Guest blog post from Catherine Gordon, a current student on our Diploma in Relationship Counselling. Catherine will be blogging for us once every few months, giving us a valuable insight in to the demanding yet rewarding work that goes in to becoming a Relationship Counsellor.

Moving from counselling skills to diploma work is a big step on multiple different levels, and I found the transition to be quite surprising in some respects. In this introductory post, I’ll share some of my thoughts on the most significant parts of my journey to the diploma, and compare my expectations to the reality of the course.

Starting basic skills training
When I signed up for the basic counselling skills course offered by Relationships Scotland, I didn’t really know what to expect. I was drawn to counselling due to a lifelong interest in interpersonal dynamics and an extremely positive experience in couples counselling, but this four day introduction was to be my first experience of training. As it turned out, the basic skills course was dynamic and engaging, filled with a blend of different activities that catered to the mix of learning styles in the group. We practiced active listening skills in pairs, learned some basics about the therapeutic relationship and the counselling process, engaged in self-reflective exercises and grew quite close over just a few days. The quick and easy cohesion of the group surprised me, and the introduction to key counselling theories left me feeling excited about the prospect of starting the diploma.

Waiting to begin the diploma
I applied for the diploma soon after completing the basic skills course, and I hoped that it would be a transformative, challenging journey that would be worthwhile on both a personal and professional level. I was nervous about joining a larger group of students and about spending large portions of the course participating in roleplay scenarios, but I also couldn’t wait to start learning more and to take the first steps to obtaining a counselling placement. The interview process involved a reflective essay on a significant relationship, and the course leaders made sure that we knew the course material could be both personally and intellectually challenging. I had some minor reservations about the idea of any personal changes that could have a damaging influence on my relationship with my partner, but I discussed this concern with him. Thanks in large part to our own counselling several years ago, we decided that we thought we were in a sufficiently strong place to withstand those aspects of my joining the diploma course, and agreed that we would talk openly about any difficult material that came up for me.

Expectations and reality
Some of my expectations about the diploma turned out to be accurate. For example, the course organisers continue to use a creative mix of different teaching styles that keep the long days feeling fresh and interesting, and the training days are structured so that heavier academic activities (such as engaging with psychodynamic theories) are sandwiched between counselling roleplay sessions and creative undertakings that encourage personal development. In addition, the academic aspect of the course was initially very challenging in its newness, but I knew in advance that I would need to set aside a decent amount of study time in order to tackle the reading.

Some of my other expectations were somewhat in line with the reality of the course, but I’ve had some pleasant surprises as well. In particular, my experience on the short course had led me to expect warm and friendly personalities in the group, but I’ve been delighted to find out just how welcoming and open the other students can be. Discussing deeply personal and emotionally loaded subject matters needn’t be uncomfortable in this group, and the variety of backgrounds involved means that we all benefit from a vast amount of different life experiences and types of wisdom.

I think one of the things that has surprised me most of all is how the learning on the diploma is colouring my everyday thinking. While it involves an average of just one training weekend per month (combined with a manageable amount of reading between weekends), I find myself constantly considering things like attachment styles, couple fit and defence mechanisms. As I mentioned above, I had been told that the diploma had the potential to shake up relationships outside the course and irreversibly shift one’s perspective, and I can certainly see how some of the learning involved could be difficult to tackle during tumultuous periods of a person’s life. Thus far, however, I feel that although the course is steadily transforming my thinking, these changes have been wholly positive. Our training has deepened my understanding of my own relationships and those pursued by people around me, and I find this aspect of training to be both liberating and rewarding.

If you’re working towards gaining a counselling diploma (or have already been awarded one), what surprised you about moving from a counselling skills course to diploma work? I think it would be particularly interesting to compare perspectives with people doing similar courses in other countries. In addition, if you’re currently considering applying to do a diploma or equivalent course, what are some of your unanswered questions?


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