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Getting out of the office could enable therapists to meet the needs of more clients
Why I became a counsellor
What made you decide to become a therapist?
Since I was very young, I’ve always been touched by others’ distress. From my immediate and extended family I experienced the values of love, care and connection and, from time to time, as a child and young person, spent time listening to significant elders sharing their worries and concerns. At school, I would occasionally find myself responding to friends who were upset or who had been jilted. These were the foundation stones I think, but my later experiences as a full time youth worker in the East End of London in my early 20s exposed me to circumstances, both with young people and with their parents, in which I called on anything I’d ever read about a counselling approach.
I was a teacher in Jamaica before training as a counsellor. Being invited to work one afternoon a week alongside the school counsellor in Jamaica finally convinced me to pursue formal training.
What were your hopes when you became a therapist?
I hoped to contribute to others’ efforts to wrestle with their troubles and demons; to have the opportunity to work meaningfully in the world; to be ‘good enough’.
Have they changed and if so, in what ways?
To consider how else our profession can contribute to personal wellbeing when there will never be enough therapists to work with individuals in need. We need to expand our radical edge in where and how we work. We need to come out of the office!
What do you think makes a good therapist?
Resilience, patience, personal security, curiosity, humanity, humility, respect, awareness, compassion, toughness, optimism, love... I could go on...
What is the best advice you have received, and why?
From my mother, on childrearing: ‘Colin, all you need to do with children is love them.’
From the Dalai Lama: ‘Be kind whenever you can. You always can.’
From Carl Rogers: ‘If I can be all that I am, then that is good enough.’
From a martial arts teacher: ‘Carry on, it’s only pain.’
What values do you hold dear?
Love, kindness, contact, loyalty and shared joy.
What do you enjoy about being a therapist?
Witnessing moments of change; they are the seed-bed of our work.
What do you find most challenging?
Not witnessing moments of change and becoming despairing about a client’s potential.
Which books have you read that inspired you?
The Magus and The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles – for their storytelling.
I and Thou by Martin Buber – for such a succinct yet deeply profound exploration of relationship.
Touching the Void by Joe Simpson – for hanging in there even when death was facing him.
On Becoming a Person: a therapist’s view of psychotherapy by Carl Rogers – this was such a discovery in the library of the youth work college I attended seven years before I decided to become a therapist. It gave me licence to be myself. It guided me through many sticky moments in youth work and teaching.
Has becoming a therapist changed you?
I imagine so but it’s difficult to state how exactly as I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. I oscillate between raging and crying about the human condition and being very philosophical about it.
Has your view of the role of therapy in a changing society altered since qualifying?
In three decades, I believe therapy has moved from the margins of society into the mainstream. This is to be celebrated in many ways as more people have increased access to it and it carries less stigma, but I do wonder if the field has lost something in moving from the position of healer on the edge of the village into the everyday marketplace.
Colin Lago is a counsellor, trainer, supervisor, consultant and Fellow of BACP. He writes on counselling issues, particularly within the field of diversity. His hobbies include fell running and lindy hop dancing.