Lindsey Liston
Guidance process transforming lives

10 years on - What difference did the Guidance Process make to my education and career development?
One Client’s Story
We recently caught up with Lindsey Liston, a past client of the AEIGS (Adult Education Information and Guidance Service). Lindsey first came in contact with the service in 2004 when she was referred by the local Action Centre to our Outreach Guidance Service in Southill. This is her story.
Just over 12 years ago I found myself in what back then was very unfamiliar territory. Living in one of the most socially and economically disadvantaged communities in Limerick with the stereotypical family profile and what came with that-high levels of poverty, low levels of educational attainment , family bereavements and addictions, and a history of early school leaving in the family. Yet I found myself on the cusp of completing what turned out to be a very successful leaving certificate which was bitter sweet. Sweet in the sense that I had achieved what so many others in my community and family hadn’t and bitter in the sense that I had no idea what to do next and had no experience to imitate or guide me along. 
What I knew was that I wanted to go to college and that I had the ability to do so; what I didn’t have was the familiarity of the 3rd level education system or the know-how in going about achieving this. The kind of studying I wanted to pursue was clear and it was clear from a young age. I was captivated by social policy, social structures and processes and how such structures create the environments and conditions in which I grew up in. So, after much reflection and weighing things up and down I decided to seek out advice and support in the community. The more people I spoke to however, the more I was referred on or sent to someone else, until eventually, over two years later, I was put in the contact with the Adult Education and Guidance Service. For the first time I began to feel like I had got somewhere and finally I was in contact with someone who could provide me with exactly what I needed-the space to explore where I was at, where I wanted to go and more importantly the actions and steps in-between that I needed to take to get there.
The thing that struck me upon meeting the Guidance Counsellor at first was that there were no preconceived assumptions on her behalf as to where I was at or my level of ability. Just because I was coming from the community in which I was, there wasn’t any lowering of expectations, no suggestions of FAS courses as was previously made to me or a basic class. No assumptions on my literacy levels or ability. She met me where I was at with a blank sheet waiting for me to fill it through asking me questions and listening to my answers in an unassuming, supportive way. I wasn’t told to do anything, I wasn’t spoken at. Instead, it was a two-way process of engagement where I set the agenda and she followed by creating the conditions for informed exploration on my part. It was give and take and while I was directed to where I needed to go to source information, course handbooks and so on, I had to do the research and the decision making myself, giving me personal ownership and responsibility over the process. Yet I was provided with the validation and reinforcement that I needed to keep going with the process.
Soon the pathways to 3rd level education began to become clear and we collaboratively began to put an action plan in place. For the first time in a long time I found myself in a position whereby I was being looked at as the person I was, who had some potential and with some support and guidance had the right to realise that potential as opposed to someone coming from a community and background who wasn’t going anywhere fast or at least wasn’t meant to. I was engaged in a process whereby I was A) examining myself, myself strengthens, weaknesses, skills and ability; B) Identifying the options and opportunities available to me; C) Creating a plan of action, and D) receiving the practical help and encouragement to apply it. Having identified through a computer-based careers questionnaire that my interest in social science matched my abilities and skills, I enrolled initially at Limerick College of Further Education on a PLC Course and then at LIT on the Social Studies Course and after a long road and hard work, I arrived in a position whereby I was graduating with an Honours Degree.
Prior to graduating I got a job in the child protection system while I was doing my degree. A few years later I moved into a job in the community from which I came doing family support, therapeutic interventions, streaming and co-ordinating service provision for vulnerable children and families and early years’ provision. However, after a while a disconnect between my practice and education became apparent to me. While I had an excellent understanding of how social structures and processes worked and how inequality and disadvantage manifested itself and turned people’s lives upside down, I felt I needed more expert skills in dealing effectively with people who found themselves in challenging and difficult situations in order to help them resolve that. So, it was back to the process which was instilled from the guidance process, that of reflecting, identifying options, and putting an action plan in place to fill that gap. I did a short course in child psychology and later completed a Master’s Degree in Counselling and Psychotherapy, graduating with first class honours. Again, during this time I remained in work so that I could contextualise my learning which enabled me to identify skills and knowledge deficits and to connect that with the relevant training. Since then, I now also do part-time lecturing and supervise student research.
For me the process of guidance counselling was critical particularly given my background. It substituted the lack of understanding and experience of the education system that was present in my home and community environment. The guidance I received provided me with a supportive, flexibly, yet structured framework in which I could identify the expectations and ambitions that I had for myself both professionally and personally and the actions I needed to take in order to achieve them.  More importantly, it taught me that it was ok to have ambitions for myself and I wasn’t stepping above my station. The process challenged me to explore myself, my apprehensions and conflict in regard to stepping outside my community and family norms in following my own ambitions and embracing my love of learning. Because of this I was able to realise my potential and have been equipped with the tools necessary to continue to assess my personal and learning needs throughout my life; so much so that I am now exploring options to undertake a PhD. 
The experience was such a positive one for me that I now regularly refer my own service users to the AEIGS with full confidence that they will receive a service that could potentially provide them with a vehicle to transform their lives in the same way that mine was through a process that is self-directed, action orientated and person centred.

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