Last year, Oxbridge encouraged our distance learning students to say #IcanIwill. In 2020, we’re exploring the power of #StartingNow. We want to help our learners not only find the determination to make a change, but to take that one step further; not just believing you can, but taking action – Starting Now.
Our Starting Now initiative celebrates students and graduates who knew what they wanted and made it happen. Just like Tavis! Find out how Tavis worked hard and jumped at every opportunity to learn so he could reach his dream…
Paving His Way
How would my friends and family describe me? Tenacious. Ambitious. Creative and… industrious. As an immigrant to the UK, I’ve learned that to get what you want in this world, you have to pave your own way. My name is Tavis King – full post-nominal titles include BA (Hons), MSc, MA, Dip. Couns, MBPsS.
I’m a 37-year-old guy from the USA paving my way in the UK. Last September, I enrolled on the Level 4 Diploma in Advanced Counselling Skills with Oxbridge and completed it 6 months later. This is my roller-coaster of a story that lead me to where I am now…
You can probably tell from my designatory letters that I’ve completed many levels of education. My family don’t call me a ‘career student’ for nothing! However, it wasn’t just a love for learning that had me hopping between universities. It was because every time I completed a course or degree, I was told again and again that I didn’t have ‘enough’ qualifications to land the job I wanted.
It began with a Business Studies degree that became the wrong path once I’d transferred to England to continue my studies. The programme in England was different and not what I’d signed up for. So, I left that course to follow my real interest and graduated with a BA Honours in Psychology in 2010.
To pay my bills and gain relevant work experience simultaneously, I worked in a mental health hospital. I became an expert at handling the ward’s paperwork so eventually, I was trusted to move up in the team. At the time, I thought that my higher position at the hospital gave me an advantage against my fellow students. This made me think it would be easier to find a job as an NHS counsellor once I graduated; yet, over 500 applications later and still no job, I realised I was very wrong about that.
They said I needed more qualifications. More speciality. More experience. Although legally you can become a counsellor with a Psychology degree, it’s rarely accepted by big organisations such as the NHS. I only wish I knew that before…
Ever eager to dig deeper, I signed up for a Cross-cultural Psychology Masters at Brunel University. My interest in inter-cultural communications stemmed from my own immigration experience. I wanted to help other people going through a similar thing. Then later, my interest fell into gay-affirmative psychology because I noticed a lack of LGBTQ representation in psychology and counselling research. So, naturally, my second master’s course specialised in sex & culture.
During all this, I established my own private tutoring business to fund my student lifestyle. This, however, ended up becoming a full-time job that I loved. Maybe teaching psychology was my true calling?
Nope… just more setbacks: I couldn’t become a school-teacher without a PGCE qualification. It felt like every degree led to more degrees or doors slammed in my face. I felt stuck, but what kept me going was helping my students.
Alongside my private business, I tutored for Surrey Adult Learning too. They’re a government-funded college for community skills development. With my Psychology degree, I was able to teach Counselling Skills Level 1, 2 and 3.
Out of the blue, a realisation hit me: the perfect career was begging for my attention all along, and there was a simpler route than I first thought. I’d always embraced the role of helping others, so it only seemed right to create my own private practice for counselling.
Finding the right course to get me there wasn’t straightforward. There were a few catches, so I had to search intensely to find a college that met my needs… I knew I needed a distance learning course, to fit around my work for Surrey Adult Learning and my private tutoring business; it had to fit around my PhD studies (at Brunel University); and, it had to be a recognised qualification with professional, nationally recognised accreditation. I searched intensely – and then I found Oxbridge.
Starting Distance Learning
No two day is the same when you work as a private education consultant! So, balancing my tutoring with my studies was a circus act and to say my diary was crazy and unpredictable is the understatement of 2019!
Honestly, I think the landscape of distance learning is generally risky. I’ve attempted it several times but I didn’t research the training provider’s history enough to begin with. I didn’t read their student reviews to get a grasp of how much support they did (or in most cases, did not) give their students. I guess there is often an over-emphasis on learning-for-assessment rather than assessment-of-learning. Meanwhile, Oxbridge is getting it right and stands as a giant in this field.
However, that is what I loved about studying with Oxbridge; they gave me the opportunity to turn precious free minutes into learning. The flexibility of distance learning allowed me to make time for myself, on my own terms, and around my students whose terms my time often relied upon.
Some might argue that an online platform is inappropriate for a counselling course when so much of counselling is bound up in face-to-face communication. Well, I’d say they’re wrong – mainly because Oxbridge proved to me that distance learning involves a huge amount of human perception, judgement, feedback and mentoring. It’s also bound up in trust. My tutor trusts me to do the work, and I trust him to provide the feedback I need.
Being an Oxbridge Student
What made my studies more enjoyable was the fact that I had a good tutor-student relationship with my tutor, Lee. It made all the difference between me learning knowledge, and truly understanding it, with insightful discussion and reflection.
Lee critically reviewed my work and gave me constructive feedback with additional points to think about; he’d challenge me to change the way I saw things. Although we didn’t agree on everything, he was kind, respectful, patient and an excellent communicator, which made the whole experience an insightful journey.
One such challenge of his was to think about the things that made me uncomfortable; he asked me to figure out why I had certain personal assumptions and think about how I might get past them. Due to an experience in childhood, I’d always distrusted counsellors and thought they were mostly, well, unethical. I explained it all in a reflection journal task and Lee helped me explore this further so I could find more personal awareness. I could then turn that insight into empathy for my clients.
This course taught me how to use helping skills to support clients to identify their own problems and conflicts. I am now able to help clients determine their own solutions, test them, and evaluate how helpful those solutions were for resolving their problems. What can I say? The course did what it said on the tin!
I have admiration for Oxbridge because they’re doing it right. After my students complete their taster courses with me, I then signpost them to Oxbridge as a progression route, so they can qualify in the Advanced Counselling Skills Level 4 course.
The Tutor’s Perspective
“I really enjoyed working with Tavis. He was a diligent and hardworking learner, always presenting interesting quotes and clinical research to back up his arguments.
Tavis’ role-play assimilations was superb; they were skilfully carried out and showed excellent knowledge of core counselling skills. His work was thought-provoking and insightful whilst demonstrating high levels of empathy and regard for his client.
Ultimately, when working with any learner, my aim is to help them develop personally and professionally. I want to help them gain the personal insight needed to be the best possible counsellor they can be. I try to pass on personal knowledge gained from my work experience. For example, I encourage learners to treat their coursework how their clients would treat a counselling session: reflecting on difficulties, thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
Tavis has a rare ability to be deeply self-reflective, an important skill for any therapist. I think Tavis will help many, many clients with his counselling practice and I wish Tavis the very best.”
Attitude is Everything
They say, ‘if you want something done right, give it to a busy person.’ That’s me down to T. I guess I learnt this from my psychology studies, where we often discussed the purpose of confidence. Is confidence tied up in self-esteem (e.g. lead by how you feel emotionally) or is it self-efficacy (e.g. lead by what you believe you can achieve)?
I am a strong advocate of self-efficacy. If you sit around and wait to be emotionally ready to do something… you may be waiting forever. It’s a vicious cycle. But if you do something to feel good about, you’ll more often succeed.
Self-efficacy is not bound up in emotion. All it requires is for you to move your body and stretch your mind. As a result, it doesn’t matter if you fail because you took on too much. Look at all the successful things you did because you tried? That is the way I see things.
To sum it up in one of my favourite expressions: ‘Shoot for the moon, even if you miss—you’re still amongst the stars.’ That, I feel, is the real benefit of #StartingNow.
The Road to Counselling
I think the most challenging part of all this has been embracing my credibility as a skilled counsellor. There are people who said that if my programme isn’t accredited by a certain leading organisation, I’d never be a ‘real’ counsellor. They’d imply that somehow, it’s unethical and harmful to others if I chose not to blindly follow the herd in joining a more expensive and selective counselling programme.
It’s very difficult to overcome the tyranny of the majority. The truth, however, is that the legal framework that surrounds counselling, training, accreditation and insurance is sound. When I finished my Level 4 Diploma with Oxbridge, I was completely within my rights to join the professional body, ACCPH (Accredited Counsellors, Coaches, Psychotherapists and Hypnotherapists). Through ACCPH I got my private insurance to practice with supervision and begin helping others as a qualified counsellor.
What I’ve discovered is that most counselling leaders preach about how little diversity exists within the profession (study by Spalding, Grove & Rolfe, 2019). And yet, they don’t consider how it’s their own organisation and education programmes – with inflated costs, a pyramid education structure and hours of unpaid employment – that acts as a barrier to the same people they feel the profession is lacking. If diversity is an issue to them, they need to take steps to make the profession more accessible from different pathways.
Change is possible. This is a profession that desperately needs people with life experience. It needs difference and diversity to truly help the majority. If we were honest about the standards, we could change them. That’s what I teach my students.
To inspire change, that’s what I want. Therefore, on an everyday level, my dream is to be remembered as a learner’s favourite teacher in life. I want to be someone who will hold the door for working-class, LGBTQ, black and minority ethnic people, immigrants and refugees, entering the counselling world. I won’t stop until I can help those people develop the skills and qualifications they need to gain employment in a field that desperately needs them. The world will benefit.
Starting Now, Every Day
I don’t have a lot of free time, but when I can I use my pedometer to walk 10,000 steps per day and I’m stomping my way around East London.
Wherever I go, I think I will always be in some form of education, but I’ve discovered that I learn most about a subject when I teach it. After all, helping others has deepened my subject knowledge in psychology and counselling more than any textbook has. That’s why applying your knowledge is so important, and why I care more about teaching over and above everything else.
For now, I’ll finish my PhD (only two years left)! I’m also half-way through my Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training. AND I have hinted (OK—explicitly requested) that Oxbridge authorises my tutor Lee to write the Level 5 Diploma in Professional Counselling Skills! I’ve heard that they are hoping to offer this course in 2020. Then, I would have a sure next step and would be thrilled to join Oxbridge as a distance learning student again.
Since I finished with Oxbridge, I’ve set up my counselling practice and have had my first client, plus two more referrals! We are going to work together over the next year and I know my client list will grow with time.
I’ve recently launched my website, Taking Pride. I think the company name fits my ambition to help others, my drive to make the counselling profession more diverse, and my belief that self-efficacy will get you where you want to be. #StartingNow, I’m here to help!
Are you inspired? Would you like to follow in Tavis’ footsteps and start your learning journey towards a new you? Give us a call to speak with one of our friendly course advisers: 0121 630 3000. They’ll help you find your way. #StartingNow
Spalding, B., Grove, J., & Rolfe, A. (2019). An exploration of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic counsellors’ experiences of working with White clients. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 19(1), 75-82.