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How to make a living from a career in counselling 

olivia luna

We talked to Olivia Luna, a former student of ours, about how her couple counselling qualification journey resulted in her setting up her own practice in London, Talking is Good.

My journey into private practice has been great. I would say that this organisation helped with making the transition into a new career in counselling. This is vital as it can be quite daunting starting a new career and looking at years of study, so I am glad to be able to tell my story and I hope it helps people ‘fill in the gaps’ between wanting to work with couples and making a living out of it.

How did it start?

I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in psychology but I was not clear on what area to specialise in so I enrolled onto a PGDip in Counselling Psychology at a London university. I enjoyed it but found it very broad and theoretical, with modules on statistics and research methodologies, all of which was valuable learning but I was keen to get some hands on experience to see if counselling was something I enjoyed. So I started looking for a course that had a more experiential approach.

I found the Tavistock Relationships website and was instantly drawn to the idea of working with couples. After an interview, where I came in and met the teaching staff, I applied and was accepted.  I wanted a course that could offer related job opportunities upon qualification and this is something which Tavistock Relationships was able to provide.

Why choose couple work for study?

Despite my reluctance to embark on further study after having just completed a PGDip – I felt that ‘couples’ was such an engaging topic that I decided to start with the introductory course – it sounded interesting and actually it was short and relatively affordable. I learned about the general concepts of what makes relationships work and the dynamics between two people. It’s a good way of dipping your toe into the whole idea of working with relationships. It also encouraged me to think about my own relationships!

I thought the intro course was great and it confirmed to me that working with ‘couples’ was the area I wanted focus on.

[Note: Students taking our introductory course can use it as a foundation for many other non-couples trainings, so it is a flexible option.] 

After the intro course, I did the PGDip in Individual and Couple Counselling and Psychotherapy at Tavistock Relationships. This is a bigger commitment and in preparation you have to undergo your own therapy. It soon became apparent to me that this training takes you on a journey of professional AND personal development.

Throughout the training I met so many great people – both my tutors and people on my course – and because I loved the topic, I continued on to the Psychosexual training. My path to being a fully-fledged couple therapist was well underway.

Why did you stay with TR as opposed to ‘shopping around’ again?

Well, as I said, I wanted to do ‘couples’ and Tavistock Relationships is the place. Also, Tavistock Relationships has the full in-house set up, it is unique in that respect  –  studying, teaching, clinical service, projects, supervision all take place under one roof – it makes it really attractive when you have previously been at or researched other institutions that only have one bit or the other. It opens up possibilities and makes things easier. The team there also sources the clients for you, so all you focus on is your progress as a clinician, no worrying about having to find a placement to fulfil your clinical hours.

Describe seeing your first couple therapy clients

To be honest, this is always the daunting bit, but there was strong support in that we had undertaken several role play sessions in our practical module so you are prepared for clinical work.

I didn’t have to wait long, and before I knew it I had completed my first session with clients. I was happy to finally get some clinical experience outside of the lecture room! Two, three, four couples followed quickly so there was never a shortage of clients.

There is an allocations team at TR which means you get student cases that are deemed right for you by experienced assessors, so you are not completely thrown into the deep end. I felt as a student I was really looked after every step of the way.

How else did the Tavistock Relationships Psychotherapy Training help you?

We had clinical AND training supervision. A lot of thought is put into the supervision group you are placed in so that you are with other trainees that are at a similar stage. You learn so much from each other, talking about your work, giving you advice and sharing experiences.

The rigorous training also creates a strong bonding experience amongst your peers – I’m still friends with people from the introductory course from all those years ago and I have since created a professional network.

So what did you do next?

My first move was to use my qualification to become a visiting clinician contracted at Tavistock Relationships (TR) – and become an assessor, which I believe is an excellent way of consolidating all of your learning.

When you learn about the allocation process at Tavistock Relationships  –  that is assessing clients who initially come to you and working out if you can help them  –  you really appreciate how important that is. You realise that out there on your own no one is going to do it for you, so that’s why the in-house experience with TR in my view was absolutely invaluable.

I am now a senior clinician at TR and feel very proud to be a part of the organisation that saw me through my entire couple training.

Is being qualified via Tavistock Relationships an advantage, how much is the name valued?

Definitely.  I have had enquiries where people have mentioned that they have had an experience at Tavistock Relationships, and that is why they have contacted me.

How did you then move to setting up your own practice?

I took a room for a half day, even though I had zero clients, so you could say it was a leap of faith! I advertised on the Counselling Directory and had a basic website designed. Within two months I had four cases and quickly filled up my slots. Around 80% of my clients are couples or individuals with relationship issues, so there is lots of need out there.

Business grew quickly, so I went into joint practice with a colleague who I trained with at TR. Now we run a group practice in Shoreditch where we have 15 therapists working with us. We have three therapy rooms and a website which features our practitioners profiles - www.EastLondonRelationshipTherapy.co.uk

We have even set up our own peer supervision groups as most of us are former TR colleagues. Again, this is testament to the strong bond that builds amongst trainees that is all part of the holistic TR experience.

What hourly rates might newly set up therapists expect?

Generally speaking, in private practice I would say you could charge anything from £80 to £150. The fee structure in private practice is different to how fees are negotiated at TR, which is a charity where the fees are means based so that counselling is available to people of all incomes.

How does it fit your lifestyle?

Well for example, I like having long weekends so I don’t work Fridays and its nice having a weekday off. I don’t mind working Saturday mornings but only via TR’s online therapy service as it’s in the comfort of my home. This is yet another avenue which TR has helped me branch out into, as I am also a part of their online therapy team.

I was self-funding throughout my training and at the start I had to take a risk, start small and grow. I work frequently as I like to keep busy and it’s my primary income – but there could be models where you work less and with more flexibility if you desire.

Why is there such demand for couple therapy?

I come from California, where seeing a therapist is like going to the gym. In my time in London I have seen a major shift in attitudes about mental health. It no longer feels like a taboo subject. Even the Royals have spoken openly about therapy. Therapy also features prominently in popular culture with TV shows like Big Little Lies and The Affair, all this is part of the normalising of therapy.

I also see a lot of young people who are into social media and tech, particularly in Shoreditch where my private practice is based, and you can see that this generation is embracing therapy.

What’s the passion – what do you most enjoy?

There is never a dull moment – people are fascinating and unpredictable, everyone is different and unique.

It’s also incredibly rewarding, there are tough moments but supervision helps, as well as keeping in touch with my colleagues. Its great to be in the thriving community of couple therapists.

You can find out more about our study options here.

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