In this interview, Clinton Power speaks with the Director of PDP Seminars, Carmen Nicotra, about how PDP came about and their philosophy of providing professional development for counsellors and psychotherapists in Australia.
In this interview Carmen discusses:
- How PDP Seminars came about and developed into the professional development organisation it is today.
- The philosophy and mission of PDP Seminars and their passion for building a community of counsellors.
- The challenges for counsellors and therapists in private practice today.
- How PDP Seminars experienced extraordinary growth to become the leading professional development organisation for therapists in Australia.
- The challenges new mental health graduates who are moving into professional practice are facing.
- Some of the upcoming PD seminars you don’t want to miss in 2014.
- The exciting partnership with Australia Counselling, leading to our members getting 10% discount off any PDP Seminars workshop.
If you would like to see some of the upcoming seminars available to counsellors and therapists, visit the PDP Seminars website.
If you’re a new mental health practitioner about to graduate or newly graduated, check out the upcoming 2014 Mental Health Graduate Symposium: Getting Started in Professional Practice.
Clinton Power: Hello. This is Clinton Power, founder of austrliacounselling.com.au. It’s my great pleasure to be speaking today with Carmen Nicotra who is the director of PDP seminars. Australia Counselling and PDP, we joined forces early in this year to be able to bring quality professional development to counselors and psychic therapists primarily on the eastern seaboard at this point.’
I wanted to talk to Carmen just a little bit about PDP, how it came about and some of the offerings that they have there. Welcome Carmen. How are you?
Carmen Nicotra: Hi, Clinton. I’m well, thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to chat. It’s a great pleasure.
Clinton Power: Let’s talk about PDP because I think it’s really fascinating how your company came about. Can you take us maybe back to when it was even just a germ of an idea. How did the idea come about to create PDP?
Carmen Nicotra: It really emerged out of some post-graduate research that I was doing looking at the kind of post-graduate support that students were getting as they were coming out of essentially unregistered professions such as counselling, psychotherapy and some natural therapies.
One of the things that I came across was that people who are already in their professions were complaining consistently about the quality and accessibility of professional development. That was when it started. I started to think somebody needs to do something to accommodate that need.
It’s been a lovely way for me to bring people together so aside from people actually engaging in development as professionals, one of the things I really love about it is that it’s a very enjoyable and sociable event every time we run a seminar or a workshop. I’ve enjoyed it as much as I’ve worked in it.
Clinton Power: I can say that psychotherapy and particularly being in private practice is it’s a very lonely profession. Often it is that professional development activities where we actually talked about peers we get to build relationships outside of the relationships with our client. It’s lovely to hear that was actually part of your mission to begin with.
Carmen Nicotra: Well, it’s one of the reasons why I wanted every event to be fully catered so that people don’t actually need to leave the venue. They can stay there and they can eat together and drink tea and coffee together and chat and network and just socialize, which is something a lot of us don’t get to do in our practice very much.
Clinton Power: Exactly. I think we’re just craving it. We’re craving more contact. I’m just thinking of where PDP is today, which I believe you told me, I don’t know the year. How many events did you have scheduled for this year alone?
Carmen Nicotra: We only started in 2012, the middle of 2012, but clearly there was a need because it grew so quickly. In our first year we ran over 50 events and now we’re running in Sydney and Melbourne. You’ve put me on the spot with the number. I couldn’t tell you how many events we’ve got, but the calendar is really growing all the time and the events are well attended so we’re really happy about that.
Clinton Power: Did you have any idea it would be that popular? That’s extraordinary growth that you start at PDP and suddenly had 50 events on the calendar.
Carmen Nicotra: It has been extraordinary growth and I think it says something about the fulfillment of our mission. In one of the main requirements for us is that if people are going to attend these events that their events where people actually do develop as a professional. People aren’t just ticking off boxes for their association but they’re learning and developing while they’re there. That was one of the other complaints that I heard was go to these events but it’s nothing newer, it’s nothing that’s really extending us professionally. That was a big challenge to make sure that aura environment provided that.
Clinton Power: It sounds like you were listening to a need in a community that there was some dissatisfaction there with what was on offer and you decided that potentially you could fulfill that need.
Carmen Nicotra: That’s right. Through the focus groups and interviews I was doing in my research, that was a really strong focus. One that I hadn’t anticipated hearing from people, I had my own experience of professional development but I didn’t realize there was such a need out there and certainly our goals just reflected that need.
We’d always hoped but never anticipated that we’d grow that quickly and it seemed clear that we’ve met a need in our professional community that wasn’t being met previously or wasn’t being met adequately. I shouldn’t said it wasn’t being met at all because there are some good providers. It wasn’t being met adequately.
It’s a process how quickly it grew and this year we thought we’d launch into Melbourne because we do have people flying in from all over Australia into our Sydney events and people in Melbourne kept asking us to come down so we’ve done that this year. We’re very excited about it.
Clinton Power: Surely. When you started that did you anticipate it would be a full-time job?
Carmen Nicotra: No. I’ve been practicing as a psychotherapist and I don’t hack any new plans and I certainly cut my practice back and I’m in the process of putting on staff to accommodate our growth to see how it’s just taken off on extraordinary fashion.
Clinton Power: One of the things I know you’re quite passionate about is graduates. What happens to graduates when they come out of training programs? I wonder if you can speak a little bit about that and how PDP is responding to your thoughts on it.
Carmen Nicotra: That for me personally is a passion because I’ve been teaching in counselling and psychotherapy for years and I’ve watched some students who I thought potentially would be really wonderful therapists going back to their old jobs when they graduate because they just couldn’t make it go over in private practice.
We put together a program called our Student in Graduate Program and it means that anybody who is a current student or who’s graduated but who isn’t a clinical or professional member of their association can join that program for free and then attend all of our events for half price. They’re attending for $109 at the early bird and they get everything that everybody else gets. It’s a way of helping them get on their feet and also to get them to socialize professionally with other more seasoned counselors, psychotherapists, psychologists, whatever they’re in, social workers. That’s been really well-received and very well utilized.
Clinton Power: How have you been connecting to these graduates that are just finishing up their studies?
Carmen Nicotra: Look, a lot of them connect with us. The word spreads fairly quickly through colleges and some of the associations have been great in letting their members know. Really, it’s just been one of those word of mouth and reputation things that’s grown quite quickly but we’ve got a lot of members now in that program. To support that program we actually have a symposium coming up later in the year that’s really going to add to what we offer them.
Clinton Power: Let’s talk about that briefly because I’m also feeling privileged too that you asked me to speak there as well. I just wanted to say as well that it seems that I know when I had finished graduation it was like going into a limbo land and not really knowing where to go and what the next step was. I saw all these professionals and they arise in established practices and were busy working with clients and I certainly wanted that. I think this is a real challenge for most people leaving institutions and wondering what is next. How did you actually come to the point of thinking I think I can help these graduates?
Carmen Nicotra: I still think we’ve got a way to go to help them. It’s a difficult thing. I think that the educational providers struggle to put together an alumni that really makes the challenge. Many of the associations don’t have the resources to make that challenge and certainly, we’re not a bricks and mortar operation so we operate out of venues. Putting something together that’s actually going to meet the needs of these people and bring them together into one place is the really big challenge.
It is happening and I’m open to the development of that program. People are very generous with their suggestions and we do an evaluation of everything that we run. That’s made a big different to what we do.
Clinton Power: That’s fabulous. Let’s talk about the Mental Health Graduates Symposium. It’s October 26, 2014. Just give us a bit of background as to what inspired you to start this event.
Carmen Nicotra: It was a way of bringing all those graduates together so that they can start to support each other and network but also for them to have access to these professionals who have got all of this experience. As a new graduate, how does one access that information? What do I do? What’s the best direction for me to take if I’m thinking about doing some more study? Which association should I join? Things like professional identity. How do people project themselves in their field successfully as a professional? There are so many questions for new graduates and where do they go to get those answers?
The symposium is really aimed at … We have four speakers and we’re very happy to have you along. We’re very privileged to have you along to talk about your area of expertise. We’ve also got Dr. Elizabeth Riley, Barbara Jones and Pam Stavropoulos speaking. At the end of the day we’ve got a panel, a Q&A panel so people will have an opportunity to submit their questions during the day and then we’ll run the question and answer panel in the afternoon. That should be a really good opportunity for people to get some questions answered and to identify some resources as well.
Clinton Power: Who is appropriate to come to this event?
Carmen Nicotra: Anybody who’s currently studying or anyone who is not just a recent graduate but anyone who thinks that they could use a hand or a connection to get their professional practice up and running and that’s regardless of whether they’re in private practice or whether they’re being employed. It really is about moving into their professional identity and knowing what it takes and what they need to do there.
In connecting I think that’s one of the most important things. You mentioned before about it being a lonely profession and I think professional isolation is a problem for lots of people. This is our way to try to address that early in professional life.
Clinton Power: Fabulous. Will this be a yearly event or a bi-yearly event?
Carmen Nicotra: At this stage we’re thinking it would be a bi-annual event. We’ll hopefully run it in Melbourne next year and then the year after that bring it back to Sydney and alternate between these two cities. We may go to other cities after that. See how we go after this one.
Clinton Power: Fantastic. This is such lovely PDP working with Australia Counselling because you’re very passionate about people connecting face to face, getting those resources, learning from others and my passion has been currently online world and bringing people together virtually. I’m so happy that we’ve been partnered to get off graduates both options. I think both are important.
Certainly with Australia Counselling one of the things that inspired me to start that was just seeing there was such a lack of information and training for people leaving programs about how to start a practice. There was almost this expectation that somehow, once you graduate and left that you just put a shingle on your door and suddenly you’d have a full practice and you and I know that’s certainly very different from the reality. What’s been your experience about seeing graduates when they come out of programs and they try to move into private practice?
Carmen Nicotra: I see a lot of them really struggle. Right frustration, difficulty in supporting themselves. One of the issues that I see is that people invest a huge amount of money so they come to work in their studies as they hope did or however they’ve managed to pay for their studies like come away with a big debt.
They actually do need to be able to stop to earn a reasonable income from what they do and some people say, “No, I didn’t become a counselor to earn money”. My response to that is you may not have but you do need to earn money in order to stay in this profession.
I think that’s one of a challenge that people in a lot of health professions find is striking that balance between earning a good income and being a helping professional. New graduates, I think, particularly need good support from experienced people to make that challenge.
Clinton Power: I think that’s so true. So many of the therapists I’ve come across and have worked with have massive money issues and I agree with you. It’s tied to the helping professions. We come from a compassionate, kind, caring space. That is what draws us into this field. When you look at the big picture, counselors do have bills to pay, we still have mortgages to meet every month and you can’t make a living working for free. I think it’s an important conversation that we need to continue having about how we can ethically work as practitioners in the helping field as well as make a decent living and in my opinion, there’s no reason why we can’t make a healthy living and income despite the fact we might be counselors.
Carmen Nicotra: Yes. I think the fact that we graduate into an unregistered profession, where we don’t graduate with the kind of infrastructure that registered professions do means that our graduates need a lot more support, a lot more independent support.
Clinton Power: I think that’s very true. Carmen, one of the things I say is that particularly when you graduate there’s no shame in working for someone else. I think the majority of graduates that are leaving programs aren’t probably really equipped to go into private practice even though I’ve seen many of the programs using that as a marketing tactic to change your career work for yourself have freedom.
I think the reality is it’s very challenging to build a private practice. I don’t know about your experience, but for me it took many years post graduation to really get to a point where I could make a full-time living from it and I was certainly working lots of different jobs during that period. I often say there’s no shame in working for someone else and it’s a great way to get experience and get those hours under your belt as well. What are your thoughts about that?
Carmen Nicotra: I think it’s really important that students don’t have an expectation that they will graduate and go straight into full-time, sustainable, self-employment from the beginning. I do agree that working for someone else is a great way to connect with other people and to tap into the experience of other professionals.
The other thing that I think is important, and I would really love associations to take this on board a little more, is that they actually access the students while they’re still studying and encourage them to volunteer for associations so that they get a sense of the nuts and bolts of the field that they’re going into and they feel some sense of belonging with whichever association they choose. That’s one way of actually becoming part of a network and a community. That word community is my big word and I think that that’s one of the things that we struggle to hold is our community.
Clinton Power: Carmen, tell us a little bit about some of the upcoming PDP events. For those that are listening they might be interested if they’re in Sydney or Melbourne. What are some of the things coming up in the program that are looking very interesting?
Carmen Nicotra: We’ve got quite a few things going on. When I think about Sydney, for example, the Neuroscience Series with Richard Hill. He’s been incredibly popular and of course, we do an evaluation for every event and the feedback from Richard’s seminars, Richard is also a thespian so he’s very entertaining but he’s also one of our leading experts on neuroscience on Australia. People have a really enjoyable day with him and learned an enormous amount.
The other field that’s been very popular since the beginning and in fact, our very first seminar that we run was Recognising and Working with Complex Trauma with Pam Stavropoulos and that sells out every time. If anybody’s interested in that they should definitely have a good look at that.
We’ve got a huge range of seminars on the calendar in both Sydney and Melbourne that cover not just our specific therapeutic approaches but also our particular conditions. I’m not sure that that’s quite the word I want to use, but particular conditions or situations that therapists might be faced with in a clinical situation. I think there’s just about something for everyone.
One of the things that we do is that we have a peer review process so that if people want to present to PDP their application as a presenter and also their seminar itself has to go through our peer review panel and it’s checked for its privacy and its relevance and several things like that before it’s actually allowed to come onto the calendar. We’ve got a really good quality range of events that are actually quite affordable as well.
Clinton Power: Just having a quick look at your calendar here and it’s really quite incredible, Carmen, what you’re coming up. I think it’s so true what you say there’s something for everyone. I’m thinking Working with Difficult Couples, Integrating Spirituality and Psychotherapy, Recognising and Working with Complex Trauma. There’s also Working with Adolescents and Young People, Loss and Grief, the Neuroscience you recommended with Richard Hill. You’re also doing acts to that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, is that right?
Carmen Nicotra: That’s been very popular, the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
Clinton Power: Yes. Interpersonal Neurobiology. It’s incredible what you put together here.
Carmen Nicotra: It’s a great range, isn’t it?
Clinton Power: I think if you’re a counselor or a psychotherapist and you can’t find at least one thing you want to do in the coming six months, well you’re probably pretty far seated, that’s all I can say.
Carmen Nicotra: Actually, what’s really nice is we’ve got a lot of [inaudible 00:18:25] now. If I’m on the registration list when people arrive, I know them because they’ve been to so many events before and that’s actually really nice. That gives me a feeling that we are starting to build a community and people let each other know, I’m going to this event, why don’t you go. They actually enjoy the social aspects and I have a sense that we are starting to really see that community come together. Very exciting.
Clinton Power: Carmen, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to you, but just hearing from so many different sources people that have done your training and the feedback is incredible. It’s so positive. That’s one of the things I keep hearing again and again in the feedback is people said they love just the structure of the day, not only the content but the way it fully catered and they get to network and socialize, which I think is a really important part.
Carmen Nicotra: We really spoil everyone.
Clinton Power: I love that. Spoiling people.
Carmen Nicotra: As one person said to me, he said, “This is all a bit snazzy, isn’t it?” I like it a bit snazzy. It’s a very enjoyable day.
Clinton Power: That’s great. For those wanting to just see what’s in offer at PDP go to pdpseminars.com.au. We’ll put a link beneath this recording so you can just pop straight over and check it out. I’m also excited to say that Australia Counselling members get a 10% discount on any PDP event as well.
Carmen Nicotra: We’re very excited that we’re being able to offer that Clinton, to be able to offer your members a 10% discount.
Clinton Power: I’m very excited as well and I’m so appreciative of your generosity in doing that. I think it’s just been a wonderful partnership that we have very similar values and philosophies around this stuff. For someone who perhaps is not an Australia Counselling member you’d like to find out more about the benefits of becoming an Australia Counselling member and joining our directory of professionals just got to australiacounselling.com.au/join and you can read all about the benefits of membership.
I just want to say, Carmen, it was absolutely a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you so much for giving up your time today and I hope we can speak again some time.
Carmen Nicotra: Looking forward to it, Clinton. Thank you.
Clinton Power: Bye for now.
Carmen Nicotra: Thanks. Bye.