Interview with Vanessa Williams
To mark International Women’s Day 2023 we interviewed 6 powerful and inspirational women all working in different career fields. Today’s profile is Vanessa, psychotherapist and counsellor breaking down barriers.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
International Women’s Day is a celebration. Women are Inspiring. Beautiful. Empowering. It is an opportunity to recognise and appreciate the existence of women. It’s a day to reflect on the impact that they have had and will continue to have in the world.
What is your job now and how long have you been doing it?
I am a Psychotherapist/Counsellor and have been practicing for about two years now. I am also doing my Doctorate in Counselling Psychology, which will allow me to transition from a therapist to a Counselling Psychologist. My goal is to contribute to research breaking down the existing barriers for the Black community accessing psychological therapies in the UK.
How did you get into the job you do now?
It sounds cliché, but I was intrigued by the way people think and behave differently to one another, as individuals and in the context of relationships. I wanted to understand why and that attracted me to the field of Psychology. I studied Psychology at University, and then kind of ‘fell into’ teaching within the Further Education sector. To my surprise, I was pretty good at teaching, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was still missing. That feeling led me to pursue my Masters in Counselling Psychology in California and I experienced a paradigm shift, kind of like an ‘Aha!’ moment. It was then that I knew that Counselling was part of my purpose. I then decided to get registered as a BACP Psychotherapist and I never looked back.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
The thing I enjoy the most, is being a part of the person’s journey of healing. I get to watch them evolve into a healthier version of themselves. It’s a therapists’ dream to see the individual you are working with, begin to view themselves and the world from a healthier lens. There are certain shifts and realisations that happen in the therapeutic room which I love. It’s magical. I love when the person I am working with finds themselves making life decisions based on trusting themselves as opposed to the validation of others, or when they start to recognise the importance of protecting their ‘peace’ in the form of boundaries within themselves and in relationships … or when they experience an ‘A ha!’ moment, that unlocks insight into their ideas about themselves and the world. There is honestly so much that I enjoy about what I do.
What advice would you give somebody who is interested in becoming a therapist?
1.Question your reason for wanting to become a therapist. Being a therapist can be emotionally demanding at times, therefore requires a drive outside of ‘it is a good career’. Explore within yourself the reasons for wanting to pursue a career in counselling. From my experience, if your reasons are personal to you, this is helpful in maintaining internal motivation for a sustainable career in counselling.
2. Research – Outside of academic requirements, it is helpful to do your own research around the personal qualities and attitudes needed to become an effective therapist, and honestly assess yourself against these qualities. For example, one of the misconceptions of a therapist role is that they ‘give advice’, when, the nature of an effective therapist is to hold back on advice giving and focus on facilitating the client’s self-discovery whilst resisting the urge to tell the person what to do. Make sure your decision to embark on the career of counselling is informed with a clear understanding of the expectations, qualities and attitudes needed.
3. Introductory Counselling Courses – In some cases, you may have done some research into being a therapist, but you’re still unsure if it is the right career path for you. If that’s the case, consider doing an Introductory course into Counselling. This is a short introduction to counselling that offers basic concepts/expectations of therapists, and could also introduce you to the basic counselling skills needed.
Have you faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman?
I am yet to face barriers due to being a woman as a therapist. I think part of the reason for this is because it is socially acceptable (and often expected) to be a woman in my profession. However, I did face barriers when applying to do my Doctorate in Counselling Psychology. In one of the interviews I had, there was a panelist who was very vocal and questioned my qualifications. Despite the fact I had exceeded all the requirements , they felt ‘I did not provide evidence that I had the appropriate qualities’. The process of being turned down was hard, but I am stubborn, or some might say determined. It was during those times that I clung onto the notion that if you are assured in what is yours, it can not be taken from you.
Is the career you have now the one you dreamed of when you were younger? If not, what was it?
I wanted to be a singer/dancer so badly. Like most girls growing up in the 90’s, I was obsessed with Beyonce. If she was a career, I wanted to be her! And then in my early teens I realised that I couldn’t actually be her. I followed my curiosity into understanding the way people think/behave and that eventually led me to counselling.
If you could invite three inspirational women, dead or alive, to a dinner party, who would they be and why?
That is a hard question! Top three would probably be Michelle Obama, Beyonce, and Serena Williams.
Michelle Obama embodies the highest level of self-assurance in herself. I would love to explore what personal life experiences aided the formation of her self-concept.
Beyonce is just my icon! I am fascinated by her. I think what intrigues me the most is the birth of her alter ego, ‘Sasha fierce’. I would love to know at what point in her life Sasha Fierce was formed, and what triggers an appearance of Sasha Fierce outside of performance mode? So much to unpack there.
And lastly Serena Williams, my ultimate athlete goddess! I would firstly get all the training tips I could from her – her arms are everything! Being the best female tennis player in the world, I have always wondered what her journey to forming boundaries within her roles as an athlete, wife, sister, and mother, friend etc was like for her. Does she feel balanced within herself?
If only I could get them all in one room with wine and a cheeseboard.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell her to quiet the noise and to trust herself enough to make her own life decisions. She is her own compass, and when she realises that, she will find an inner peace that can never be disrupted.