Séamus Sheedy is IACP Regional Director and a member of ICPPD’s Academic Board. In this Q & A session, he speaks to IACP about his career as a Counsellor
What made you interested in a career in counselling/psychotherapy?
A native of County Clare, the oldest of seven children, growing up on a small farm where home produced food was ordinary. My very first passion, at an early age, was to be a Chef. I qualified as a chef from Galway Regional Technical College in 1979. Over 21 years I worked in such places Jury’s Hotel in Limerick, Hotel Baren in Switzerland and St Brendan’s and the Mater Hospitals in Dublin, ending up as the head chef in the Temple Street Children’s Hospital and running our restaurant, The Courtyard Restaurant in Tullamore for 13 years.
Seven years into running a bustling restaurant, I started to feel symptoms of physical and emotional exhaustion and cynicism and detachment and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishments I didn’t know it then. Still, I was suffering from burnout due to not knowing what Self-Care was. I set out on a road of self-development which brought me to an online course in Counselling and Psychology. I loved it and felt I had found my calling. I looked up the accredited courses that were available for Counselling in Ireland, which there were five in total. I was over the moon to be accepted after interviews with Trinity College to study Counselling. I was to embark on a new profession and new life which was a huge decision. What followed, was many years of study and working fulltime in a career I am passionate about and love.
‘As Jim Rohn (an American businessman, author and motivational speaker) said, you can’t change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction.’
What advice would you give to the new generation of IACP Members?
As someone who has experienced burnout, I am very conscious of the importance of self-care. Always find ways to improve your self-care. Self-awareness is the first step in creating lasting change. Pay particular attention to the balance in your life. That is the balance between work and play, finding ways to have fun and laugh, giving and receiving, having to ability to do nothing and rituals that work for you.
Like all in our profession, I also think it always worth remembering that we are all privileged to be allowed into the inner working world of our clients who share with us their most intimate details, observations and fears. As a new generation of IACP member I would ask you to Identify what areas of the profession you love and a potential specialism, it’s essential to get further training in it. Don’t assume you know everything, just because you have done a module in that area, and always respect the profession and don’t mislead or think you can work with everyone who walks through the door, no matter what they present with.
If possible, always leave space for introspection. Take extra time off before and after the session so you can allow yourself to enter into an introspective space more deeply. You deserve it, and your clients do too. As a counsellor, you need to contain and manage your reactions in a supportive and professional manner and remain non-judgmental and authentic in the process.
If you could give a younger you any piece of advice, what would it be?
I would tell the younger me that every emotion I experienced was valid and expected, given my age and view of the world. That positive self-talk was essential and that my decisions were just as important as anyone else’s.
Hang out more with people who make you laugh, who make you think, who challenge you, who listen, who make you feel like you matter, and they have got your back. Laugh a lot, love a lot, because in the words of Ultan Conlon singer-songwriter, ‘Cause time is a bullet and we’re riding it rodeo-style’, and remember ‘Asking for help is always a sign of strength’ – Michelle Obama.
What do you think the future looks for our profession?
These are exciting times for me, and as a member of the Board of IACP, I am delighted after many years lobbying that the establishment of the Registration board has happened, which was announced by Minister for Health Simon Harris TD on the 25th February 2019. I have been privileged to be involved in the profession for over 20 years, and during that time we have seen many changes and nobody knows for sure what will happen next and that is part of the excitement and anxiety.
Our professional ancestors have served us well; let us continue to be courageous. Let’s continue to honour our profession and let’s continue to make sure our training is top standard. As the relationship between therapists and clients is the most important; remember the words of Carl Buehner, ‘they may forget what you said – but they will never forget how you made them feel’. Let us as an organisation continue to make sure that academic qualifications don’t become the most critical part of our profession. As professionals, we need to consider how we are making our clients feel.
What skills/attributes are essential for working in this profession?
We are all aware that our profession requires specific core skills such as being warm, open and empathetic, able to gain your clients’ trust and help them feel relaxed. Some of these skills you can learn during your education and training to become a Counsellor/Psychotherapist. Other skills you need, you may have learned from different areas of your life such as being patient, tolerant and sensitive with an impartial, non-judgmental attitude.
There are undoubtedly many different skills and traits that can help you succeed in this profession: being passionate and resilient, being self-aware and an ability to examine your thoughts and feelings and understand your limitations – an ability to be kind to yourself.
What key piece of learning has the Pandemic teach you?
Every single person and I have been impacted in some way by this Pandemic. I wanted to be optimistic and always hope for the best.
I struggled with the feeling of powerlessness. One day I had a thriving private practice, the next day nobody. I found it challenging and tedious, I wasn’t used to sitting in the same closed place for so long, everything felt off-kilter, out of balance and uncertain, change can be disorienting, and this is hard both mentally and emotionally.
Over time, I started to find hobbies, reset and reorient, started to do courses online and learn new skills and become adaptable.
I reminded myself that I was not powerless. I tried things I had never tried before. I reminded myself we were all in this together. That by each of us respecting the measures imposed by the government, the situation will get better, and it will pass much faster than expected and that we can make the world a better place. Remember the psychological toll that Covid-19 has already taken on us all and be kind to each other.
We have all adjusted well to this new normal, we are resilient and ever-innovating, responding to rapidly changing environments with creative and novel approaches. It has made us look at areas of work and life differently. Because of the way we work has changed, I understand now more than ever the importance of really connecting with people. I remember the words of the Elvis Presley song ‘true love travels on a gravel road.’
[Thank you to Seamus Sheedy for his permission in allowing us to share the above article, which was first published on IACP’s website. Available at https://iacp.ie/meet-theboard-seamussheedy]