By Irene Stoppoloni, MA Councelling & Psychotherapy
I have survived the first few months of psychoanalysis and was still wondering what existentialism all about is when suddenly the ‘placement talk’ starts.
The first thing you might have thought was: 'wait! I'm not ready!'
Fear not: here is a list of my 7 top tips after successfully finding my first placement and then scoring a second a few months later.
Disclaimer: it wasn't all sunshine and roses, but I trust that sharing these tips with you will make your journey that little bit smoother and enjoyable.
Let's get into it.
1. You will do the most learning on placement
I wished I had known this before starting to look for a placement. When I first put my head down and scanned through all the placement offers on Blackboard, my focus (I now realise) was wrong. I was trying so hard to 'just find ANY placement' that I lost sight of what it is all about. Placement will be a journey of immense learning; it will have its ups and downs.
So when you are first looking for a placement, do some research on the organisation/charity, ask around to see if anyone knows anything about them already, and make sure you agree with their ethos and what they stand for. Hey, maybe you can find somewhere that aligns with your passions! Are you passionate about empowering women? There are lots of women-only counselling facilities that desperately need more counsellors.
2. You're in for the long run
Most placements will require you to stay at least one year, so the best thing to do is find one that is convenient to get to.
The first interview I had was with an organisation located in Croydon (I lived in East London at the time) and I was so eager to just find any placement that I said yes without first thinking about how hard (and expensive!) it would have been for me to get there every week. Some places may pay expenses, but you don't want to add an extra couple of hours of commuting to your schedule.
Moral of the story, I was exhausted after a week a going in for interviews and inductions that I ended up having to reconsider my decision. I then found a wonderful organization in East London - if I had only looked in my area first!
3. You are not expected to be perfect
Especially if this is your first placement, please know that you can ask for help, that you can say you're struggling, that you can ask for extra support. Most places will offer you supervision, but sometimes you might need some extra and that's fine. Ask the placement first; I have found that they like to know how you are doing instead of you putting a 'strong front' on (and for whom?!).
4. Prepare the story of why you are on the course you are on
Most placements will ask you why you've decided to study counselling and what it means to you. And although you might have valid reasons, it is also good to be clear on those reasons with yourself first before attempting to explain them at the first interview or on the application form.
5. You can get a placement without previous experience
You will soon realise that some places will ask that you have at least a few hours under your belt already. Don't panic! There are plenty of placements that will take you without any experience. Maybe you have found the 'perfect placement' (you love what they do and what they stand for) but they as you have at least 40 hours. Put that somewhere you can go back to and do some more research. Maybe there is another placement that will take you and that you like. After you get enough hours there you can go back to the first option and start your second placement there. Which leads me to the next point.
6. You can have a second placement, but you don't have to
When I first started looking for a placement, the idea of having a second one hadn't even entered my wildest dreams. 'I'll be lucky if I get one'.
The truth is, you are offering very valuable skills and time for free and there is plenty of demand and need out there.
When I had settled into my routine and found a steady footing, I realised I had the space to get some hours of practice towards the second-year requirement. It was only for a couple more hours a week, but it all adds up.
7. Make sure you have everything you need
The biggest mistake I made when looking for my first placement was not taking into consideration what the university requirements were. If you look on Blackboard there are plenty of approved placements there, but if you can't find anything that suits you, you can always do some research online. Before you start, make sure you have the list of needed requirements in front of you. The second reason my first choice of placement didn't work out (as well as it was too far) was because it did not fulfil the university's health and safety requirements. The best thing to do is to check first before committing to an interview or an induction. You can find the list in the appendices of the Course Handbook.
I hope that reading this has been helpful to you and made the 'finding a placement' process that little bit less daunting.
If you would like to talk, you can find me at irenestoppoloni.com
Come and say hi!