‘Endless learning journey’ for specialist counsellor

Selina Allen from LEAD Inclusive Counselling and Alan Hamilton, project officer, Carrickfergus Enterprise. INCT 31-210-AM
Selina Allen from LEAD Inclusive Counselling and Alan Hamilton, project officer, Carrickfergus Enterprise. INCT 31-210-AM

Go Your Own Way: Answering the questions this week is Selina Allen of LEAD Inclusive Counselling.

What is your business?

LEAD Inclusive Counselling is a counselling service specialising in the area of learning disabilities. The service is not only for those with learning disabilities but also for parents, carers and family members of people with learning disabilities.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you ended up doing what you are doing now?

At the age of 21, after a year as an au pair in America, I went back to college and studied a BTEC National Diploma in Social care - little did I know that this would be the start of my endless learning journey. Following the course I worked as a support worker in an adult centre for clients with learning disabilities. Whist this was a job I loved, there were no immediate career development options so after six years, I made the move the Ambulance Service, where I worked for a further six years as a non-emergency ambulance driver

My interest in pursuing formal counselling training arose from working with a client in the adult centre who was having difficulties with a specific issue – her difficulty lead me on a three-year journey to becoming a qualified counsellor. Since completing my training I have undertaken various courses within counselling in trauma, self-harm and addictions. I have also recently completed a diploma in caring for people with learning disabilities.

Did you always want to run your own enterprise?

No, I don’t think so! I have worked in many jobs over my career and have always enjoyed working within a team for an organisation. However for this venture I have uncovered a passion that I never realized I had within me. My own business was the only way to realise my dream to its full potential.

What skills/qualifications do you require for the role?

Obviously, I need to be a fully qualified counsellor in order to fulfil this role, but this alone in my opinion wouldn’t be enough. It is my unique skill mix of being a counsellor but also my experience of working with people with learning disabilities. I have worked in a day care setting and in a respite unit, but more importantly it has been my role in speech and language therapy that has given me skills in communication that will enable me to help people with learning disabilities to communicate effectively. Other essential skills which I have developed over my career include tact, compassion, patience and of course a sense of humour.

Has your business been affected by the current recession?

In my market research more than 75% of respondents said that they would refer their relative for counselling in future if it was required and 50% said that they would consider accessing counselling for themselves. So although I have no definitive way of knowing if the recession will affect my business, my market research indicates that people would prioritise it if it was required.

What were the biggest challenges you faced when setting up and what support did you get?

My biggest challenge is switching from a worker in an organisation to a business woman and owner of my own business. Previously I had no awareness of what running your own business entails, and I have at times struggled getting to grips with it all. However help was at hand, I have received invaluable support from a range of people with the most important being the help from Alan (Hamilton) at Carrickfergus Enterprise, who was always willing to answer and help with my endless questions. However it is without doubt that I would not have come as far without the help and support and utter belief from my family and friends.

What three tips could you offer those considering starting their own business?

Have patience. You can’t create a business overnight and progress can feel very slow when in your head you can clearly see the end result.

Believe in yourself. As mentioned before it can take a while for all of the parts to come together. Keep your focus on what’s happening now and how each little part are the building blocks to the end goal.

Ask for help. There are always people to help; these could be family, friends, other people in business.

What are your plans for the next 12 months?

I envisage that within the next 12 months I will develop a training programme to deliver to staff that work with people with learning disabilities. I hope this training will be beneficial to adult centres, respite and residential units, but also for the wider multidisciplinary teams of social workers, nurses etc.

What do you get up to in your free time?

I am a working mum creating a new business so when I have time I try to spend as much as possible with my 16-year-old son. I also volunteer with Cruse Bereavement Care in Belfast.

I like to read and thoroughly enjoy the walk up to the lighthouse in my home town of Whitehead. I have really good friends and enjoy nothing better than catching up over a nice meal.

If you could swap places with anyone who would it be and why?

I would swap places with a cat – sleep, eat, purr...repeat.