‘Why I always tell my students that I didn’t intend to become a counsellor’

Rachel Doell is an accidental counsellor: she actually wanted to become a doctor. But careers are not always linear – it can take time to find the right job

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Rachel Doell

ICS Inter-Community School Zurich, Switzerland
9 Jul 2024
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image credit: istock/Mironov Konstantin.

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“What type of counsellor are you?”

This was a question posed to us during the transformational counselling session run by Buket Ayaz, Marsha Oshima and Phillip Wenturine at the recent CAP 2 accreditation training. We were asked to reflect on our journey towards becoming a university and career counsellor, and to imagine it as a river of growth. Were we accidental counsellors, multi-continent counsellors or evolving counsellors?

“I can’t believe any of us here are accidental,” said one participant, when we split into small groups to discuss and draw our own rivers of growth.

Well, let me tell you my story.

‘I want to be a doctor’

I always wanted to be a children’s doctor. In fact I remember telling my grandfather, at around the age of 10, that I wanted to be the first person to perform a brain transplant on a child.

I applied to medical school, but was met with a full round of rejections (unsurprising, given my late discovery of a social life). So I opted for children’s nursing instead – which was easier to get into with lower grades.

Within six months of starting my degree in children’s nursing at Oxford Polytechnic, UK (now known as Oxford Brookes University), it was clear that I was not cut out for a life in medicine. After I fainted during the ward rounds and fell asleep in lectures, my lovely university tutor suggested a transfer to a human-biology degree instead. This I accepted happily.

In my final year, I realised that I had better decide what I wanted to do when I left university. With absolutely no idea, I wandered into the university careers office, and someone there said that there were some jobs available for medical reps for a company called Procter and Gamble, which had a pharmaceutical department.

“OK,” I said. “That’ll do.” So I applied, did some research to find out who Procter and Gamble were and what a medical rep did, and surprisingly landed the job – before I had even graduated. So that started my 10-year career in the pharmaceutical industry, going from sales (which I hated) into marketing and communications (which I didn’t hate, but didn’t particularly have any other feelings for).

‘I want to make a difference’

Then I became pregnant and was in the lovely position of being able to give up work so that I could be a stay-at-home mum. During this time, I realised that the corporate world was not for me. I wanted to do something that made me feel that I was making a difference in the world.

So during my stay-at-home time, I retrained at the local college to become a child and adolescent therapist. Four babies later, when I was six months into a part-time job at my old school, my husband announced his desire for an international adventure.

So, in April 2009, I found myself in Switzerland with four children under the age of seven, looking for a job in a language I understood (English). There were no vacancies for a social-emotional counsellor in any of the local international schools, so a friend suggested that I apply for a primary-school teaching-assistant job to get my foot in the door.

I spent two years as a teaching assistant, and then leadership saw my CV and were interested in my marketing and communications background. They wanted me to work for the school’s communications team.

“OK,” I said, “as long as you know that what I really want is to be a social-emotional counsellor here.”

‘This sounds quite fun’

Two years later, two jobs came up: one for a social-emotional counsellor and one for a university and career counsellor. Leadership approached me: “We know you want the social-emotional job, but we’d like you to apply for the university and career counsellor job.”

A bit of research into what that job entailed made me think that, actually, it sounded quite fun: it would use a lot of my therapeutic counselling skills but in a happier context.

So I applied, got the job and, 10 years later, here I am: in the same job, with no intention of finding another career path, because I think I have found my true calling.

If there was ever an accidental counsellor, that would be me.

Rachel Doell's river of growth

Success is not a straight line

I often use this story, as well as colleagues’ river-of-growth stories, to help show students that a career is often not a straight line. In fact, our school’s career fair this year had the theme: “Success is not a straight line.”

Many students have a vision of where they want to be when they are a few years into the world of work. It is important for us, as future-pathways advisers, to support them in this vision, but also to show them that the journey may not necessarily take the direct pathway that they envisage.

Perhaps, even, like me, their final destination will end up being down a pathway they never expected to take.


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