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Paula Clarke-Little
  • Psychotherapy Training

Published in Student Stories on September 30th 2020

Paula Clarke-Little on a sofa in front of bookshelves

Paula Clarke-Little trained and works as a Visiting Clinician at Tavistock Relationships. She has trained as a couple therapist here too.

She also works in private practice in central London and welcomes potential clients from underrepresented populations such as the BAME, LGBT and cross-cultural/mixed-heritage communities.

What has been the greatest challenge/surprise developing your private practice?

My greatest challenges have been finding room time that suits my schedule, and committing financially to the spaces. My greatest surprise was receiving enquiries. When I started, I remember feeling so scared that no-one would choose me. We all have our insecurities about this, and mine was that I was black, and black people, apparently, didn't do therapy, and white clients might prefer white therapists. I am happy my private practice experience has now debunked this myth, but initially I procrastinated due to my unconscious beliefs and internal racism. Luckily, a friend noted my fear and, with excellent guidance, encouraged me to take the plunge by referring my first client to me. I first committed to three hours - the rest is history.

I am a strong advocate for diversity training in all psychotherapeutic training institutions, not just as a solo add-on, but included in the fabric of the course.

What is one important new area for research and training?

I am a strong advocate for diversity training in all psychotherapeutic training institutions, not just as a solo add-on, but included in the fabric of the course. For example, I would like to see more diverse couplings used to exemplify chosen topics taught in the continuous syllabus. This kind of inclusion would shed more light on the psychodynamics of 'othering' and 'unconscious bias,’ allowing all involved in
psychotherapeutic training to discuss these matters consciously and robustly.

Tell us about the statement of inclusion in your private practice profile:

I want to appeal to those who look, but feel marginalised, and turn away. While training, I worked with minimal clients of colour or LGBT orientation. However, when starting my private practice, a fair proportion of my clientele came from these communities, which shocked me. Now, I know I am myself of colour - so why the shock! I was surprised as I was led, or led myself, to believe these communities were less likely to present for therapy, or were challenging in some way. In media,would read about the urban myth that ‘black people don't do therapy.’ But my private practice experience was different. Under-represented communities were seeking me out, and contrary to my own beliefs, they were staying!

I have realised that psychodynamic therapy is not for everyone; some clients do require more valuable holding, through advice, homework, or a diagnosis.

But this is not determined by colour, heritage or sexual orientation. I believe psychodynamic therapy is a practical and useful treatment model for those clients seeking internal answers who are curious enough to bear emotional pain and look deeper, gaining insight and meaning along the way. Happily, in my experience this applies to all who dare commit to the journey - hence my welcome.

What do you do for your own self-care?

I am not good at this, and often have several plates on the spin, even though I know self-care is essential to surviving in private practice. But to relax my mind, I sing, or at least I try to - to my neighbours' pleasure or dismay!

What's in a joke? Tell us one:

I am incredibly bad at jokes. My jokes are themselves a joke in my household. I think that explains a lot.

What's a favourite quote, word of advice, comfort, for you?

My favourite poem is‘If ’ by Rudyard Kipling (c.1895). It was written so long ago, but still resonates today – I love it! If we could achieve the heights and hopes this poem espouses, what a wonderful world this would be.

Read more …Training as a Therapist - a success story from cross cultural therapist

Heidi Renton
  • Psychotherapy Training

Published in Student Stories on September 30th 2019

Heidi Renton

For individual and couple counselling training, getting the best support as you start to see clients is vital says Heidi Renton.

Taking the leap into a new career – part 2: training at Tavistock Relationships

Searching for more meaning in my life and work, I decided in my late 40s to try and switch careers, and undergo psychotherapy training. With a background in senior marketing and media education, I had been looking for a new direction to stimulate me. My exhaustive research into how to become a counsellor had brought me to the world-renowned Tavistock Relationships and their Introduction to Counselling course [Foundation Certificate in Couple and Individual Counselling and Psychotherapy] , where I was thrilled to have managed to secure myself a place. (You can read more about my decision-making process on counselling courses here.)

But now I was about to begin, I realised I had no clear idea of what exactly lay ahead: I knew in principle what Tavistock Relationships' counselling training entailed, but what might the self-reflective group actually involve? Would role playing be as terrifying as it sounded? What if everybody else on the course was way more experienced or proficient than me? The only way to find out was to take a deep breath and embark on the first part of my journey.

... my course colleagues were warm and fascinatingly diverse, and the Tavistock teaching staff was welcoming and supportive.

Getting started: the Tavistock Relationships Introduction to Counselling course

Naturally, my fears were unfounded: my course colleagues were warm and fascinatingly diverse, and the Tavistock teaching staff was welcoming and supportive. I knew the course reading material was likely to be interesting, but hadn’t expected it to also be hugely inspiring. I discovered that a self-reflective group is a form of working that proved invaluable, through sharing my own and my colleagues’ experiences of our learning process. But perhaps the biggest surprise was discovering my inner Meryl Streep during our role play exercises: I loved them! They proved to be a very creative way to engage with the difficulties and tensions that a couple might experience. By playing anybody from a depressed, recently bereaved older man, to an overburdened young mother, I learned to inhabit and begin to try and understand the relationship processes involved in supporting people with relationship difficulties.

By the end of the introduction course I was hooked. After the short taster that it provided into what the main Postgraduate/MA course might involve, I was eager to know more about developing my psychotherapeutic skills, and increasingly convinced that this was the career I wanted to pursue. Luckily, after a probing interview when the introductory course ended, Tavistock Relationships agreed with me, and offered a place.

Getting qualified: Tavistock Relationships Professional Training

Now that a formal, BACP-approved qualification was the final goal of this next stage of my psychotherapy training, the bar was raised in terms of the standard of work expected from me. The intellectual content of the reading material increased noticeably, as did the quality of debates with my colleagues.

One of the biggest challenges I faced was having to research, write and submit some quite detailed academic course work. This was something of a culture shock, as I hadn’t needed to work in this way since my first degree – some three decades prior! However, whilst difficult initially, it felt like retraining an old muscle, and I found my brain responding increasingly flexibly as my interest in the subject deepened. Support from my tutor, who had previously undertaken the same qualification, was enormously helpful here – as was my own therapy, a requirement of the course, but which proved to be an essential part of my personal development. However, whilst the academic work was demanding, I also appreciated the freedom it offered to pursue my own interests in specific areas of psychotherapeutic theory.

Putting principles into practice: working with real couples

One of the main advantages of the Tavistock Relationship course, over others that I had considered, was the access to client work it provided during my training. Unlike some other organisations, where I would have had to find my own clients, I knew at Tavistock I would be carefully matched with couples suitable for my skill level as I progressed through the course. I was hugely apprehensive at starting client work: these were real people I was trying to help now, no longer just role plays. But although it was daunting at first, I felt supported every step of the way, with regular supervision and discussion of difficulties. Plus, I always took enormous reassurance from knowing that I could always consult somebody from the large Tavistock clinical staff, comprised of some of the best minds in the world in the field of couple psychotherapy. As I put my theoretical knowledge into practice, I increasingly found myself able to draw on my own resources, whilst still solidly supported by the course staff.

The Tavistock Relationships course: was it worth taking it?

Of all the counselling and psychotherapy courses in London, I will always count myself lucky that I picked the Tavistock Relationships training. Despite the scheduling challenges of balancing my classes, supervision, coursework and personal therapy with my media education day job (I was still working full time) and my family life, I found the course surprisingly energising. Not only did it provide me with a valuable, highly-regarded qualification, that has now allowed me to set myself up in a fascinating, satisfying and completely flexible career, but I’ve also made dear and trusted friends along my journey. At times it was tough going, but ultimately – as I had hoped – it has changed my life forever, for the better.

Read about or apply for our training options >>

Read more …Why Tavistock Relationships is the best route through psychotherapy training

  • Relationship Advice

How skills used in HR can be used in our training to become a counsellor working with couples

One of our faculty members, Amanda Hughes tells her story about psychotherapy training.

About Amanda

Amanda is a Couple Psychotherapist and Clinical Lecturer at Tavistock Relationships. Here she talks about her move training as a counsellor with us, from her previous career working in HR in large corporations. Note, picture is a stock photograph.

What was your background?

Prior to training and qualifying as a couple therapist I had had a long career in HR and in Learning and Development. I’ve been an HR Director in a private sector organisation with 20,000 employees, a Director of Training, a Leadership Development Coach, and an HR Director of an FE college.

Talk to us about what started your journey from HR into couple counselling training

I had been working in HR and Training for a long time and had started to feel restless. In particular, I had been working for a huge private sector organisation in a very senior and demanding role. My children were growing up fast and I was aware of missing so much of it. I decided to downsize, change sector and took an HR Director post at a local FE college. Within a few years I was promoted to Deputy Principal and soon realised my ‘downsize’ move had ballooned into, once again, another beast of a role. I decided to leave and give myself time and space to consider what I wanted to do next - that would fit with my previous experience, my interest and my personal life.

It had always been my intention to set up on my own at some point. I had imagined this would be setting up a consultancy service in the areas of my expertise and experience, i.e., coaching, HR, mediation, organisation and leadership development. Affording myself some distance from organisational life helped me realise I wanted a more radical change of direction than this. I wanted to move into something more vocational that involved helping others. I had thought about training to be a counsellor on and off over the years and, like many in the HR profession, have always been interested in the psychology, and emotional and mental functioning of human beings.

I have always been fascinated with how people interact, been intrigued by relationship dynamics. As an HR professional understanding people and workplace relationships is an essential aspect of the job. Increasingly I had become particularly interested in the nature of romantic relationships. My own personal experiences most definitely an influence on my curiosity.

Within a few months I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a relationship therapist. I researched every institution and pathway there is and there was no doubt that Tavistock Relationships was the right place for me.

Why choose to train at Tavistock Relationships?

The knowledge and expertise at Tavistock Relationships is world class. The training is intense and rigorous. From that first day when I attended the open evening I was struck by the professionalism and meticulous care in the service they offered. As I learned more about the modality of Tavistock Relationships through my training I knew that, for me, a counselling provision that is open ended, psychodynamic, incredibly thoughtful and containing was how I wanted to work with people.

What is so interesting about couple work?

There were many things that attracted me to couple therapy. Troubled relationships can be very damaging and are not just confined to the couple. I passionately believe a healthy relationship is key to healthy adults, children and to society. Therapy has much to offer troubled couples and the benefits can be life changing. More personally, it is a wonderful way to learn about oneself, about how you are in a relationship. I also came to understand my parent’s relationship better and make sense of – and peace with - their less than perfect behaviours. And, of course, I came to understand my own relationships better.

What are the similarities between the two career pathways?

Obvious but key – working with people! The HR profession has a large portfolio of specialist areas and it is true to say that not every area or indeed HR professional is all about people. But in the main, whether you are a generalist or have specialised in L&D, human relations or recruitment, dealing with people is usually a fundamental aspect of the job.

Specifically, some of the key similarities I would say between an HR and a relationship counselling career are:

  • Relationships/relationship work - typical scenarios that HR deal with involve, like a therapist, having an interest in understanding the relationship before you and seeking, together, a satisfactory outcome. And, it is worth noting that sometimes, as in romantic relationships, it may be a parting of ways that is the best outcome. In workplace relationships, just like romantic relationships, there is so much more beneath the obvious being played out in the interactions between colleagues, staff and managers. Whether it be disputes, negotiations, grievances, building alliances, employees loving or hating the boss (parent?) a colleague (sibling?)……the emotional makeup, the past experiences of all the individuals are in the mix. You are never just dealing with the here and now, or even the presenting issue. As an HR person, whilst you are unlikely to delve into such deep and personal depths, the necessity for empathy and awareness of the needs behind the concrete demands and the powerful feelings being aroused is crucial for gaining agreement and resolution.
  • Learning & Development - HR is a profession that is steeped in developmental practices. If you think about it nearly everything about HR involves developing others in some way. From induction, performance reviews, job training, managing talent and leadership pipelines, and succession planning to learning organisation strategies, the focus on the growth of individuals, groups and whole organisation is at the heart of everything. Counselling is fundamentally a learning experience. As a therapist you are working with people to help them learn about themselves, about their relationships and about those they are in a relationship with. It is through learning that change, improvement, repair can happen.
  • Mental and Emotional Wellbeing – I am fully aware how over the years HR has fought to be heard and earn its seat at the table. There was a period when it seemed HR needed to renounce its pastoral side in order to have credibility alongside, say, its Finance counterparts. This idea that HR can only be commercial OR caring is what we refer to in counselling as splitting. Splitting is when we have difficulty conceiving the co-existence of what we perceive to be incompatible elements. I do not have this binary view of HR and, in my experience, think HR works best when it is both business minded AND compassionate. HR directly and indirectly (through guiding managers), like counselling, is a profession that supports people. Employees get ill, die, experience bereavement, mental health issues, tragedies, relationship breakups, a whole myriad of difficulties that is the human experience. HR has a critical role in the emotional and mental wellbeing of employees.

How about what is different?

  • Counsellors do not advise. HR is more likely to advise. That said, for those in the coaching field of HR they will be all too familiar with non-directional coaching and a position that is only about facilitating insight and allowing the client to come to their own solutions.
  • HR will at times have competing considerations that a therapist does not. The therapist is solely focused on the client/relationship. The HR person has many external factors to hold in mind too.
  • HR’s role is inverse to the therapist role. HR first and foremost looks after the organisation and within that and in service of that will provide support to individuals. Therapists first and foremost look after their clients, which in turn supports families, communities and society.

Lastly, HR is often considered the intermediary between employees and businesses – how does this translate into couple counselling?

Helping parties to be interested in understanding the perspective of the other is a feature of the work of an HR professional and a therapist. It is often not easy. When there has been breakdown, parties can become entrenched in their positions. Emotions take hold and it turns into a fight for survival (emotionally speaking). Being willing to recognise a different view can feel threatening. This requires careful handling, whether it be with workplace relationships or relationships in the therapeutic setting.

There are many situations when HR, like a therapist, is required to remain neutral - including when one’s own views or even values are being challenged by the narrative - and to focus on the needs being expressed without judgement. Containing emotions, keeping self out of the process, clarifying understanding feature significantly in the approach of intermediaries both in the workplace and in the counselling setting.

Training options

Read about, or apply for, our training options here


  • Relationship Advice

Retraining for a flexible career with Tavistock Relationships, from introductory counselling course to masters

Becoming a counsellor has opened up a rewarding career with a positive work/life balance, former architect Velia Carruthers has found.

After many years as an architect, running her own practice, it was having her third child that made Velia Carruthers stop and take stock. While she was still enjoying her work, she was finding it harder and harder to create boundaries between her professional and personal lives. So when she spotted an advert for a Tavistock Relationships open evening while browsing flexible working options, she decided to find out more.

“I knew I wanted to have an interesting job, but I also wanted to spend more time with my family, and not have to fit them around my work. I’d always been interested in psychotherapy; in fact I was torn between that and architecture when I first started out. So I thought I’d go to the open evening, and see whether it was a path I was interesting in exploring. And I’m so glad I did.”

The course offered by Tavistock Relationships is in couples counselling. This really struck a chord with Velia, as she had gained some up-close insights into how couples navigate their relationships though her work as a domestic architect. So she applied for the three-month introductory course shortly afterwards and she was accepted after passing an interview.

“The introductory course was a brilliant way to get a taste of what being a couples therapist would involve, and whether I was the right fit. There’s an evening option available, but I chose to attend on Thursday mornings, 10-1, as that fitted round my childcare. We had two amazing tutors and worked with them as a large group and at times in small groups, discussing papers and practical examples. It really opened up my mind to a new way of thinking, and confirmed that this was a path I wanted to follow.”

Following a further application process, Velia was then accepted onto the full training course. It took place on two evenings a week, which again worked well with her family responsibilities. It typically takes around three years to qualify, but as Veila explains, it is possible to fit your studies around your weekly commitments.

“The first year is mainly academic, but if you pass that and progress into the second year, you start taking on clinical cases, with real clients. You need to have carried out 300 hours of casework before you can qualify, but the pace at which you work is up to you. If it takes you longer than two years to complete those hours, it isn’t a problem.”

The scheduling of the casework is equally flexible. Unlike some course providers, Tavistock Relationships provides their students with all their clients. They also have a team of assessors and clinical heads who make sure students are only allocated appropriate cases. And the student has complete control over their casework schedule, says Velia.

“I chose to block out Saturday mornings for my client casework, as I knew my husband would be at home to look after the family. Some of my student colleagues were retraining while working in a full time job, so they chose to take their cases in the evenings and leave their weekends free. You can work out what pattern would suit you and fit your hours around it.”

Velia has now completed her training and is working for Tavistock Relationships as a visiting clinician and assessor, as well as beginning to build her own private practice. So would she recommend the course to others?

“I’m so glad I chose to retrain, and to do so with Tavistock Relationships. It’s a hugely supportive organisation, with a real sense of community, which was so refreshing after working for myself. The tutors are excellent and experts in their own fields. Also by being therapists themselves, they can bring real case knowledge. And because of the high level of demand for counselling, and the way the organisation provides you with clients, it’s relatively easy to build up a good income. It just depends on how many hours you want to work – and that’s up to you to decide.”

So what advice would Velia give to others who are thinking of retraining as a counsellor?

“I’d definitely recommend going to the open evening and signing up for the introductory course. Training to be a counsellor is a very personal journey and it can be hard at times. So the three month introduction is a great way to find out whether counselling is right for you – and whether you’re right for counselling. Even if one decides not to proceed with the training, it is an experience which can enrich you anyway.
“From a personal perspective I’d say, if you’re driven to help people, and you’d like a stimulating career that you can fit round the rest of your life, just do it. I’m so glad I did.”

You can find out more about all our courses here.

To sign up for the next Tavistock Relationships Open Evening visit our registration page.

Couple with therapist
  • Relationship Advice

The First Time: What's it like as a counsellor or psychotherapist seeing clients?



A piece based on real life experience by Erica Herrero Martinez

Tavistock Relationships is one of the few training institutions that sources clients for its students.

This means that you are not responsible for finding the cases that will make up your qualifying hours, and you can work as a trainee within the supportive framework of the institution, and with high-quality supervision provided.

Preparation for clinical work

The theory that is taught in seminars provides the student with a variety of approaches to clinical work, and helps them to think themselves into the room. Practical seminars, which focus on role-play exercises, as well as a self-reflective group and a personal therapy, also help to prepare you for clinical work. These elements help to ensure that you are in the right frame of mind to begin to see clients.

The aim of personal therapy and self-reflective practice is to enhance self-awareness, as well as providing an experience of what it may be like to be a client. These components also provide an opportunity to experience some of the theories you are taught in the theory seminars. For example, you are likely to experience ‘projections’ or ‘transference’ in your self-reflective group and in your own therapy.

It may also be important to think about how you behave in the self-reflective group and what this says about you. People will often take on ‘roles’ in these groups — perhaps as the quiet observer or the combative individual. This is all valuable learning ahead of starting clinical work as it will help you gain a better understanding of what your internal conflicts and difficulties might be, and what your strengths are, as well as how other people experience you. This self-awareness is vital to being a good practitioner, as well as to your own self-care.

Typically, students start seeing clients at the beginning of the second year of the MA programme. Before starting clinical work your tutors and seminar leaders will assess whether they think you are ready and, if they think you are, you will undergo an assessment which is a combination of a role-play exercise and an interview.

Practical considerations

Once you are given the go-ahead to start clinical work there are various  practical issues the institution will help you to think about. Before starting clinical work, you must have joined a supervision group. You will be assigned a group based on your availability, and even if you have not yet started to see clients it is useful to start attending these sessions as soon as possible to get a sense of what supervision is like, as well as to learn from the experiences of your fellow supervisees.

You should give some thought to when you would like to see clients. Evening slots tend to be the most popular with clients, but it is important that you commit to what you are able to deliver. Remember that this is a weekly commitment and that you will see the same clients at the same time and same location every week.

You will also need to give thought to how many cases you want to take on. Your supervisor and tutor will advise on this, but it is normal practice to consolidate work with one client at first and to build up your caseload gradually. It is helpful eventually to have a number of cases, but taking on too many cases too quickly may feel overwhelming and may not allow you enough time to digest, reflect and process each session.

Your first case

Starting clinical work is perhaps the single most nerve-racking and exciting part of the training. While you might have thought a few months earlier that you were ready to start seeing clients, as you wait in the therapy room for your first clients to arrive, it is quite normal for your confidence to vanish and to feel like everything you have learnt has disappeared from your mind. If this happens, try to remember that your clients are likely to be much more nervous than you are.

It is also worth remembering that your main role, particularly in the first session, is not to make perceptive observations or interpretations but to get a better understanding of your client(s). It is likely that you have decided to study to become a couple therapist because you are interested in other people and their stories. So typically, once your clients start telling you about their dilemmas and conflicts, you are likely to get so engrossed that those initial nerves and feelings of self-doubt disappear.

The training at Tavistock Relationship provides continued support for your clinical work, not least through weekly supervisions which are led by highly experienced couple therapists. The moment of starting clinical work is when the deep learning really starts. Many of the theories you are taught may only ‘click’ once you start seeing clients and it is often at this point that you realise that working as a couple therapist requires a commitment to keep learning not just throughout your training but for the rest of your career.

To see a full list of our training options, view our courses page here.