#WIB – Q&A With Ashley Owner Of Ashley Lourens Counselling

Ashley Lourens Owner Of Ashley Lourens Counselling
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1. Please tell us a bit more about your business?

A. It is difficult for me to sometimes conceptualize my counselling services as a business. In essence, it is business as it requires financing, planning, expenses, time and provides me with an income. Since the beginning of time, many psychologists have grappled with the difficulty of creating a business out of the practice of counselling, as what is needed in counselling cannot essentially be bought or sold. The connection is real, but the time is paid for, naturally creating a difficult feeling around paying and charging for both client and counsellor.

In a perfect world, I would counsel clients without charging for my sessions, but the reality of the modern world makes it a necessity. My office is located in my home. I took the utmost care in designing a space which feels contemporary, comfortable and calm. Counselling sessions involves getting to know a client and essentially providing a safe space for a client to examine and understand who they are, what they want and what may be in the way of their happiness.  One builds a relationship with a client for them to feel heard and loved which in itself is healing. Counselling helps one to reflect on the past and present in a new and healthy way.

This replaces the old defences which no longer serve us and cause us distress. In order to begin that reflection, a genuine connection and relationship needs to grow in counselling. Counselling is truly a labour of love. Problems hardly ever occur in isolation and so effective counselling addresses all areas in life. However, anxiety and reproductive health & mental health counselling are areas of particular interest to me.

2. When, how and why did you start your business?

A. For those who are unfamiliar about the career path to becoming a registered psychologist/psychotherapist may not know the difficulties this path has. One must obtain a master’s degree in psychology to register as a psychologist on the HPCSA and subsequently to practice. However, SA universities offering the program only accept 8-10 candidates a year and have an extremely lengthy and competitive application process.

During my studies, I passionately worked hard academically and pursued experience working with people in any which way possible. By the end of my honours degree, I had passed both my degrees with a cum laude and volunteered as a counsellor during this time. I took additional counselling courses to gain more practical skills. I believed this would be enough for me to be accepted into the master’s program. However, for two years I had been unsuccessful. In those two years, I started working as a counsellor voluntarily half a day at Hope House counselling centre. I worked for the rest of the day in a paid job. Feeling frustrated that I was not able to continue studying what I love, I decided to start my own counselling business to finally practice what I feel born to do.

I researched how one can provide counselling as a counsellor and found there to be a regulatory body called the Council for Counsellors of SA. I registered with them and continued my own education on counselling and psychology through reading and supervision. As a counsellor one charges about half the price of a psychologist per session. This makes counselling more accessible to people which wouldn’t be able to afford to see a psychologist. Given SA’s economic situation overall, it makes mental health care more affordable. I would love to see more psychology postgraduate students working as counsellors and the country needs them.

3. What is your role in the business?

A. My role in the business is, well, I am the business. Other than studying similar cases, attending supervision and writing session notes, I myself am the tool which brings the business to life. Without my role as counsellor the business does not exist. People pay me for my time, but my love is free. Being a counsellor means providing a genuine and safe space, listening without judgement or suggestion and expressing meaningfully that you truly care. 

4. Where did you study and what did you study?

A. I studied at Stellenbosch University both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. My undergraduate degree is a Bachelor of Arts in humanities and my post-graduate honours degree is in Psychology. Both of my degrees I passed with cum laude. I was also awarded the Rectors Award for academic excellence at Stellenbosch University.

5. How did you finance your business?

A. In order to finance my business, I saved money while I worked as a tutor for children with autism. That was enough for me to pay for my website, business cards, marketing, materials and office set-up. I currently work part-time in-between clients to make sure I have a regular flow of income for my expenses.

6. Describe your average workday, if such a thing exists.

A. An average day of counselling follows a generally similar routine. I wake up, get ready and meditate for a couple of minutes to ensure I am in a clear headspace. Then I read over my previous session’s notes and recap on where I am with each client that I will be seeing. After each client, I take a couple of minutes break and then write notes on the session. The process is similar, but never do I have days which are the same. Each client is different, and each session is different so in that sense I never have a predictable day – which I love! 

7. How do you balance your home life and your work life?

A. The thing about being a counsellor is as I’ve mentioned is that you are the tool. More so than other work, a counsellor needs to try to ensure that they are living the healthiest way possible. This means making sure my own situations are left outside the therapy room and my client’s situations are left in the therapy room. However, it is easy to idealize a perfect separate world, but the truth is both aspects of life filter into each other. I find the best way for me to be in the right mindset to counsel effectively is to attend my own therapy, manage stress with healthy coping skills and minimize exposure to toxic relationships in my personal life.

8. What drives you and inspires you?

A. Feeling immense empathy for people and animals is something I’ve had all my life. I believe that it is an innate thing for me. I find it very difficult to judge others because I naturally try to understand a person’s situation leading up to a specific behaviour. I have always been drawn into areas which help others. Two other important factors have led to my passion for counselling. Firstly, living in South Africa there so many people who suffer in extremely terrible situations.

Our rate of abuse, rape, murder and violence is almost the highest in the world. Living in a country where this is the reality for most people, especially women, I felt obligated to face this darkness and try to provide solace to the people whom I meet. It is such an epidemic and so life-destroying that I could not turn away and do nothing about this hurt right before my eyes. Over time I realized that it is my calling in life to be there to uplift and liberate people from their psychological pain. Which leads me to the other driving force behind what I do. I myself have experienced some very dark times in my life. The trauma began consuming me and evolved into something which I had no control over. Before I knew it, I was suffering from a couple of mental health disorders.

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Ashley Lourens

In my late adolescence, all these issues reached a peak and I realized something was seriously wrong. Over the next 5 years, I sought to understand and heal myself. With the help of my incredible psychologist and psychiatrist I was able to be released from the terrible cycle I was in. I now live an authentic, peaceful and psychologically healthy life 95% of the time. Some days still get tough. I know there is so much power and hope in getting help. I want others who are where I was to know that there is most definitely a way of overcoming the pain.

9. Where and when do you have your best ideas?

A. My best ideas generally happen after I’ve seen a client and I sit and think about the process. Sometimes the ideas pop up randomly as I am often thinking about my client’s cases outside the therapy room or when reading counselling material. Other times when I allow myself to reflect as open and honestly as possible some ideas also emerge.

10. Where and how do you market/advertise your business for sales leads?

A. For marketing purposes, I tend to focus my attention on other places and practitioners of healing in the area. So, meeting with doctors for referrals and placing business cards at local pharmacies. Additionally, writing content for my website and Facebook groups aimed at helping others from a distance also seems to work well for marketing. I make an effort to network and attend events that are related to mental health. I have also invested in a company which does online marketing.

11. What is next for your business?

A. In the business of counselling, one plants a tiny seed and waits for it to grow. So being patient and attending to my clients needs as best as I can in order to grow my network and my experience is my plan going forward.

12. What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs hoping to start their own business?

A. There’s a couple of things which I feel every businesswoman should consider when starting a business. Number one, do what you love. Starting your own business requires a lot of work and perseverance in the face of fear. If you are doing something you are passionate about it will carry you through the disheartening times. Number two is to be humble. Listen openly to constructive criticism and seek input from your elders. Number three, do it professionally. No matter the type of business, make sure your branding, website, pictures and anything business-related is done professionally. If this is your passion, it is worth the investment. Number four, stay organized. Have a system or organization and lists to keep you on track. Lastly, if one door closes don’t turn around and walk away, keeping looking for another way in. One only fails if one stops trying.

Contact info:

Email: lourens.ashley@gmail.com

Instagram: @ashleylourenscounsellor 

FB: https://www.facebook.com/ashleylourenscounsellor/

Website: https://ashleylourenscounsellor.co.za/