It could be argued (and a lot of my family and friends did argue) that I started my degree at a time that was less than ideal. My youngest daughter had just turned one, and had yet to sleep a night (it would take another year and a half before she started to sleep through). My husband was just starting on his full-time degree in social sciences with AIT, and we were both out of work. Looking back, I ask myself whether I would have done things differently if I had known how challenging it was all going to be. The answer - definitely not.
One of the best experiences I will bring away with me is the learning I gained from the group of people I was fortunate enough to have spent the last three years studying with. Being perpetually exhausted brought a very different dimension to my experience of the first two years of our study. I found that my usual defence mechanisms were not in place (they take too much energy to maintain) so I joined my group in a more vulnerable place than usual. Fortunately, I joined a group who were open and supportive, and perhaps most importantly, where each person was committed to their own personal development. With this group I learned to take the risk of being honest, of sharing my innermost thoughts, and was rewarded by acceptance, honesty and openness from my fellow students. This process helped me to meet myself at a different level and to find my own confidence and self-acceptance.
Finding time outside of class hours to read, study and write was a constant challenge. Everything was so interesting and modules seemed to fly by so quickly. This is where there was definitely an advantage to both myself and my husband studying at the same time. We understood and supported each other in making time for essay writing. This led to a lot of tag-team work, where one of us would take over with the children to give the other time to work. Jumping back into full-time work in second year added a childminder to the list of things to juggle, and meant the amount of time I had with my children was drastically reduced. I struggled with the balancing act of giving time to my home-life, work and study, and felt perpetually guilty for not spending enough time with my children.
Sharing this struggle with my group, and exploring it in personal therapy, I gradually found a place where I could enjoy, and make the most of, the time I had with my children, without giving up on my own dreams. Summers were relished as an opportunity for spending quiet time together, for my husband and I to luxuriate in the feeling of having no essays to write in the evenings and being able to spend time together as a whole family.
I am nearly at the end of this journey, and found myself at the start of 4th year feeling a bit worn out by it all. Combined with a new and very demanding job, I found I didn’t have the energy to keep juggling, and wasn’t enjoying my studies the way I had been. Half way through the academic year I decided to defer the rest of 4th year, and was thankful for the flexibility in the college that allowed me to do so. It was not an easy decision, but if nothing else I have learned that doing a degree like this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. For me the aim is not the piece of paper in my hand, but the experience and understanding I have gathered along the way.
Working with clients I am constantly amazed at how much more there is to learn; about myself, the people I meet, and the art of counselling. It is this constant process of learning and evolving that draws me so strongly to this area, and makes me grateful to have had the opportunity to study it. Transitioning from a trainee counsellor to a fully-fledged counsellor (who charges for her services) is the next challenge I am preparing myself to meet!
Anna de Siún, Year 4 Student
BSc (Hons) Counselling & Psychotherapy, PCI College Athlone
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