Our guest blogger dreamed of a career in counselling…
Before I studied counselling, I had been unhappy with where I was in my working life. I had some solid jobs in government administration early on, but an unsuccessful business venture in mid-life had knocked me about quite terribly; both financially and emotionally. Long story short, I finished up in basic jobs just to get me from one month’s bills to the next month: door-to-door sales, cabs, cleaning, pop-up market stalls… you name it!
The bills were getting paid (barely), but I felt like a leaf blowing in the wind. Worse, my daughter was in her teens, and I didn’t want to be a role model of bouncing between bottom-rung casual jobs, and talking constantly about what we could and couldn’t afford. This dad didn’t want to be remembered as the broom-pusher and chancer with a beaten-down attitude to life.
Where did Stonebridge come in?
So plans formed a few years ago to make a shift into counselling – a field I had long been interested in. Research began in earnest to find a course to give me the confidence and skills to call myself a counsellor. There were lots to choose from, but they all seemed to have one thing in common – a cost running into the thousands. That was a deal breaker for someone with a gurgling bank account like mine! Eventually, after scouring the internet, I stumbled across the Stonebridge website. These courses were hundreds, not thousands, so I decided to take a punt on my first course.
Which courses did I choose?
In the last two years, I have worked my way through four courses – all counselling related. The first course (Grief and Bereavement Counselling) was useful but fairly specialised, so I decided to take a salt and pepper approach. I did this by studying several short courses that would combine to give me the depth, breadth and confidence that I would need to feel totally prepared.
Maybe that’s just where I was personally – with my confidence being so low. Other students might have different backgrounds and levels of confidence. They might find that one of the bigger courses will be all they need.
The courses I have done so far, are: Grief and Bereavement Counselling, Autogenic Training (a “mild” form of hypnotherapy and deep relaxation), NLP (seeing yourself and the world more clearly), and Rogerian Therapy (studying the counselling style of Carl Rogers, the gentle pioneer of the field).
These four courses were really all I planned to complete – and in fact I do feel ready to begin counselling in 2018. But I have to say that you kind of get hooked on the study habit. I tend to do an hour or two early in the morning, twice or three times a week. In fact, with no current course underway I actually miss the sense of progress, structure and quiet time in my week. And that is why I plan to do yet another one in 2018 – but more for interest this time. The course I’ve chosen to do is a diploma in social studies.
Whilst counselling (and psychology) courses look within and assess what makes us tick, social studies courses observe the society that we take for granted. They explain how it got to be this way – the fairness, and unfairness and the subtle social pressures that are a shadowy partner in many of the life choices we make. It’s a broad topic that interests me, but it’s also relevant in some ways to a prospective counsellor’s ability to see the whole picture of lives being lived within a social framework we have inherited (parts of it, anyway) from decades and even centuries past.
How’s it all been?
So have I learned anything? Have there been any problems along the way?
I don’t for a second regret studying with Stonebridge and I see the world differently now. Conversations, TV, movies, and just things I overhear are different. I see myself differently, too. No longer am I the narrow-minded creature of habit I was for much of my life. Courses in Bereavement and NLP are bound to rattle your cage and wake you up…
The studying process has always been pretty smooth. I completed the first course using pen and paper and then posted it all the way from Canberra, Australia to Bude, Cornwall. That was my choice at the time because it seemed like the way “real” study should be done. The postal mode worked out OK, but you lose so much time in transit and postage of answer papers can be expensive from some countries.
I was on fire! The second, third and fourth course together took about the same time as just the first course by postal mode!
From then onward I chose online paperless study. What a revelation! It is so efficient and cheap, with assignments and results flying back and forth so quickly and easily and cheaply (free!) that I got the idea of studying two courses at once! While I was waiting a few days for an assignment grade to appear in my Student Zone, I would switch to doing an assignment from another course, working alternately on modules from both courses. I was on fire! The second, third and fourth course together took about the same time as just the first course by postal mode!
What are the courses like?
The courses are all made up of a number of modules, each with usually ten questions to answer. They are then graded before you can submit any answers to the next module. For the most part I rely entirely on the supplied readings. I have bought a few books, though. If a part of the course is difficult, unclear or just very interesting, I will add to my assignments from my own books.
The materials have all been good. Yes, I have found some typos, and yes, sometimes I’m not sure which way to interpret the occasional poorly worded question, but this did not deter from my study. The tutors are very tolerant and understanding, but if you are completely off the track with your answer, you will have to resubmit the whole assignment. That can be a blow to your ego, but it’s also part of the learning process! However, this is a rarity and only once in four courses have I had an assignment bounced back to me as unsatisfactory.
The graded assignments come back with individualised feedback and usually some encouragement. It’s not like school where you can have long discussions with your tutor. If you aren’t sure about a particular answer you should simply have a lash at it. If it turns out to be a wrong or incomplete answer, then that will be sorted out in your feedback.
It’s probably fair to say that some students (and myself, at times) may feel a bit frustrated that there isn’t really a channel or a link where you can check in with your tutor whenever questions might occur to you. But the reality is that it saves you time (as well as saving them money, of course). Your answers will determine when you really do need feedback. Also, just remember the price of these courses remains low because the college have streamlined interactions to the minimum. If you want to sit down and have coffee and a chat with your tutor, or if you need gallons of encouragement just to keep you going, then I’m sorry – you will need to pay much more for such luxury at some other college.
Stonebridge is very flexible about you taking time off from your course
That said, there is a student community forum where you can raise questions and ask for help from other students. It doesn’t appear to be hugely popular. I see some students get advice there, though. I can also see where Stonebridge themselves have hopped in to help when other students haven’t helped. So that is a channel to be aware of, and one that ideally should grow in everyone’s best interests.
One important thing to mention is that Stonebridge is very flexible about you taking time off from your course. They allow breaks of many weeks – or even a few months – between assignments. If you know that you will not be able to submit anything at all for six months, send them an email so they don’t deactivate your enrollment.
Just before closing this blog post, I will touch on the financial arrangements. I have already stated the obvious – Stonebridge courses are incredibly affordable. I wouldn’t have taken courses at all from most other providers simply because I couldn’t afford them. So that’s a plus for all of us. The payment arrangements I have made have been very easy to start up via the checkout of the main website. They have appeared as expected on my credit card statement with no complications.
I know it’s hard to make that first move when you haven’t studied with Stonebridge Colleges before. But be reassured that tens of thousands of students already have. They aren’t perfect – but neither am I, and neither are you by the way. If you do happen to have some kind of snag or delay, just get in touch with them. Let them respond, and just be a tiny bit patient.
Good luck with your chosen studies!