It was 21 years since I graduated and longer since I’d written an essay. 252 months. 13,104 weeks. A lifetime ago. Pre-daughter. Pre-marriage. Pre-career. Pre-breakdown. Pre-self doubt. Pre-losing my father from my life for the second time. Pre-questioning the purpose of my life and the reason I am here. Pre-9/11. Pre-Iraq War. Pre-Brexit. Pre-COVID. Pre-austerity. Pre-Jurgen Klopp.
With this passage of time and the big decision to retain for a second career, it was daunting to start my postgraduate course in September 2020, beginning a Masters in Counselling and Psychotherapy Practice at Liverpool John Moores University. Add in a pandemic, no face-to-face teaching and a requirement of my course that you needed to undertake personal therapy to get through it and you have the makings of a perfect storm. But fast forward an academic year: I’ve survived.
I have just completed the last full day of teaching of the first year of my three year course and write this having attended 30 weeks of lectures/classes and counselling skills practice (much of it recorded and then shared with other students and my tutor), 45 hours of personal development group meetings and written five essays. It feels good. I am proud. Fulfilled. But not smug. Not even close. Nowhere near the finished article or the full trained/ready therapist, but feel a better-prepared, better person as I look to the future. In X Factor terms, I would say it’s been quite a journey.
The immediate future is a summer break – with lots of reading and some preparation for my placement, which begins in the autumn and the start of amassing 100 hours of real-life practicing to help complete my training as a psychotherapist/counsellor. It feels like a good time to reflect on what I’ve learnt this year and what has changed.
I have changed. Changed utterly. Not my values or who I am but how I approach people – not just in a therapeutic setting but in my day-to-day life and in my interactions and relationships. I am more reflective. More empathetic. Less quick to judge. Less reactive, more responsive. Not so fast to question, quicker to listen. More present. More mindful. More rounded and more aware of the privileges I have been born with and have accumulated. More alive to realities – ugly, brutal realities – that others face who don’t share my gender, race, class, age and sexuality. Less talking, more listening. More time spent in others’ shoes. I have a much deeper understanding of the experiences and influences that have shaped me and those around me (conditions of worth) and how these impact on my life today and how I react to what others say and do. I understand myself and the world around me much better. I am better to be around (I am told). I am a better listener. Did I mention, my improved listening?
I have found the year hugely, hugely rewarding. At times very emotional. I have accessed feelings and experiences in my past and present with greater depth and understanding than ever before, even with many years of therapy under my belt. I have reconnected with the child I was and the feelings I had buried, ignored, not even been aware of from the painful days in my life.
My commitment to my chosen second career has deepened and with it a burning desire to offer clients the accepting presence that makes sure they are heard – truly, deeply, meaningfully heard. I am a better parent and husband. I am a little calmer. A little happier. A little better.
There is still a long way to go on my journey. I’ve just reached those X Factor judges’ houses but I can see the live shows in front of me. It’s incredibly exciting. It feels like a huge responsibility but also a huge privilege.
The biggest thing I’ve learnt this year is how deeply moving and humbling it is for another person to sit with you, open their heart to you and share some of their most personal, deepest and hardest thoughts and feelings. It is amazing to be trusted in that way. It is a very special feeling. It is precious. It is incredible to see someone in front of you explore their feelings – sometimes through pain, sometimes through joy – and find a way forward.
Aside from meeting my best friend and with her becoming a parent, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. By miles. And miles. And miles.
I can’t wait for the second year to start.