“Behold the Secret of the Profession,” – Irina Shlyapnikova about the Profession of Consulting Psychologist


Psychology studies invisible states, properties and regulations of human mentality. This determines the special responsibility of a specialist working in this sphere. One of the first SUSU graduates in the specialty of Psychology Irina Shlyapnikova, Candidate of Psychological Sciences, Associate Professor of the Developmental Psychology and Age Related Counseling of the ISSH, certified consulting psychologist, told us about features of her profession.

– How did your career in the sphere of psychology started?

– When I got admitted to SUSU, the university was the first unique university of the Chelyabinsk region where psychology was taught. I decided right away that I want to combine science and teaching. Psychology is a specialty which is connected with real life and practice. At SUSU, we were given vast fundamental background knowledge. Having graduated from SUSU, at the beginning of my teaching career, I realized that it is important to share my experience, to construct the lectures with students so that they would engage with the reality. For that I needed additional practical education, which I got at the Institute of Psychotherapy and Counseling (Saint-Petersburg) and at the Institute of Integrative Family Therapy (Moscow). Also, I completed multiple various vocational training courses. I have been combining theory with practice for my entire professional life: performing consulting, working with people on problems of individual and age-related difficulties, working with families and married couples; also I carry out educational and developing trainings.

– When choosing profession, why did you choose psychology?

– I was choosing between philosophy and psychology. But as I thought back then, philosophy was mostly a contemplative science; it was further from a real person. So I chose psychology. This is also philosophy of human soul, but with the opportunity to offer practical help to people.

– In your opinion, what is the most important in the profession of consulting psychologist?

– From the one hand, it is being responsible for what you are doing, and from the other hand, not to be willing to do more than the person, who came for psychological help, can and wants to do himself. Soul of a human and his inner world are secret. Therefore you can’t just intrude unaccountably. If psychologist is doing something, he understands the goals he is pursuing and the way in which they comply with the client’s goals. Also, it is important to constantly develop, form your own philosophy of practical activity.

– Are there any special tricks that you use when working with a client?

– Each person is unique, and even if two people come with the same problem, they each will require a specific approach. There is no universal method of helping. If a person understands that he has got a problem which he can’t solve by himself, and the help of friends and relatives doesn’t lead to any improvements either, the best way of helping oneself is coming to a psychologist. We have people coming to us who perfectly realize that their resources are limited and they need applying to a professional for help.

– What help can a person render to oneself while being in the state of stress or understanding that he has faced certain difficulties?

– First thing that needs to be done is stop for realizing and telling yourself of what exactly is going on. The second thing is to admit to yourself that you are in a state of stress. The third thing is to ask yourself: “What do I need right now?” And then it is necessary to find an answer to the question of how you can help yourself and what you can do out of what you need.

– What’s the difference between psychologist and psychiatrist?

– Psychiatrist is a specialist with medical education. Firstly, he can make diagnoses and prescribe medications. Secondly, a psychiatrist works with mentally ill people. At least he detects if a person is mentality ill or not. A psychologist works with mentally healthy people who got some difficulties in their life. We don’t make diagnoses and don’t prescribe medications.

– How can one tell the difference between a good consulting psychologist and an amateur?

– A good consulting psychologist will never impose his opinion. He allows people be who they are in real life, and if they feel anger, sadness or longing he allows them having these feelings as he is capable of dealing with both his own hard feelings and the client’s feelings. A good consulting psychologist will never make decisions for a client or dictate what and how change his life. He will always aspire for making a person to better realize and understand what is happening to him so that he could decide by himself of what he wants in the future. This is the principal function of a good consultant – to help a person to realize what is happening to him, what he wants, and what needs to be done.

– At the initial stage of working with a consulting psychologist, what allows realizing that this person won’t be able to help?

– The easiest and primal criterion is the client’s feeling that the psychologist doesn’t hear or understand him, or doesn’t want to hear or understand.

– What difficulties did you face as a consulting psychologist?

– The first difficulty that I faced was age. For a psychologist, age has a special significance. One of the most important tools of working in this sphere is a specialist’s own personality. Efficiency of psychologist’s work greatly depends on the level of his individual maturity. In a more mature age, you understand life better, and the viewpoint of people to whom you are helping becomes more recognized and tolerated. Youth is a wonderful period, full of perspective and initiative. But at the age of 20 there are certain things which are simply non-understandable or inexplicable for the consultant himself. This is not a good thing or a bad thing. This is just a fact. Also there were ordinary difficulties faced by any person who starts mastering his profession. The person thinks that he has a lot of knowledge in his head and nothing is impossible. But when a certain client comes, along come real difficulties. I still experience small tremble before the first meeting with a person.

– What could you wish for students who are now studying in the specialty of Psychology?

– I wish them to understand that student years are a wonderful time, and everything depends on how deep you get immersed into this student reality. It is now exactly when you need to behold secrets of the profession. Afterwards it will be different. It is important to value your opportunities while there is still time for studying and immersing to the profession. If you want to pursue science, you need to do it now: take part in conferences, write articles, and perform practical training. Many of our graduates say that the experience of working in laboratories and participating in conferences determined their further path in the profession; someone got directed in teaching, someone – to training activity or individual consulting. They made their decisions back then because they had the opportunity to try themselves in this. I wish students to be active and understand that now is the time of their opportunities.


Viktoria Matveichuk; photo by the author
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