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A Change in Career

by Sarah Royle March 2009

When I tell people what I used to do before I began my MA in Integrative Counselling Practice at Derby University, they usually seem a little surprised. I don't have a background in psychology, nursing or teaching, all of which seem to be quite popular routes into the counselling profession. Instead, I spent over ten years in theatre, working as a freelance stage manager, on static and touring productions - and I can appreciate the difficulty in spotting the links between my two chosen careers!

Believe it or not, though, there are similarities. During my time in theatre I worked with a wide variety of people from hugely diverse backgrounds. My role as a stage manager involved liaison between all the different departments, from wardrobe to lighting to props to actors, musicians and dancers, and pretty much everyone else in between. In this role, especially when I was working for smaller touring companies, I became a sounding board and "mum", helping people with accommodation problems, squabbles with other company members, general frustration with the work, etc.

But every now and then there were more serious issues to contend with. Theatre is a very insular and intense environment, with the result that people get to know each other incredibly quickly, and this isn't always beneficial. I spent many nights sitting up late with one company member or another, helping them think through sexuality issues, health problems, anxiety, relationship breakdowns or addictions. I would never presume to claim that what I was doing at this time was counselling, but in retrospect I recognise that I was using and developing many of the skills I now use as a counsellor.

So what prompted me to make such a drastic career change? I love theatre and I always will, and - contradictory though it may seem - this was a big part of why I left. I saw so many people over my time with different companies who seemed so utterly fed up with the long and unsociable hours, the erratic employment (and unemployment) patterns, the pressures, and the constantly changing groups of colleagues, that I vowed I would give up theatre work before I hated it: I did not want to compromise the hundreds of good memories I have.

I began looking into counselling courses on a whim, really, after thinking about the aspects of stage management I found rewarding. I have lived all over the UK, but I was brought up in Derby, and by chance Derby offered the only BACP accredited post-graduate Integrative Counselling course in the East Midlands. So I applied, made an exhausting, one-day round trip from Plymouth (where I was working at the Theatre Royal) for the interview, and found myself a new career path.

It's never easy to give up something, especially something you love, for something unknown, but for me it was definitely worth being curious and finding out the facts, because in doing so I created the opportunities to change my life for the better.