From PR to Psychotherapy

“I don't miss the constant feeling that I didn't enjoy what I was doing. It made every day feel difficult and an exhausting pretence to keep up.”

Image of Imogen Petit

From PR to Psychotherapy

Though Imogen Petit's industry was buzzy and sociable, she couldn't keep up the pretence that she liked it. Now, she's retrained in a whole new field that feels much more authentic. Here's how she did it (without capsizing her bank balance).

What work were you doing previously?

PR, in agencies.

What are you doing now?

I'm a psychotherapist.

Why did you change?

I realised I was more interested in people's behaviour, and the impact that various things in our lives – work, relationships, etc. – have on our well-being.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

Probably when my job started having a particularly negative impact on my own well-being!

Are you happy with the change?

Yes, absolutely.

It's hard, but every week I realise how much I enjoy it.

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

I miss the buzz of the PR / media world.

I miss some great friends, although thankfully we've become even better friends since working together. And I also miss the little perks – the parties and freebies!

I don't miss the constant feeling that I didn't enjoy what I was doing. It made every day feel difficult and an exhausting pretence to keep up. I also don't miss never being able to make plans after work as I never knew how late I would need to work.

How did you go about making the shift?

I enrolled on an evening course in counselling at one of the London colleges.

This made me realise how much I wanted to continue with the subject; I then applied for the full postgraduate diploma. I maintained a day job throughout, and still work part time, although now I work in a front-line position at a mental health charity, so it's very closely connected with my work as a therapist.

It's been great to feel that I've forged a new career for myself and also to have moved across into paid work in the meantime that I find more enjoyable and fulfilling.

How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?

This was tricky, I admit.

I managed it by teaching myself to be clever with my food shops, making sure I prepared all my lunches so I wasn't buying them every day. If I fancied some new clothes, I would raid the charity shops (and I also found this more fun than high street shopping anyway).

Meeting up with friends for dinner in town was tricky at times: they would automatically suggest a gastro pub or one of the latest fashionable eateries in London, forgetting we were on different budgets. But generally they wouldn't mind going somewhere cheap and cheerful – it's just about getting together after all isn't it?!

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

During the tougher times, it felt like I might never complete my course.

I struggled not to compare myself to my peers who seemed to be surging ahead in their careers, earning more money and gaining more responsibility. I just had to keep reminding myself of the good reasons for making the shift, and how I would feel once I'd qualified. And it felt great!

What help did you get?

Endless emotional support and encouragement from my partner, my family and good friends.

This made an enormous difference, especially when I was feeling exhausted, juggling coursework and a job.

What have you learnt in the process?

That I can do anything if I really want to.

My training took me six years – most people can make enormous shifts in their careers in a third of that time, or even less. Perseverance and self-belief are really important, and you reap the rewards when you can do this.

But most of all, I learnt that it was totally worth it.

What do you wish you'd done differently?

It's been really tough at times, but I feel like the difficult moments were part of it. There isn't anything I'd have done differently.

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

If you're unhappy doing what you're doing, do something else.

Even if you're not quite sure what the end result will be, or know whether it will work out. It sounds idealistic, I know, but life's too short to do otherwise.

If you're really not sure, consider what you enjoyed doing when you were younger – why did you love it, and could you make a career of it now? It's possible you could.

What resources would you recommend to others?

See what evening classes are available. Find out how you can get the experience or qualifications you'd need to take the next step in your career, and give it a go.

To find out more about Imogen's services, visit www.imogenpetit.com.

What lessons could you take from Imogen's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at hello@careershifters.org.