hour of need.’ It has, and always will be a privilege to be such a key part of someones life when it is only such a short period of time in their life.

I am currently a counsellor and psychotherapist working at my own private practice Mason’s Counselling, Therapy & Bereavement Services, as well as working voluntarily for John Taylor Hospice in the Erdington Area of Birmingham and the Police Firearms Officers Association.

The journey so to speak was a long, challenging and painful process but full of self-realisations. I am sure most counsellors and psychotherapist will say very much the same to their own personal struggles to becoming a new person.

Why did you choose to be a counsellor?

This is a big question to many counsellors. It all started many years ago when I found myself going through a series of catastrophic and emotionally crippling life events triggered by a relationship breakdown and losing my daughter. This prompted me to spiral out of control emotionally and lose a complete grip on reality and rational thinking for a few years.

It reached breaking point and finally I got the help I needed, firstly which helped me see the catastrophic crisis I was going though and secondly what I was putting my nearest and dearest through too.

The effects of crisis can, and may last a life time, however, only through the help that I received from professionals, like, psychologists, psychotherapists and health teams was I able to just about function again, enough to look at attempting to carry on with my life.

I really admired and respected the people who put all those hours and efforts in on me, more to the point they never gave up on me. This was really the most important thing that meant more to me than anything, after different diagnoses and having to accept that I may well have to take medication for the rest of my life, which was a battle in its self, and to also accept that after everything, I may never truly be the same again I moved slowly but surely forward.

I was introduced to counselling as after going back to work in the care sector when a few people asked me whether I was one and if not ‘why not!’, my lack of confidence in myself would ask ‘why would you say that’, to a return of ‘you are really easy to talk you and you really care’. This was true I guess but I never thought in my right mind ‘Pun’ that I would or could be ever a counsellor and psychotherapist.

The journey began of massive self-discovery with many fall backs throughout the course, many of self-disappointment and recognition of faults that I have put on others instead of myself. Painful realisations, which have changed my way of thinking and being for the rest of my life. The end was worth it, and only really at the end did I get it, so to speak.

In that it is only me that can take ownership and responsibility for my own self and actions and truly be one, and, ok with that and that ‘it is, what it is’.

Transparency also was a huge learning curve for me in that realising that being truly open and congruent with myself, could I really accept myself.

How long did it take to train and what did the training involve?

From officially starting my degree in Counselling and Psychotherapy at the University of Warwick in 2013 to becoming accredited by the National Counselling Society (NCS) and being a member of the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP) it took four years (which also included some time out). I am currently in the process of continued professional development which is something as a counsellor is mandatory and for good reason, I am also in the process of completing a Mindfulness qualification of which I will incorporate into my practice.

Most importantly, for getting the basic knowledge on the ground is practical training by volunteering at counselling practices. I decided, that with my personal interest in bereavement and end of life that I would undertake two placements at hospices of which I am very proud to still work at one. You have a set minimum amount of hours to complete of the period of the course as well as taking on supervision of which has very strict rule around it – it was challenging at times getting the right balance but I made it through.

The degree course was certainly not a theory, philosophy and a listening course – it was a journey of self-discovery and acceptance in every sense of the word, inwards and outwards.

I had not only found a new beginning but a new me though all of this, a new outlook on life and a new ambition which will last me a lifetime.

It did not take long for me to get set up in private practice and enjoy its benefits – being self-governing and being only responsible for myself to name just two of them. I can honestly say that I would not be here at this stage if it wasn’t for the help that I received during my course and from my own journey in life that prompted me to take counselling as a career choice. I went on a journey to now be the person that can offer the same help that I received so long ago.

What’s the best thing about your job?

It has and always will be a privilege to be a part of a person’s life in whatever way that may be and to also be a small help to someone accept and deal with whatever may be going on for them. It truly is a gift that money cannot buy.

Everyone has a story, as well as myself, but they are all different in so many ways and they make who we are today, in this moment. Change is possible with the support, love and care that humanity has deep down to give, offer and nurture each and every one of us. I am proud and honoured to feel like I am a part of this now.

What personal qualities do you think a counsellor should have?

To never give up on someone through being resilient – which believe you me is hard when someone is going through a crisis but more importantly, to look for the positive, be patient, give that person hope and let them know that it is “okay to not to be okay”. Personally, I know what this feels like.

What would you do if you weren’t a counsellor?

I always wanted to be in the RAF or the Fire service and believe me I did attempt to join them, although slight colour blindness prevented me to pursuing this and in the end I had to leave it be. I honestly cannot say what I would do or be now if it was not for counselling, I cannot imagine my live without it and the personal satisfaction that I get when helping someone. Words cannot describe how it really feels but always as I have said a privilege and honour to be a part of someone’s life whatever form that may come in through counselling. 

If you were to give one piece of advice to someone thinking about becoming a counsellor, what would it be?

No one I believe can be prepared for the journey that a course like that will do and it will always have different effect on each individual, some good, and some may feel bad. Personal struggles and barriers always come into play, but to be patient with yourself and allow the process to unfold in its own way regardless of how much it may feel like a struggle. The end result is monumental and so rewarding, not from a counselling perspective, but with the self.