We all lead increasingly busy lives in the 21st century and often struggle to fit in blow drying our hair, let alone finding time to sit, relax and unwind. As such, when I heard from Renaissance Life Therapies, a Harley Street based counselling practice, that mental health issues now affect one in four adults, I actually wasn’t very surprised.
However, help is at hand. Enter Libby Seery, a counsellor of ten years, currently working with Renaissance Life Therapies to not only provide the traditional face to face appointments but email advice and Skype sessions. As if that wasn't enough, she's even started training counsellors of the future, with her CBT course. No longer a therapy restricted to doctor’s offices decked with leather chairs and fish tanks, I chatted to Libby about working in counselling and how she’s bringing her expertise to the tech-savvy audience of the modern day.
What made you become a counsellor?
Counselling is something I’ve always been involved in, even on a personal level. I’ve had counselling myself over the years and I realised how valuable and life saving it is. I’ve always worked with people, always loved people, and I knew that my career path would involve this in some way. It was only when I was training as a primary school teacher in an underprivileged school that I had a realisation that actually I wanted to be a counsellor. I had, in total, five years of training. Training is something I’m always doing. It’s one of those professions where there’s always something new, whether it’s a technique or some research. So the training aspect is kind of never ending.
I was reading that you don’t have to have any formal qualifications to be a counsellor but you say it’s important to get that training – is there any in particular you would recommend?
Well the bulk of my training is in humanistic methods and it was amazing in terms of giving me a really good grounding. For that, you do have to go with a good college or university and it does take a long time but it has hands down been the most useful for me. It gives you a really great under pinning to apply other approaches.
I couldn’t be the counsellor I am if I hadn’t had the training I’ve had. I’ve had some really high profile clients but I’ve also worked for a charity so I’ve worked with a real cross section of society. What’s great about having the training I did is that it really does prepare you to work with all types of client.
Do you find you have to adjust your approach according to your patients or is it a case of one size fits all?
Goodness me, no! This is why I think ongoing training is essential; you have to adjust to your client. Every single person that I’ve ever met in session, whether I’ve had them for several weeks or I’ve met them for an hour in a drop in centre, hand on my heart, I will have taken away something to add to my portfolio or experience. It truly amazes me. People amaze me.
You obviously really enjoy it and you clearly take away a lot from it, but how difficult is it to separate your work and home life?
It was part of the training, learning techniques and good practice to protect you as a counsellor so that ultimately you can do your very best, even if it’s an hour after you’ve dealt with someone suicidal and you have to work with someone else with a new set of issues. You get intensive training on that, which is part of it. You also have supervision.
What does that mean?
It’s where I meet with a supervisor who is registered with the BACP (The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy). Everybody’s identity is completely protected but you can discuss your work and if there’s anything that is affecting you, or if you’re unwittingly identifying with issues, you can bring it up. Supervision really is important for counsellors and psychotherapists. It’s like maintenance; it’s making sure that you are working within the code of the BACP and that you’re keeping your clients safe and you’re keeping yourself safe as a practitioner. It’s a preventative step and helpful if there’s anything you want to make sure you’re on the right track with.
It must be difficult going from one session where someone might have really serious issues that everyone would agree are life changing to then go to one where they’re upset about something that for other people might seem trivial – how do you deal with that? Is it difficult to adjust your approach?
Yes, it is difficult. Which is why it’s important to me that I take time in between every single client where I just sit alone and process the session so that I have a grounding experience and I don’t carry my previous clients’ work and all of the emotion and what’s been brought to a session to my next client. That’s critical to being a good counsellor; you have time in between sessions to prepare yourself for the next client. Because yes, your first client of the day could be really quite heavy, somebody who is in real desperate distress, who is maybe suicidal, which I’ve had on a number of occasions, to then go into a session where somebody is, you know, just not really feeling themselves today. Which obviously for them is huge, but for you requires a period of adjustment and processing, so I always have a period of time in between.
That sounds like a potentially difficult part of your job... What would you say you’ve found most rewarding?
Oh gosh, where to start? Seeing progress in clients is very rewarding. People never fail to amaze me. I have been part of some great changes in people and it really shows me how incredible people can be. It sounds cheesy, but it’s so inspiring.
You say you offer counselling through Skype – how do you find that differs from doing it in person?
I’ve had specific training on online therapy. With everyone though, whether I’m talking to them on the telephone or doing it by email, I always insist that the environment is the same as if they’re in my office. By that I mean they’re in a space that they feel safe in and that feels protected.
I think it’s great that technology has meant that this sort of treatment is accessible for everyone...
I agree. I truly believe that because of technology people are able to get the help they desperately need to keep them safe. Having access to that makes such a difference; it can be the thing that stops someone doing something totally drastic and means they’re able to get help. Something as easy as picking up a phone and being able to share this horrendous feeling they have can be a life saving tool. It’s comparable to giving someone mouth to mouth.
Do you find that some clients even prefer the anonymity of emails?
Absolutely. I’ve had clients who have had a history of sexual abuse and for them, saying certain words aloud can be really difficult and the hardest thing they can bring to a physical session. It sounds unethical to email things, but for some people, that detachment of not being with another person, or not even hearing the word, is enough for them to make the tiny steps that enable them to make the leap they truly want.
My last question, having heard all this and feeling quite inspired myself, what advice do you have for people who might like to follow in your footsteps?
You could maybe try some volunteering work because certain organisations have some in house training provided. Some of them don’t require any counselling background whatsoever so it’s a good way to get an idea of whether the long training is for you. The training itself is absolutely life changing. I’m a different person to when I started this, so it’s probably best to take small steps into it, to really see whether it’s for you. Online courses are also a great way to get background skills, just some basic listening and hearing skills, which are absolutely crucial to being a good counsellor.
The skills you learn when developing counselling knowledge can be applied to almost every area of life – whether it’s just in talking to your partner and having the ability to actually listen rather than just sort of hearing words. But to listen and understand what they’re saying. They also help you to be able to communicate effectively. Even if you do the course and realise it’s not for you, the lessons won’t have gone wasted.
And with those final words (and a short conversation on how passionate we both are about education), Libby and I parted ways. But after listening to how passionate she is about helping people and how counselling can really change lives, I was more than a little bit inspired. If you feel the same, have a look at the counselling course Libby runs as well as the other counselling courses available.