After completing my Masters I moved to the UK to do my ‘apprenticeship’ year of school counselling in England. I wanted to get a breadth and depth of experience that I didn’t think was possible in the same way living and working in Vietnam or Thailand where there just aren’t as many English-speaking kids in distress. Mmhmm, I did my Masters in Counselling online while living in Asia – and this was before COVID-19 when studying online was a little bit like dating online in the 90s (the stigma: online is only for people who can’t do it ‘properly’ in ‘real life’).
Imagine my shock and horror when I discovered that school counselling doesn’t exist in England!
Well… that’s not exactly true. There are definitely schools in England and there are definitely counsellors in England and sometimes those counsellors go and do their counselling in schools and so they are technically ‘school counsellors’ (and advertised for as such) but it’s not a ‘profession’ in the same way. There is no Masters or other specific training required to become a school counsellor in England. There is no registration body specifically for school counsellors. In fact, it turned out that I wasn’t qualified to be a school counsellor in England at all – despite my specialist Masters level training for the role.
Now, you might be thinking (and you can bet I did) that I probably should have researched this before moving to England and finding myself with bills to pay. And I did try! I looked for school counselling jobs before moving and I saw them advertised – CHECK! You needed to have a counselling qualification to apply and I had all that – CHECK! And this is exactly what I mean by the difficulties that arise when we use the same words to mean different things. It just didn’t occur to me that the meaning of the words was different. There wasn’t even anyone to ask and clarify things because they didn’t know we were using the words differently either… it sucked. When I wrote that I had to find out the hard way I mean it was H A R D. I had two Masters of Education and I couldn’t even get an underpaid teaching assistant job working with troubled youth.
In England, to work as a school counsellor you generally need to be registered with one of the big accreditation bodies for counsellors and psychotherapists. I say ‘generally’ because in England the words counsellor and psychotherapist are not regulated, which technically means that anyone can say that they are a counsellor or psychotherapist (training be damned!). The biggest and most widely recognised accreditation body is the BACP, or British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. The most common training route in order to register is a 2 year part-time counselling diploma and then you can start applying for school counselling jobs.
I was horrified. You don’t need to have any background or experience working in schools – even though they are really complex and unique environments. You don’t have to have specialist training in working with children and young people. You don’t need a university degree – let alone a Masters, in fact, most diploma courses are just one day a week! You don’t need to have any training in administering or interpreting psychometric assessments, in SEN, in consulting and collaborating with stake-holders, in developing SEL group curriculums, in writing reports, or multiagency working, or leading parenting skill groups. No training in any of the things that an Australian school counsellor is trained to do – and yet I wasn’t eligible for the job?!
I tried to apply to the BACP. I told them that I had done my Masters online and that it didn’t involve a counselling placement – 100 hours is the minimum in England. Nor had I been in therapy of my own. They were horrified. If I wanted to register with them I would have to retrain the British way. So I sucked it up and started a Diploma in Child Counselling – it was the closest thing to school counselling I could find. I would have to submit essays, complete a 100 hour (unpaid) placement, and be in personal therapy the whole time! I spent the whole first year feeling pretty confused about what I was learning which seemed completely different, and sometimes even conflicting, with what I had previously learned.