I’ve Started … So I’ll Finish, A Journey Through Therapy Training – by Nikki Ryall

As I am approaching the end of my studies to become a qualified psychotherapeutic counsellor, it feels like a good time to reflect on my reasons for starting this journey, as well as on the journey itself and how I feel about being at the end of it.

I would like to say what a pleasure and privilege it has been learning with my peers and my tutor on the course and these are relationships which I will value for the rest of my life, a feeling which I will express to them in the final session, which is only a week away as I write this.

An honest approach to exploring our own issues and feelings has been so much a part of the course that it has been essential to building trust and empathy for each other along the way, whilst ‘unpicking’ our own issues and analysing ourselves as much as studying the materials provided.

The course has been extremely challenging, not only logistically, with essays, journals, 100 hours of volunteering and 3 case studies to achieve, but also working part-time as a work-based learning assessor delivering an apprenticeship, and finding time for my children (now 21 and 14) as well as time to spend with friends, valuable time for self-care and the standard lists of chores which come from being a single parent – all this over a 2 year period.  It is noteworthy at this point to explain that incredibly some of my peers were working full time whilst doing all of this!

And now … here I am at the end.

Like many endings in life, we are reminded of past endings and losses, whether chosen or unexpected, wanted or unwanted and this can bring with it, emotional consequences.  The return of emotions attached to past losses, the opportunity to manage this ending better than those from the past, and acceptance that change is inevitable and the strangely familiar life question of ‘What’s next?’

Interestingly it is something which our clients feel at the end of therapy and the similarities are clear to me after my training.  I now, as a result of my studies, have an understanding of how important it is to acknowledge how I feel about this ending, whether it makes me feel sad or relieved, whether it is touching upon memories of other endings and the knowledge that I should express these feelings rather than denying them.

I recognise that denial and suppression of emotion, and the problems it can cause, is where my journey started in a sense since I denied my grief when my father died when I was 30 and pregnant – no wonder perhaps I could not face the powerful emotions attached to this very unexpected ending – but suppressing these strong feelings ultimately led to my first bout of depression approximately 2 years later.

Being helped by counsellors was invaluable in my recovery and here I am 21 years later just about to qualify to help others in their search for positive mental health, self-awareness and a way forward.

I have a feeling of accomplishment, a sense of having changed in some fundamental ways in how I view myself and the world, as well as a feeling of sadness and loss at not seeing my peers once a month in the same familiar environment, although I am sure that we will stay in touch.

So, what about the other burning question – ‘what’s next’?  As is often the case when something ends there is a chance for a new thing to start, the chance for change to happen, goals to be realised and new ones made, a sense of hope.

I am hopeful about being able to help people, the reason I started the journey in the first place, but not a magic wand type of help, a type of help which asks people to take part in the process, to open up, to explore their thoughts, feelings and behaviours without judgement, to be in a safe relationship, a safe space, a space with boundaries and ultimately space where they can figure out what’s next for them.

The space created for counselling and therapeutic work is so important that it is unlike any other space I have encountered.  It is somewhere if successfully created, which allows exploration of the deepest and most difficult emotions, sharing of things perhaps never revealed to another person, in short, a very powerful place for healing to take place and for understanding and forgiveness of the self to start.

As well as this safety, I have found that explaining how our brains work is also very helpful in this context.  Understanding brings with it a feeling of being ‘normal’ for clients who may have felt ‘out of control’, ‘mad’ or ‘just not myself’, all phrases which I have heard on many occasions.

The realisation that in fact, our reactions are often instinctive and that we mostly react in a similar way given similar circumstances, allows for common ground, self-acceptance and a sense of hope, a sense of a way forward, a potential for change.

I am also aware, however, as a result of my studies that this can be a time of potential anxiety, the brain needing some 18 months on average to process any major life change and so I will give myself time and space to set my next goals, find a way to make my studies meaningful in my life and the lives of others and look forward to the journey ahead which I have worked so long for.

Another plan for the future is to write about my experience, since I have long wanted to write and I thank GetPsyched for this new opportunity to express myself here, in the hope that it might inspire or resonate with others who are considering studying to become a counsellor or therapist.

Spreading the word about mental health and getting the conversation going can only help those who are suffering from stigma and who should feel free to ask for help if and when they need it.  This discussion helps everyone and helps encourage self-acceptance and self-compassion which are such powerful tools in building resilience.

I wonder what I will start … and finish next?

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