A Counsellor in Transition

Posted by: Stephanie Burley on September 15, 2015 2:18 pm


door-672999_1280I have been working as a career counsellor on and off for the past 8 years. I’ve taken academic breaks, and short contracts related to other forms of counselling, but over all my experiences have been deeply rooted in career counselling. When I returned to graduate school in 2011 it was with the intention of switching my career focus from employment and career counselling to personal counselling. In 2010 I was working in Calgary, Alberta as a Youth Employment Counsellor at a downtown resource centre. The population group that accessed these services were mostly street-involved youth who had so many barriers to employment that I felt as though there was little that I could offer as a career counsellor to help. The clients I saw were often homeless and hungry. There was a very high number of clients struggling with addictions. I met with countless young mothers who didn’t have the resources to provide for their children the way they wanted. And I met with young women who were victims of sexual and physical abuse – often at the hands of loved ones. When these individuals sat down in my office and said they wanted help figuring out their careers it was challenging for me to address their wishes without first addressing their housing/nutrition/safety concerns. This experience motivated me to seek out further training and education so that I could be equipped to help the whole person sitting in front of me.

After completing my graduate studies at Acadia University and securing the designation of Canadian Certified Counsellor it was a challenge to secure employment in this new field of counselling as all of my previous professional experiences were so closely linked to career and employment counselling. I struggled to convince employers of the transferability of my experiences. Needing work, I returned to working as a career counsellor at an Ontario university, but dedicated my professional development to bridging my past experiences with the new field I was hoping to enter. How did I do this? Well I had a limited budget to work with so I sought out free courses and training opportunities to expand my perspective. For example, I completed the Tobacco and Public Health: From Theory to Practice online course, and sought out short courses that would have a minimal financial cost but would add value to my résumé. I reviewed job postings constantly to familiarize myself with the certifications and training that employers were seeking of applicants (i.e. ASIST, First Aid). I took time to reflect on my own experiences and compared them to these job postings to identify gaps and areas for further development. One area that stood out to me was my lack of formal training related to addictions counselling. I had completed one addictions course in my graduate degree, but most employers were looking for more in-depth experience and knowledge so I researched different programs that I could complete on a part-time basis and that would not be overly costly. Two programs stood out as being really comprehensive, reputable and affordable: McMaster University Centre for Continuing Education Addiction Studies program, and the CAMH Concurrent Disorders Online Certificate offered through the University of Toronto, School of Medicine.

Through reflection and research I realized that the language I was familiar with using in my résumé and cover letter was quite reflective of the career counselling field. Now, you’d think the language in personal counselling would be the same – many argue (myself included) that career counselling is personal counselling. However, there are slight variances in the nouns that are used to describe skills, interventions and therapeutic approaches. My next challenge became, “how can I talk the talk of personal counsellors without a great deal of directly related experience?” How did I overcome this? I used metacognition. I challenged myself to be aware of the skills that I was using on a regular basis and identified their transferability. Additionally, I subscribed to Psychotherapy Networker and began reading the CCPA Connect Blog. Staying on top of trends in the field allowed me to more confidently express my own experiences in a language that was accessible to employers across a broad spectrum of counselling fields.

I’m happy to say that my efforts have paid off! Starting in October I will be transitioning to a new role as a Mental Health Counsellor working with adults with serious mental illness. I’m excited to start this new chapter in my professional career, and can’t wait to see how my learning and skill development continues.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA