The following is a case study of Simone Poppleton, a registered counselor based in Dublin Ireland.
We are really glad to have you on board Simone, to discuss being a registered counselor. And sharing your insights for other people who may want to become registered counselors in the future.
What is a registered counselor?
I think it’s a really good question. Because not may people know what we do as a category. So we are registered with the HPCSA in a specific category. You become a student registered counselor first and do your internship during that time. Once you finish your internship you can actually register as a counselor.
Essentially we are regarded on a very layman’s terms level, as the first responders in mid mental health care. Our aim is effectively to see people who are experiencing some kind of life challenge or needing psychological intervention. We do psychological assessments and then we intervene in that process usually on a more short-term basis.
We are not there to diagnose patients and we do refer out. Counselors do have to have a knowledge of all the other categories in psychology, so that we can appropriately refer people out. I think that there’s such a need to registered counselors in South Africa because we are far more accessible and affordable. In comparison to perhaps psychologists, there is also a stringent training process to become a counselor.
I really do recommend those that are interested in it. It is a very fulfilling career.
What made you decide to become a registered counselor?
I’ve always wanted to be in the psychological field. When I returned from overseas, I had this amazing opportunity to continue with what I had done in South Africa. Which was an honors in psychology, that’s what you need to become a registered counselor.
It enables you to open up your own practice. I was very certain of what I wanted to pursue. In my practice, it was quite specific and specialized working with couples and relationship therapy. You can do that as a registered counselor and, and so there really is a lot of openness to the field. As well in terms of your areas of interest, obviously, within your scope of practice.
I was able to open up a practice and grow it and, I really love what I do. Perhaps, one day I might pursue that further, but for now, it’s an incredibly fulfilling career.
How long have you been in private practice for now?
This will be my third year. So many registered counselors take the approach of being general, because that is obviously how we’re trained, we generally are able to see people across the board and you know many different challenges they may be facing.
But I decided quite upfront that I wanted to be very specific in the way that I was working. I thought that that would, set me back in terms of just the amount of time that it would take to build up the practice. But I think that when you’re very passionate about the area of focus, I actually recommend that people do try and specialize a little bit more rather than saying, I’m a one size fits all, you know, I think I know my strengths.
And I know where I’m probably better as a counselor. So my recommendation is to pursue that because you will become known for being in that particular specialization. Your practice will then grow accordingly. I’m very grateful for the clients, couples who really trusted me with that process in the last three years.
Did you have any role models growing up, that helped you to decide that this was the route you were going to be on?
Quite honestly, I actually attended therapy as a child. And so I had very first hand experience of being a client as a as a young girl. Then again in my adolescence and young adulthood, in fact now I do it regularly, on a weekly basis, attend my own therapy.
But at the time, it was just this fascinating experience of, this woman. She was my child therapist who, was just figuring me out and what I was about. I suppose it just nurtured that thing in me that I’ve always had of being fascinated about people, the way that we think the way we do things, I love to connect things and make meaning out of them. So you’ll definitely find that in the way that I work, I’ll always link, something way from the past into the present into the future. And so I think that it was very much my own personal experience of it.
Once I then had to officially start pursuing, what am I going to study. I had decided I wanted to be one of four things. So it was either going to be a lawyer, a teacher, I wanted to be in something creative, like event planner, fashion, or a psychologist. When I started looking at all four, I realized that actually, in psychology as a counselor, I could take all the things I loved about those other careers, and actually put it into psychology.
I do advocate, much like I wanted to, as a lawyer for families. I do have a lot of creative aspects to my work because I get to create workshops and planning events. And obviously, I do get to teach and guide people on a subject I love. So I feel like psychology was this beautiful combination of all four things.
When did you know that you wanted to go into private practice?
If I’m honest, I think that I put off starting my private practice for a very long time. And so when I returned from my studies, I had just got engaged, it was really necessary for me to find my job and start my life. It was the first time I was going to officially be working outside of an internship environment.
I tried everything, but to start my own practice, because I thought, what do I know, I’ve never done something like this, maybe I’m not much of an entrepreneur, there was a lot of that self doubt, and almost that imposter syndrome. That thought of I can’t possibly start a practice I must have been 25 at the time. Who is going to come and see me, and so I had a lot of doubts.
I think I must have sent close to 50 applications to different environments, and particularly schools. And every time we had meetings and we had interviews, I kept trying to, if I’m honest, impose that the way that I would want to work in the space and that’s not really what they were needing.
And so I actually realized that I was just trying to fit this round peg in a square hole. I knew what I wanted to do if I was just brave enough. Actually I very much could start my practice, because I knew what I wanted. I felt like the seed had been planted in my heart, for a very long time. Starting it out, I did an enormous amount of prep before I ever opened my doors.
Were there any challenges that you faced when you opened your private practice?
On my very first day of opening up the practice, I had my two first clients. I don’t know if they will know, they were my first but I was incredibly excited that day. Because, these were the first people always remembers as being on my first day.
But I think in actually starting and probably the the most challenging thing was figuring out that you had to be the everything person in that space. And you don’t have a structure organization that is managing all the components for you, you are doing that. The success of my practice was based on how much I was putting into really.
So I had to be the marketing person, I had to be the accountant, do the finances, the invoicing, all of those things. And then I realized I can’t be those things because I’m not good at all those things. I knew I had to know where my strengths lay. And that’s my recommendation for people who start practices, know where your strengths are. If they’re not in admin, outsource that, if it’s not in finance, outsource it, if it’s not in marketing, outsource it. That’s obviously where you’ve come along and saved the day in being able to really just make up and fill the gaps where I was unable to do that.
Kitrin IsoForge has been an enormous gift to my practice. Because I had so much more energy for the thing I love, which is the counseling and I do enjoy a bit of marketing. And so those things I do, but the rest of was actually such a relief, a breath of fresh air to actually outsource that.
What is the difference between a registered counselor, a psychologist and a social worker.
I think we often get our scope of practice gets confused with that of a social worker. I often find that schools bring in a social worker, when sometimes it might be more appropriate to have a counselor. So a social workers scope of practice, obviously I’m not going to speak entirely on their behalf. I didn’t study that. But from what I understand it is a lot more about the social dynamics. And so it’s very much about the group experience. The individual within that context, obviously not separating the individual from their social environment. And so it’s an incredibly important field and social workers are so needed specifically in our country.
Counselors are kind of taking that look more into the kind of mental health individual process, and obviously has that therapeutic elements. And that’s the way that we’re trained using psychological, rather than maybe sociological theories.
Psychologists have studied further. So they must have a master’s degree in psychology, sometimes a doctorate as well, depending on where they studied. They will also have to do an internship, and so they are also highly qualified.
It’s not at all a sense of going one is better than the other, it’s very much about what you need, as a client. So I think it’s really important to look at the way in which we can all work together rather than against each other. Obviously, if there can be a space where there is an opportunity for all of them to refer to one another. That’s what I suggest, mostly because we are integrative people. Sometimes some things need more of that psychologists role. And other times you need the, social worker to come in and look at the family dynamics as a whole, for example. And it’s really working together.
When would someone reach out to a registered counselor?
I think that my recommendation is, when when you identify that there’s something not working. My initial opinion is that if you can do that when you are doing well, that would be preferred. Because you have the mental, emotional resources to sustain therapy.
But people do often wait until things are not right where things are not in a good space to seek out counseling. And if that’s the case, then I suggest that people do some research,because the relationship between a client and a counselor is a therapeutic relationship ultimately. There isn’t this cookie cutter approach of going, every counselor is for every person, it is a relationship. And so much like any relationship, you’re going to gel and, get on well with some more than others. If you don’t have a feeling of being found in your counseling space, perhaps that isn’t the right fit.
My recommendation is to always do some research beforehand, have a few options of different counselors or psychologists that you would be interested in seeking out. I would suggest those that specialize in the area that you would like to see them for, rather than maybe more general. But it’s also important to look at the approaches that the different counselors use.
And then a really good recommendation is to probably contact the counselor, usually through the phone message, look at them on social media, you start to get a sense of their personality as well. And then during the actual counseling, that first intake session, use it as an opportunity to ask any questions that you have. So that you can ensure that you’re making the best decision for what you need as a client.
Is there any advice you would give to somebody may be looking to become a registered counselor?
I think it’s very important to ensure that the course they are doing does enable them to become a registered counselor. The laws have changed since I completed my studies, my honors. An academic honors doesn’t enable you to become a registered counselor. It is important to be, going through the correct route, so that you can do an internship and actually register as the counselor that you’d like to be.
Now, I also always recommend that the counselors attend some kind of therapy of their own. It’s very important to have a space to debrief, because you will get triggered from your sessions with clients. And it’s important to have a space where that can be processed. And then finally, to also have a supervisor.
It’s also important to you have your own therapist, it’s where you can connect on a personal level. The supervisor really enables you to show up professionally, and the way you need to. You can see your supervisor on a monthly basis, or as often as needed. But you do need someone on the other side of that who is able to assist you. And bring new, you a fresh perspective on your clients, especially when you’re starting to feel stuck.
Rather than thinking that you need to do it alone. Because psychology fields are quite an isolated field. You need to be okay with spending a lot of time although you might be seeing people, they’re not there for you, they’re not there to hear about you or to connect with you. They need to obviously for you to connect with them. And so it can often be quite an isolated profession in that respect. And so it is important to have some space that you can touch base and say this is how I’m doing in the space.
If somebody was thinking of becoming a registered counselor could they reach out to you?
Sure, they’re absolutely welcome to do so I’m very happy to share my knowledge and my experience of starting a practice.
Contact Details for Simone Poppleton
Simone offers a self-service option to make bookings with her.
Click here to make a booking with Simone Vasques Poppleton (Registered Counsellor in Fourways, Sandton)