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Students who register for counselling courses in higher education are mature adults who come from diverse disciplines. They are rich in experience and during the process of counselling education become proficient in adapting to changing circumstances, and working with personal and professional challenge. The requirements for studentship in the field of counselling demand stringent self-examination in group settings, and surpass those required for courses which require only subject knowledge and academic skills. Because of their willingness to pursue self-discovery, counselling students provide a rich source of data for researchers interested in lifelong learning from an holistic perspective of achieving UNESCO's vision of the 'full development of the personality' (cited in Darkenwald and Merriam 1982: 13). Student counsellors must demonstrate a willingness to work with uncertainty, an ability to develop personal learning goals and have the capacity to appraise personal development (Mearns 1997: 99). This study examines how student counsellors discover strategies for learning, and how they manage the personal/professional divide. Existing intimate partnerships are viewed as supportive, but suspicious of the learning process. The narratives of students indicate that 'professionalism' is about acceptance of self, as much as about qualifications and practice. Participants describe the process of becoming professional, alongside the process of struggling to fit in with the academic requirements of a university. Lifelong learning is described as lacking a framework for acceptance by others, and therefore seen merely as a diversion in the lives of adults. From a counselling perspective, learning requires opportunities for employment so that professional and personal development can continue. Such courses at present appear to offer only a short-term 'permissive structure', for learning to take place.