What’s with the fish, David?  Koi carp, I think?

I was looking for a birthday card a while ago, in the Newcastle Arts Centre craft shop and noticed a hand-painted card in an oriental style, with koi fish. I contacted the artist (Dr Chun-Chao Chiu) to commission artwork for my business logo. After meeting a few times over some Bubble Tea, he designed the beautiful image you now see on my website, business cards, etc.

Depictions of koi have many traditional meanings. The intention here is to symbolise working together, toward a better future.

How did you get into counselling?

Many years ago, in another place, I became friends with people who worked in different therapeutic roles. Occasionally, I would help out on weekend courses by doing the catering, etc. In this way, I came to have a feel for what it was all about. Later, after moving to Newcastle, I was having some difficulties and counselling was suggested to me. Over the years, I have had counselling or therapy of various kinds. In fact, all reputable training requires that trainees have therapy at some time – which is something I support.

Early in the new millennium, I became involved in a local project called Mentor, which aimed to provide telephone support for men in the North East. My experience with that led me to undertake a counselling certificate, then diploma, at Newcastle University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning. This was very hard work but the quality of training was inspirational.

An unfortunate series of life events took me away from Newcastle and interrupted my pursuit of an unpaid placement to build up what we call “contact hours”. In fact, much was interrupted until after my return to what I now consider home.

Life stepped in, eh? Perhaps that was necessary?

I guess that without having difficulties and changes to face, we can become a bit stuck. Sometimes we become stuck because of the difficulties …

Anyway, in 2012 I realised that I missed doing voluntary work and decided to train with Cruse Bereavement Care to become a Bereavement Volunteer (BV, as we say). In fact, I’m still with them and have qualified as a Clinical Supervisor through Cruse. A few years ago, I completed an NCFE Diploma course, to freshen up my skills, and am now thinking about some higher-level study.

You seem to like learning!

Oh yes! I love learning / expanding my skills / gaining knowledge / challenging myself to do better. Continuing Personal and Professional Development (CPPD or CPD) is considered to be compulsory in the therapeutic world. Some is absolutely necessary, such as Safeguarding training, some is driven by personal interests, others lead to new ventures – such as my becoming a co-facilitator with the Facing the Future project.

You know what they say about all work and no play …

Absolutely! Self-care is crucial in counselling, so that we don’t become overloaded or burn out due to the cognitive and emotional intensity of the work. I make sure to have time for being with friends, cooking, music, art, cinema, getting to the gym – and perhaps a nice beer afterwards. My original degree was philosophy, and I seem to be one of those people who find everything interesting …

Is philosophy relevant to counselling?

In so many ways – too many to go into here. Although the concept of ethics is worth mentioning. This refers to way we choose to conduct ourselves in life, in regard to ideas of right and wrong. It is also about values and standards.

Perhaps it’s time for me to be a bit more formal:

I value and appreciate diversity in the world, our culture and my clients. Different people bring different perspectives to our society – and difference brings strength.

While I do not imagine to be perfect, I genuinely never intend to discriminate on the basis of any perceived characteristics a client may have. Such discrimination is a waste of potential and a denial of opportunity for growth and self-fulfilment.

The therapeutic relationship is a human one and therefore imperfect. Mistakes, misunderstandings and inaccuracies can occur. In these rare circumstances, it seems healthier to talk in terms of responsibility rather than blame. If a disagreement arises regarding our work together (e.g. about payments or privacy), and the client feels that I am responsible, then I will endeavour to address any concerns and resolve the issue as soon as possible. If this were to be insufficient or unacceptable then I would make independent mediation available. There would of course be an equal expectation of goodwill and cooperation if the circumstances were reversed and I had a professional disagreement with the client.

I have appropriate professional insurance. I have regular clinical supervision. I am voluntarily registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office, in regard to Data Protection issues.

There seems to be a lot involved in being a counsellor. What do you love most about it?

I suppose it must be the satisfaction that comes from helping someone to find that they have the ability to change their life for the better. When people realise that they have the resources within themselves to grow and develop, it frees them to make further progress on their own.

When a client says: “Thank you” to me – saying that they can see a way forward or can cope better with a significant loss – then that’s worth all the study, training and commitment.