Profile: The Counsellor

Paul CassidyA serious accident to his then girlfriend provided the catalyst for a complete change in job. But in a career journey that has taken him from mobile DJ through nightclub manager and TV extra to counsellor and now business owner, one way or another, Paul Cassidy has always been in the “people business”. Mark Williams listens

Paul Cassidy was born in High Wycombe in 1958. “I had a nice childhood. My dad worked in a chocolate factory — which was wonderful ― and mum was an artist.”

Mobile DJ to nightclub manager

While still at school, Paul started taking bookings as a mobile DJ. “I was also doing bar work and got my first pub licence when I was 19, while living in Hastings. Two years later, I was running a nightclub in Loughborough. I loved it. I was getting paid to do the things my mates were paying to do.”

Eight years later, Paul got married. “Marriage and running a nightclub don’t mix, so I set up a children’s disco business for a couple of years, then I started a cleaning company which specialised in new-builds.”

The business prospered for seven years, then came the recession of the early 1990s. “I lost my business, went bankrupt, lost my house — I’d already split with my wife. To make things worse, my girlfriend of the time suffered a serious head injury. A charity called Headway helped care for her which gave me space to try to rebuild my life. I was very grateful.”

Paul did various “bits and pieces”, including driving, gardening, decorating and even TV and film extra work. “I was in different things… such as The Vicar of Dibley for a few episodes — including the one Kylie Minogue was in. I also did a couple of Channel 4 films… It was good fun.”

Youth counsellor

Paul was also a volunteer at Headway. “I enjoyed giving something back. Obviously I wasn’t involved in providing physical care, I was helping out with other things but I enjoyed it. For years, people used to say I was a good listener, so I thought seriously about becoming a counsellor. I signed up for a college course and never looked back.”       

Paul has been a practicing counsellor since 1998, firstly at Wokingham-based ARC youth counselling, an organisation he has been managing (part time) for ten years. Since 2000 he has also worked part time for AXA PPP, global provider of employee support. “As a counsellor, I’ve seen more than 2,000 young people and more than 5,000 adults with issues ranging from relationship problems to trauma.”

While on holiday in South Africa some years ago, Paul was shocked by the issues young people in townships faced every day — such as HIV/Aids, drugs and violence — so he set up youth charity SARC which is UK-based but has operated in the “Rainbow Nation” since 2004.

The challenge of a new business

Paul set up his business, which he runs part-time from his Berkshire home.

“I spotted a gap in the market to help primary school kids. Parents seem to be willing to invest more in their children’s future at that age, and earlier intervention can really improve their prospects.

“I did some research and found a business that had already broken into this market, but was looking to expand. I didn’t want to start up from scratch, so I bought a licence to operate my own business under the NLP4KIDS umbrella, a kind of franchise agreement.

“NLP stands for neuro-linguistic psychology ― it’s quite a new therapy in this country, certainly for working with children. My work might involve working with young people suffering from a severe lack of confidence or low self-esteem, possibly loss of motivation or negative attitude.

“Initially, I wanted to get the business established. Now I can start to grow it. There have been many challenges, although I’ve started businesses before, of course. Working with web-based technology to promote my business has been the biggest challenge, because I’ve never had to do that before.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with people, although I didn’t fully appreciate how much until I became a counsellor. But listening to people’s problems all day can affect you, so part of the training involves knowing how to protect yourself. You’ve got to be able to leave work at work,” he concludes.

Paul’s start-up tips

  • “It pays to specialise. In my field, for example, many people offer general counselling, but that’s a very crowded marketplace.”
  • “If you want to go into counselling, undergo full professional training and be aware what the job involves. It comes with serious responsibilities.”
  • “Realise the potential of web marketing. As well as your own website, that means online social networking.”

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