When I started my degree in counselling, I resisted having personal therapy. Growing up in my family and community, it wasn’t done to talk openly about your trials and tribulations; you just got through it and focused on surviving.

Looking back now I realise I was scared to look weak by opening up to someone. The stigma around men showing their vulnerability or crying is still real, especially for black men. You had to be strong, and I grew up thinking that closing off your emotions was a wise thing to do. There was also the practical matter of the cost of therapy – I was already struggling to pay my course fees as I had been made redundant during the first year of my training.

At the end of the second year, I was left with little choice – I could either leave or start personal therapy as it was a course requirement. Looking back, I wonder how I could want to help others but not want to help myself. At the time, I couldn’t answer that question, but getting therapy turned out to be one of the most important things I have ever done, not only helping me as a therapist but, more importantly, helping me as a man.

I saw finding a therapist as a barrier to overcome rather than giving thought to what I wanted to get out of it, so it’s a matter of luck that the therapist I chose ended up being so right for me. Although she was a middle-aged white woman with no experience of the things I had gone through growing up, she was able to truly see me and make me feel valued and supported. That therapeutic bond slowly allowed me to feel safe enough to fully express myself. She was also flexible and supportive in offering me fee concessions and the option to pay in lump sums to help me financially.

When I went into the therapy room for my first few sessions, I felt like a small child who was in trouble and being sent to the headmaster. It took a while to get into the groove, but being required to go every week meant I had to learn to trust that I would never be judged and would always be valued. As I started to lean in and open up, I realised how much I was affected by never feeling heard growing up. I always thought it was normal to have an inner voice that told you all the time that you weren’t good enough: ‘Who do you think you are, doing this course?’ It took a long time for me to properly hear the validating reflections from my therapist and believe her when she said that I could make a big difference to the therapy world. At first it felt like pressure, then when I started to feel it and hear it, I wore it like a badge of honour. I was finally going to be the person I’ve always wanted to be, I just had to keep working hard and dig in.

Then having made it onto year two, I had a major setback. I was shocked to be pulled up for plagiarism, as I didn’t really understand how to reference. I told my therapist and she encouraged me to be honest about my struggles keeping up with the work. It felt like a big risk, but instead of suggesting I drop out, the course director suggested I have a test for dyslexia. I was sceptical as it was never picked up at school, but the test came back positive. It answered a lot of questions about my education and why, despite being considered bright, motivated and articulate, my grades were always poor 

The academic support I was offered after my dyslexia diagnosis did help, but there were still hurdles to negotiate. I was juggling my training around a job supporting young people with highly complex needs, and still struggling with the costs of training. But the powerful experiences I was having in therapy made me determined to carry on – it confirmed how much I wanted to do this as a career, as did the amazing experience of helping my placement clients. It felt like finally this was something I could be good at, and a way I could really make a difference to people’s lives. 

Now qualified, my personal therapy came to an end with my studies, but I’ll be back at some point – at times I miss being in the client’s chair. I never would have thought this growing up, but allowing yourself the space to acknowledge feelings majorly helps in life. My hope is other people, especially black men, see my journey and are inspired to take a risk and experience this for themselves.