Driven by personal loss, UCLan student Jonathan shares his inspiring journey studying psychotherapy

An East Lancashire student who was inspired to become a Psychotherapist following family heartbreak is following his dream at UCLan Burnley.

Jonathan Sheriff, 51, from near Rossendale, is currently studying Psychology with Psychotherapy & Counselling at UCLan Burnley after he was inspired to work towards a career helping people following the tragic death of his brother.

Jonathan said, “I lost my brother to suicide a few years ago. That led me to suicide awareness training and as result I found myself getting into conversations with people suffering with poor mental health. I decided that if I was going to try and help people, I ought to be doing it in a way that was informed.”

The second-year student explained, “I’d always been fascinated with Psychology, but it was the Psychotherapy and Counselling part that really appealed. I thought it was a good way to apply the academic knowledge of a degree in a practical way that can make positive change for people.”

Jonathan had a worked in a management, sales, and training prior to returning to education. He explains, “My career had always been quite people centred and I’d always been interested in the human mind. Losing my brother was a really sad situation and it was a real turning point and gave me a change of focus.”

Psychology with Psychotherapy and Counselling student Jonathan Sheriff
Psychology with Psychotherapy and Counselling student Jonathan Sheriff

“The course has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and it feels like the more I learn, the more possibilities I discover. I am learning from some genuinely fantastic tutors on the course with a wide range of experiences. I feel that the course is helping to change what I know and changing who I am.”

“When I started the course there was a desire to try and fix things for people, but I’ve learnt in the counselling side is that I don’t have all the answers. Often, the answers we're looking for lies within, and it is my role to be present while you discover that for yourself.”

When talking about returning to education, Jonathan commented, “I had my own business and my business partner decided he was going to retrain in computer programming and asked me, “Why don’t you retrain too?” as he knew it was something I was interested in.”

“Initially, I was sceptical that it could happen for me, but the only barrier was my understanding of the process. I was scared that I would stand out like a sore thumb as the oldest person in the class and I’d have nothing in common with anyone else. It was nerve-wracking but also exciting. It has exceeded my expectations and I can’t tell you how much I love doing this!”

Talking about the process, Jonathan reflects, “I applied quite late on, with just a few weeks to spare. I looked at what was available and the course in Burnley looked perfect for my needs. I thought I wouldn’t get in because I couldn’t find my certificates from school but I got in touch with Kat and Debbie and we had a face-to-face meeting and they offered me a place on the course. I got my student finance sorted and a few other bits and then I started the course!”

"The course has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and it feels like the more I learn, the more possibilities I discover."

Jonathan Sheriff, BSc (Hons) Psychology with Psychotherapy and Counselling

Talking about the experience so far, he mentioned, “I’ve made some good connections at university, with both the tutors and the other students on the course. Everyone brings a different prospective to the discussions. In practice, I’d be working with a range of people to it is good to work with different people now.”

“I was able to take part in a summer internship which was aiming to better to understand young children’s stereotypes of disabilities. The aim was expose children and enable better education of disabilities to that they would be more open and welcoming of people with disabilities as they go through life. It was a great opportunity to use some of the learning from year 1 in a real-life project.”

Looking ahead to after graduation, Jonathan stated, “I certain I want to do a master’s degree next. I think I’d also like to do a PhD, which help me become a registered psychotherapist. I’ve also considered researching or lecturing. I have lots of options.”

When asked what advice he would give to anyone considering taking the step back into education to follow their passion, Jonathan offered the following, “Do it! The only thing stopping you is your perception of how hard it’s going to be, but you can find a way. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, and I have no regrets.”