“The students emerging from training programmes like Renew’s are the future leaders of our profession.” – Renew meets Professor Lynne Gabriel, OBE.
We’re delighted to be marking the graduation of our Diploma and BA students with a Celebration Day this week, where we’ll be honouring the achievements of our graduates and hearing from exciting speakers.
As part of our celebrations, we’ll be joined by renowned counsellor, psychotherapist, academic, community activist and President of the BACP, Professor Lynne Gabriel, OBE, who will be giving a talk on her career, including her research on the impact of domestic violence on children and young people.
We caught up with Lynne for this week’s Renew Blog – read on to find out more about her journey into counselling, her top tips for graduates and students and her reflections on the profession.
Thanks for joining us, Lynne! How did you start your career in the mental health field?
Before I turned 16, I knew I wanted to work with people, particularly in the area of mental health and wellbeing. I took myself to the local psychiatric hospital and asked, “Have you got any jobs?!” They offered me a cadet nursing program that I could pursue alongside my studies, which would eventually lead to mental health training as a nurse and potential employment at the hospital. That’s how my journey began, with the mentality of “shy bairns get nowt” and a bit of courage to ask the matron how I could end up like her!
Wow, that’s a lot of certainty for someone who wasn’t yet 16 – where did that come from?
I think as part of my upbringing, I’d always been a helper. I started babysitting at 13 or 14, always wanted to help relatives… it all fed into that desire of wanting to help people.
My interest in psychotherapy started in the hospital. At that time, Encounter Groups in America were a big thing. We used those kinds of ways of working with patients and that led me to counselling and psychotherapy, which has since been a constant in my life.
When did the training, teaching and coaching aspects of your career come into play?
When I was first completing my training, we used to say that our cohort was naughty but nice! We used to tease the staff – putting a skeleton in the psychologist’s chair before he came into the room! I enjoyed my training, I really did. It set a trend for the rest of my life of always wanting to work with people. Post-nursing, I went into training. I was training, using coaching skills and mentoring skills.
While I am no longer directly involved in core training for practitioners, I now focus on research at York St John University. I supervise research students and teach research and investigation to MA students. I don’t inform the practitioner training, but I watch it from a distance and am very interested in the progress of the counselling profession from a professional body standpoint.
I believe that counselling plays a crucial role in frontline interventions for mental distress, making it an essential part of the UK workforce. The students emerging from training programmes like Renew’s are the future leaders of our profession, and it’s exciting getting to meet them.
How has the profession changed since you began your career?
When I started, organisations like the British Association for Counselling (BAC) were small, with only a few members. Mary Connor, one of my tutors, was a groundbreaking advocate for counselling in her time – she was a contemporary of figures like John McLeod.
Over the years, counselling, coaching, and psychotherapy have gained increased recognition as valuable interventions that can genuinely help people.
Research into counselling has been a key development, as it has shown the effectiveness of counselling and the importance of relationships. Whether it’s the relationship between the client and therapist, group work, or looking at family systems, there’s a lot more research now which shows the power of counselling.
Counselling has also become more visible and is now a common term in everyday language. However, there is still a hierarchical perception of mental health professions, with regulated professions like psychology and psychiatry often seen as superior. Progress has been made, but further respect and acknowledgment for counselling are still needed.
You’ll be presenting some of your research to our graduates this week – can you tell us about that?
I’ll be talking about my research into the impact of domestic violence on children and young people, but also about research we’ve been doing on bereavement and people who have been traumatised through grief.
I have been involved in domestic violence (DV) research for many years, which stems from my personal history of experiencing DV with a violent mother. During my nursing career, I witnessed the impact of DV on children from fighting families. I think that this personal connection was part of what made me want to help individuals not only survive, but thrive.
You recently became the President of the BACP, how did that come about?
I have been associated with the BACP as a member or volunteer for many years. I joined as a member in the late ’80s and have always held a deep respect for the organisation. I am not afraid to challenge and advocate for professional development when necessary. When I was approached to serve as President, I felt deeply honoured.
I have a genuine affection for my professional body and aspire to support its members, the association, and the wider public. I am particularly interested in how counselling and related professions like coaching and mentoring will evolve within the social, political, and cultural contexts.
My goal is to advance counselling further, recognising its role as a crucial frontline source of support for individuals with mental distress.
Why is accessible counselling, particularly in terms of cost, important?
Accessibility and inclusivity are of paramount importance when it comes to counselling. A centre like ours, or like Renew, has a social justice element ingrained within it, ensuring that counselling is affordable and accessible to as many people as possible. Making counselling low-cost or affordable is crucial in ensuring that individuals from all backgrounds can benefit from this support.
What advice would you give to someone starting their counselling career?
Firstly, hold your nerve and remember everything you’ve learned during your training. Remember that you are human. Humanity, humaneness and humility are useful tools in the face of people who are suffering and distressed. Self-awareness is crucial: from my own experience, in our journeys as practitioners, sometimes we need to access our own therapy in order to be as aware of ourselves as possible.
Have a sense of humour! Authenticity, congruence, and being present with your clients are essential qualities. While counselling skills and theories are valuable, the most significant aspect is your genuine self and the courage to be there for your clients. Find hope, laughter, and pathos in the face of difficulties. Remember, you don’t have to know everything; be present, use those core skills you’ve learned and keep your feet on the ground.
Seeking supervision is invaluable for exploring one’s vulnerabilities as a practitioner and fostering ongoing personal and professional growth. It is also crucial to foster reciprocity, helping others in their growth while seeking support for one’s own.