From Nursing to Counselling, via the Prison Service - Daphne talks about her career
Top tips from Daphne: 'It's taken me over 30 years to establish what I have now [a career in counselling] is what I was looking for then [as a teenager studying nursing], although the journey I have been on to this point has been very colourful and enriching in experience.' So...perhaps your first choice of career isn't your end point!
I started my working life as a care assistant looking after adults with learning difficulties. At the age of 18, I commenced psychiatric nursing but after 3 years training became disillusioned and joined the prison service and whilst working there with life-sentenced prisoners (one individual in particular) I became interested in counselling and trained as a psychotherapist...
I grew up wanting to be a nurse because most girls I went to school with wanted to be nurses or air-hostesses and the latter was definitely out due to my fear of heights! I chose psychiatric nursing, but nursing wasn't what I had expected (I wasn't sure of what I expected, but my experience wasn't it) so I left a month before my final exams.
A police officer friend suggested the prison service after my fear of water prevented me from joining the police service. Prison appealed to me - it sounded dramatic and exciting - so I applied and to my surprise I was accepted. My first three years were spent working with women on remand at one of the toughest remand centres in the country. I was drawn to the female hospital wing at the remand centre - a wing where most prison staff avoided working if they could. It was a very volatile wing. Many of the women had what I now understand to be personality disorders; they were serious self-harmers in great need of nurturing - not, in my opinion, imprisoning. I felt great empathy and compassion for these women and felt very frustrated working within a system that appeared to ignore what I perceived as a cry for help. I had joined the prison service with an idealist view that I could make a difference and help but found myself quite often ostracised by my peers for wanting to 'reach out' to some of the prisoners. I was labelled a 'care bear'. At the time prison was about 'control' and some of my peers were quite cruel and brutal in their approach (reinforcing the shared strong belief by prisoners that people in authority could not be trusted). I requested a transfer following symptoms of PTSD from the bullying I received and trauma of witnessing suicides via hanging.
I transferred to a men's prison and began working with men who were serving life sentences. I worked with this group of offenders for 13 years and for the majority of the time my experience was far more positive. My peers were fair and respect was earned not demanded. At the time I was one of two female officers as female officers were just being introduced into male prisons. This presented new challenges. Working with life-sentenced prisoners the focus was on risk reduction and challenging and addressing offending behaviour with eventual rehabilitation and reintegration back into society. We got to know the prisoners on a more personal level i.e. getting to know more about the person albeit that the crime and risk to the public was paramount.
It was whilst completing offence-focused work with a particular prisoner that my interest in counselling developed. The prisoner disclosed to me early childhood trauma that was connected to his crime and I felt out of my depth and unqualified to work with him. At the time I had no-one I could refer him on to for specialist help. This left me feeling frustrated at the lack of certain professional therapeutic help available to prisoners. I decided to develop myself professionally in order to offer my prisoner group a better service - by enrolling in counselling training.
I started training as an Integrative psychotherapist and the training had a huge impact on my development personally and professionally. I entered training without a full awareness of how it would impact my life. I had left nursing because it didn't meet my expectations. I knew that I was interested in people and 'what made them tick'. I now realise that counselling/psychotherapy was what I was looking for all those years ago but hadn't had a name for it. It's taken me over 30 years to establish what I have now is what I was looking for then, although the journey I have been on to this point has been very colourful and enriching in experience.
I am also aware that if I really reflect upon my motivations that it goes back even further to my own very early childhood. When I was a child I used to imagine what it was like to be dead and I dreamed of dead bodies. Horror movies were not 'scary' to me and I could not see what other children were scared of. I was more scared of the living; I lived in a horror movie. I think that through the physical violence I experienced and witnessed as a child of domestic violence that I learned how to disassociate from my body and my own body would become dead so that I couldn't feel. My images and fantasises as a child were always violent and resulted in death which worried me immensely. I grew up fearful and anxious of people, developed an eating disorder, OCD, hyper vigilance to the point of paranoia, and trusted no-one. I kept all this to myself out of fear of being perceived as 'mad'. I escaped into reading books of fairy tales of magical faraway places or anatomy and physiology books to try and make sense of my 'crazy' world. I strongly feel that this is all connected to my motivation for engaging in psychotherapy training, although this was out of my awareness on commencement of training.
I am now aware that over the years I worried excessively about the well-being of others and was indifferent to my own self abuse. Psychotherapy has helped me to discover that this worrying about others is my own curious way of mourning and caring for the damaged parts of myself that I had disowned and refused to contact. The unconscious pull towards working with the most violent of society is about being drawn to what is familiar. I knew how to live and work with the horror of violence and survive within it. Individuals are drawn to what is familiar, even if it is negative. History repeats unless the process is brought into awareness. One of the most important aspects in the role of counsellor or psychotherapist for me is that the therapist has a good sense of their own history and own intrapsychic structure and processing and humility. I now work full-time in counselling.