Counsellor John-Paul Davies reflects on the roles that counsellors can play in our society, outside of the therapy room
Welcome back to Professional Opinions, the series exploring the mental health and wellbeing landscape in 2023 through a collection of interviews with professionals from the Happiful directories.
This week, Counselling Directory member John-Paul Davies explores the various routes into counselling – and the broader role that counsellors can play in society, outside of the therapy room.
A psychotherapist, coach, writer, and media contributor, John-Paul works in full-time private practice in Cobham, Surrey, where he sees adults on a one-to-one basis from his home.
Preferring to work with the whole range of psychological and emotional issues, rather than in one niche, he regularly offers his perspective in the media, as well as on his YouTube channel and podcast – and has released a self-book, Finding A Balanced Connection: Build well-being from within, take back your life and permanently change it for the better.
Recently, John-Paul has branched out into coaching people interested in entering the therapy profession themselves, as well as trainee therapists and people thinking of setting-up their own private practices.
So, what’s his professional opinion?
Hi John-Paul! Why did you decide to join your profession?
My previous career was as a project finance solicitor in the City of London, and it wasn't fulfilling me as much as I had a feeling a career could. I noticed I was also being drawn more to support roles rather than the legal work itself. As you might imagine, the scope for anything other than the day-to-day legal work as a solicitor in a City law firm was pretty limited.
I decided to take a year out from the law to have some new experiences. I did a screenwriting course, worked for a sexual health charity, and also completed a foundation year in counselling and psychotherapy. I'd also been in therapy for a number of years at that point, and so knew the profound difference it could make.
The therapy training was the one I enjoyed the most throughout my year off, and I realised I could most likely make a fulfilling and sustainable career out of it too, so I decided to go on to complete the diploma in counselling and psychotherapy rather than go back to the City.
Since then I've really never looked back, with my career growing in ways I couldn't have imagined 10 years ago.
Since you began, what have you found to be the most surprising thing about the work you do?
A surprising thing has been the effect that doing something I love has had on all aspects of my life. I thought the benefits would be limited to doing a job I enjoyed more than being a lawyer, but I've found the effect has been much more pervasive. It's like all of the dots in life have joined up and now mostly work together. There's been a shift in every area, I guess in the way that 'a rising tide lifts all boats'.
The range of possibilities and opportunities in the profession has surprised me too. If you'd asked me what I'd be doing each day as a therapist when I was training, it would only be the hourly client work I'd experienced as a client myself and seen in the media. Today, as well as the more traditional client work model, which I do still love and forms the major part of my week, I might be recording a YouTube video, speaking to a journalist, responding to people on social media or learning about a new area in therapy.
With the huge increase in interest in mental health and well-being and the growth of technology, the media and social media, there's so much potential in therapy as a career.
A surprising thing has been the effect that doing something I love has had on all aspects of my life
What do you like about your profession?
I'm proud of being part of a profession that, to me, makes such an important contribution and always seems to be innovating in the ways it does it. I think the therapeutic world mostly establishes and enhances the connection between people, the community, and the wider world, and therefore improves life for everyone. It's a counter-balance to the sort of disconnection which I think is the cause of so much difficulty and distress.
On a more personal level, I also love many of the people who work in the profession and feel like I've really found my 'tribe' here.
What are some of the challenges that come with your line of work?
As with anything in life, there are challenges. Even after 10 years of running my own practice, I can still worry when the client enquiries ebb rather than flow, especially during times like the recent cost of living crisis.
Because I work for myself, whether or not my practice thrives is often down to the choices I make. In a big law firm, there was a wider organisation and lots of support. When things are going well, it's hugely rewarding and affirming to be the person with primary, or sole, responsibility for everything, but when they're not, it can make navigating the bumps harder.
I can also see there's mostly no right or wrong way to develop my career, or how to work with clients. I appreciate the freedom for creativity and connection this allows, but it can also be challenging at times. Sometimes I find a clear prescribed path, a right or wrong way to do things, quite calming and it was much more the case in the law.
If you couple there being no 'right answer' in many situations with a confidentiality obligation that means we can't just talk to anyone about our work, I think this has sometimes resulted in feelings of isolation.
How do you address some of the challenges that you face?
I address the challenges by making sure I'm doing what I can to trust both myself and trustworthy others.
As far as trusting myself, if I'm going to be able to run my own practice – navigating a complex, changing world with lots of different, at times competing, ideas – I need to keep as consistent as I can. I, therefore, try to manage my fear and maintain a strong sense of who I am, what I believe, need, and want – and what I see as my skills.
This, of course, includes those areas where I can develop and grow. It would be easy to get comfortable with quite fixed ideas about how everything works, so I think it's important to make and take opportunities for learning about new ideas, approaches, and techniques.
Consciously trusting other people, and creating and growing a network, means I can share concerns about anything that's happening and also celebrate all the enjoyable parts of the job with other people. For me, these connections overcome any difficulties around isolation that working in private practice at home might bring.
I think it's important to make and take opportunities for learning about new ideas, approaches, and techniques
What do you think could be done to improve the profession for you and for others?
I'd support some more consistency of entry routes, qualifications, training, and even some practices and processes across the therapy world. It's a bit more disparate than I'd expected, and I'm not sure this serves anyone. I know the different routes in, for example, can confuse people coming into the profession. I think therapy has potentially too significant a role to be left as it is in this way.
Of course, I'd never want to inhibit any of the freedom, space, and creativity that leads to great therapeutic relationships and a vibrant, fulfilling career, but, to me, some more standardisation could be introduced in a way that enhances the profession for everyone, rather than diminishes it.
Ways into the profession encouraging more diversity of therapists would also, I think, improve it. As an example, men are significantly underrepresented compared to the proportion we make up of the general population. This affects how men view therapy and whether they'll therefore enter it.
What do you see being some of the major challenges your profession will face in the next 10 years?
I think increasing diversity will be an ongoing challenge, as will keeping the profession together in a climate of increasing regulation and standardisation.
I also suspect the online platforms are already adversely affecting business for many therapists, if they're not working for them, of course. The platforms are most likely here to stay and I think have some interesting ideas about how therapy can be delivered, but I'll be interested to see their impact on the world of private practice in the future.
What advice would you give to others in the profession?
Rather than giving advice as such, I do have some observations.
One of these might be that I don't generally see lots of therapists taking advantage of all the opportunities for connection there are for people with our knowledge and expertise. Of course, we'll choose to do what's in line with our tastes and personality, as we should, but I wonder whether some therapists avoid opportunities because of a lack of confidence. Perhaps we could trust in ourselves more in terms of voice and visibility.
I think it's also the case that if we don't step forward, someone else is going to fill that space, particularly for younger people on social media. That someone else might actually unfortunately cause disconnection, as you can see with Andrew Tate and the 'alpha males' on TikTok for example.
BSc (Hons), Diploma in Counselling and Psychotherapy, and Certificate in Counselling and Psychotherapy.