Students share their experiences of working at ‘largest research and training counselling centre in the UK’
A specialist counselling service helping support victims of domestic abuse in the local community is believed to be the largest of its kind in the UK.
The counselling centre, based at the University of Salford, opened for general counselling in 2018 and for research-led domestic abuse counselling in 2019. The service provides support to the local community, trainees and researchers.
Dr Jeannette Roddy, Senior Lecturer in Counselling and Psychotherapy at the University of Salford said: "We have almost 60 volunteer counsellors working at the centre, of whom 42 (70%) are University of Salford students gaining placement hours for their counsellor training. We see over 140 clients a week, mainly from Greater Manchester, although some are now self-referring from further afield to access our specialist domestic abuse counselling service.
“Currently we are offering remote counselling (by telephone and video link) which is providing access to a wide range of clients. The Counselling Centre will be open for in-room counselling shortly, for those clients able to travel to Salford.”
Jade is a graduate who has continued to volunteer at the clinic after working there while on placement as part of her studies. She explains: “When I graduated in July 2021, I decided to stay on and not only volunteered with more complex clients but also trained to become part of the assessment team.
“I came into this profession wanting to help others, and not thinking about myself. However, I realised quite quickly that to be able to help others as counsellors we first had to find ourselves, become our own best friend and become accepting of the journey we’d been on. I loved the passion around me, from the tutors, the other students, it felt more like a vocation rather than a career path.
“Within the clinic in particular, my biggest challenge was always going to be working with males. Most of my life had a consistency of being let down, betrayed, and hurt (mentally, emotionally, and physically) by men. I remember being asked to take on my very first male client – I felt anxious and began doubting my whole career.
“My supervisor was extremely supportive, and she helped me reach a point where I felt ready to take on the challenge. I remember vividly our very first session, and the deep feeling of empathy I felt while he expressed his current issues. I feel this was the biggest part of my learning journey.”
Lucy, a student who works at the centre, agrees that the course demands much more than students may expect, and good support networks are vital. “Becoming a counsellor has changed the way I think about myself at the deepest level. It’s been an education in supporting others and knowing myself, at the same time.
“My biggest challenge has been learning how to be compassionate with myself and embrace my imperfections. It feels like a very safe and supportive environment. The work can be challenging but having the support of peers and tutors means that you never feel alone.
“Everyone is going through a learning process, and it’s OK to make mistakes. I feel I’ve become more self-aware, and more patient with myself at the same time. Because I’m more conscious of the thoughts and assumptions I make about others, I also relate to other people differently.”
Gordon, a student who works in the specialist domestic abuse counselling service, has seen first-hand the impact on the clients using the centre. “Counselling real people and seeing them grow and become more confident is an amazing experience. The training is exceptional. I always feel supported by the supervision team and in the group supervision, it feels like a mini family.”
During the pandemic, the counselling centre was forced to temporarily close its doors. However, knowing that clients and others in the local community needed their support more than ever, staff and students adapted and retrained to offer online and telephone support.
Lucy explains: “I’ve ended up doing most of my training remotely during the pandemic, so I’ve become used to this way of working and it feels comfortable for me. However, I don’t think face-to-face work can ever be replaced. As soon as it becomes possible, I can’t wait to get back in the room with clients.”
Jade agrees: “Initially I felt quite anxious about offering counselling remotely – I worried it would be difficult to connect with the client and that it would be more difficult without being able to read someone’s body language or nod to show I am listening to them. However, I have found it to be beneficial to my clients, as it can fit better into their day to day lives when they don’t need to attend the clinic. Sometimes clients feel safer opening up from the comforts of their own home.”
Graduates of the university’s counselling courses can go on to a wide range of roles in the future.
Lucy says: “Being a BACP accredited course really helps in terms of professional development. I feel like this course is a great launching pad to pursue a full-time counselling career, and the quality of the training puts students at an advantage. Having completed this course, I would feel confident in applying for jobs in any area of counselling.”
The counselling centre only treats clients over the age of 18, but Jade’s dream for the future is to work with young people and use her own personal experiences to help her to support others. “Eventually I want to work in play therapy with children, helping create a better future for them. I want to be an advocate for children, for their voices to be heard, to be that listening ear they want so much. I want to be open to parents/ caregivers of children with a disability or additional learning needs – being a mum of a disabled child I know just how lonely and isolated times can be.”
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