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Why are some Couple Counsellors not Qualified?

After 4 years of hard work, sweat, tears, time-out, falling on my ass and getting up again, I worked my way through to being awarded my first Diploma in Counselling (Individual (Psychodynamic) / Accredited by the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy) in July of 2003. Obtaining a qualification in therapy is essential for any practitioner – not least because it’s a major factor in protecting the public from dangers such as the counsellor’s incompetence.  [button style=’float:right’ link=”2599″ color=”orange”] Learn Dean’s approach to Couple Counselling…[/button]

But what the public generally do not know is:-

  1. A majority of ‘counselling’ qualifications focus upon individual clinical work (i.e. one adult client and one counsellor).
  2. Such qualifications do not cover working with couples: couple counselling is a significantly-different approach for the counsellor.
  3. British Law (as of 2014) has no requirements for anyone to have any qualifications in counselling in order to set ones-self up in a counselling business.

Basically: ‘Aunty Joan’s Tea and Sympathy Service’ could be lovely counselling service (Aunty Joan may be a very good listener, you see, and she may have lots of things to tell you based on her life’s experience). But, with her having no formal training, no recognised qualifications, no supervision, no indemnity insurance, no membership of a recognised national professional body… Aunty Joan is offering a significantly dangerous service.

Practising Beyond a Counsellor’s Original Qualification.

Matters begin to border on the unethical when a counsellor who has an initial qualification in one particular model of therapy, begins to branch out into areas of therapy that is not covered by their original qualification. Again, in British law, there is no legal requirement for that counsellor to seek additional qualifications (although the ethics for the majority of qualified counsellors would compel them to seek appropriate training) – but still a small proportion of therapists continue to practice with no formal qualifications. In 2008 I decided I would like to practice counselling with couples – something my original qualifications did not cover – so it was necessary for me to obtain further training.

Individual-Therapy Qualified Counsellors… Practising with Couples.

After qualifying with my post-graduate diploma in Couple Counselling (Psychodynamic/Systemic) 2009, I attended a workshop for couple counsellors. In addition to the majority of attendees who had qualifications in couple counselling, were a handful of counsellors who had no such qualifications. Whilst they had full qualifications as individual counsellors, they had begun working with couples and were struggling with some of major difficulties. Again, legally, there’s nothing to stop these counsellors from working couples, and I would hope that each therapist might have been appropriately supervised by someone who was supporting their couple work, but… ethically… because these counsellors:

  • didn’t have an understanding of the basic concepts of couple counselling,
  • didn’t have theoretical frameworks for couples,
  • didn’t have appropriate counselling model for couples,

…they were getting stuck with their couples. Applying individual-counselling techniques were not helpful. There were better approaches for couples: concepts found in training for couple counselling. So, in my marketing I regularly make reference to

Not All Couple Counsellors are Qualified…

…because from the experience above, there’s practically nothing to stop people from practising counselling in ways not covered by their qualifications (should they have any to begin with).

Check your Counsellor’s Qualifications.

For anyone seeking counselling, I would recommend that you check out the following:-

  • Does the person’s website, business card, or literature, clearly state what qualifications they have (eg letters after their name, or a statement of their qualifications)?
  • If not, when you meet the counsellor: ask what qualifies him/her/them to be practising.  They should not be offended, and should not skirt around your question; if they do then maybe this isn’t the counsellor you want to be working with.
  • You might make a note of the training /awarding body or the professional body (eg ‘Chichester Counselling Services’ or ‘The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’) and make contact them them asking if the body recognises the counsellor and/or they are properly registered.

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Asking the Questions ~ that no-one else has asked you before

For a while now, in much of my marketing material I often use a phrase such as:

“Someone who asks the questions…

…that no-one else is asking.”

Let me explain my rationale for claiming this.

Over my (now) fifteen years of counselling practice, it’s been my therapeutic approach to help a person learn how to help themselves.  This is a distinct approach from, say, a novice CBT-approach that may prescribe manualised instructions to you (‘do this, then that…’) as a supposed-cure for a person’s distress.

My approach requires that I learn about what’s going on for the person-in-distress.  I do this by asking questions – plus lots of other stuff like empathy, understanding, support, counter-transference etc. – but questions are powerful way to help a client consider matters in ways that can help.

One of my particular strengths as a counsellor is to turn my inner-sense of feeling stupid (a feeling when I don’t understand something) into a strength:  it’s my position to encourage a client to feel that they can teach me how life is for them.  I do this by being inquisitive and looking at matters from different angles – angles which the client may not have considered before.

With this approach, one of the most common surprised-responses I hear to my questions is: “Oh!  I’ve never been asked that before.” … and the client subsequently begins to discuss a matter with a newer sense of curiosity.

With our friends and family for support, a major form of support can be “don’t worry about it”, “it may never happen” and forms of distraction like taking you out for dinner or something.

Looking at a subject from a position that a person has not considered before (or, perhaps, had considered but no-body had been interested to engage with them in conversation about the matter) can be a powerful form of self-recovery, assisted by a professional counsellor – like me.

So, by meeting with me in counselling you can get (when it’s appropriate & helpful, of course)the opportunity to look at your life’s distresses and struggles from different angles – with the intention of helping you find inspiration – and, eventually, freedom from the loss of being able manage distresses for yourself.

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How to Find & Vet a Counsellor

How to Check if a Counsellor is Legitimate.

Counselling, Therapy & British Law.

A current problem (2011 when I wrote this article, and still current in 2014) in British Law is that counselling, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, spiritual/religious counselling, alternative therapies (and so on) are not regulated by law. 

Anyone can set themselves up as a “therapist” or use the word “counsellor” without (legally) requiring any formal therapeutic qualifications to prove their ability to practice as a counsellor.

This situation leads to counsellors not being required have to have any insurance.  They don’t have to be answerable to a professional body to oversee their practice.  These therapists can advertise themselves as a “counsellor” without actually having any training, qualifications, nor any actual experience as a professional intended to help you therapeutically.

Some organisations use ‘counsellor’ in forms such as “Travel Counsellor” or a “Debt Counsellor” – and by the true definition of the word counsellor they’re not intending to mislead the public into thinking they’re offering a therapeutic approach to your mental well-being.

Unfortunately, by the lack of British law, that the responsibility lays on the client who is seeking counselling/therapy to find someone who is appropriate for their treatment.

Going through a GP may not be enough (limited to offering only NHS IAPT treatment … often with a waiting list) to gain access to suitable counsellor. 

All of this can leave a person at risk when trying to find a counsellor who is not an unqualified fake.

Help in Finding a “safe” counsellor.

There is good news, though.

Finding a qualified, experienced, professionally accredited and insured counsellor can be straightforward if you know some helpful things to look out for. This article describes how to find a suitable counsellor – and offers some topics to check out with your potential therapist.

At your first meeting with your counsellor, most – if not all – counsellors should not be phased by you asking about any of these topics (in later sessions, however, certain therapists may not answer questions about themselves, but be interested with you in the purpose of your question – keeping the focus upon you.  This is a legitimate approach to some forms of counsellor (i.e. psychodynamic / psychoanalytical) but I mention it here for your knowledge).

Search Counsellors’ Professional Bodies’ Online Directory.

An easy way to find a suitable therapist is to use a professional counsellors’ body that offers a “find a counsellor” type of service. The counsellors listed may have had to pay for an entry, but would also have had their qualifications checked before being allowed to pay for an entry in the list.

… however, if you wish to find your own counsellor – or you would like some advice on what to check out about your potential counsellor – then click the next page for…

“The iCounsellor’s Guide to Finding a Counsellor“.

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FAQ

Do I ask my Doctor/GP to refer me for Private Counselling?

No – you are not required to ask your doctor/GP to refer you to Dean Richardson for private counselling.

As a BACP Accredited counsellor/psychotherapist with his own private practice in Portsmouth (Hampshire) and via video conference through Skype, Dean is fully qualified and experienced to work with individuals, couples and groups.

Dean offers individual the following services:-

… all are in his private practice in Portsmouth & Southsea and online through the Internet via Skype video conference.

You can make your own appointment for counselling to discuss your options for counselling with Dean Richardson – you do not need to seek a referral by your GP (general practitioner / doctor) and your doctor is not automatically informed of any decision you make to enter counselling.

Dean is qualified to make his own judgements & recommendations to you on suitability for counselling through a process called the “counselling assessment”.  This assessment session is a 50 minute appointment for individuals (or individuals wishing to join a therapy group), and 4×50 minute sessions for couples. What you need from counselling will be discussed to help you identify the focus for counselling work before any counselling begins (although many find the assessment process therapeutic too).

If counselling may not be a suitable therapy for you (or your partner when considering couple relationship counselling) other options can be discussed including referrals to therapies and therapists who may be more appropriate for your needs.

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FAQ

How do I Find & Verify a Therapist?

Searching for a Therapist.

It’s an unfortunate truth with UK law that, presently, anyone can set themselves up and describe themselves as a “therapist” or a “counsellor”. They are not legally required to have to have any formal training, any qualifications, any experience, any insurance, nor do they need to be a member of a professional body that oversees & regulates their therapy practice.

People like these exist – some look quite legitimate – and they can make finding a properly-suitable therapist quite dangerous for the layman.

However, when you know what to look out for, professionally qualified therapists can be easily recognised.

Even if you are still unsure that a therapist/counsellor you’ve found is legitimate or not, the following questions put to the therapist will help you decide.  Do not be afraid to ask your potential therapist to proove their legitimacy!

Vetting Questions to ask a Potential Therapist.

Any of these questions would be appropriate to put to a therapist (private, NHS, charitable, spiritual, religious etc) during the first interview.

  • What are your formal qualifications to practice as a therapist – or are you still in training?
  • Who awarded you your qualification? (Check that the awarding body is also a suitable member of a recognised professional body) -or- who is overseeing your practice whilst in training?
  • If you have no formal qualifications, and are not in training, what is your rationale for offering me therapy?
  • What professional bodies are you a member of … and what is your membership number?
  • If you are not a member of a professional body, what are the circumstances around this?  Was it your decision not to be a member?
  • Does your professional have different levels of membership (e.g. member, accredited member, senior accredited member) – and, if so, what level of membership have you attained?  Are you aware of the next level, and are you working towards it?  If you are not working to the next level, what is your rationale?
  • How do you regularly ensure that are practising to your best (e.g. do you attend regular supervision, or are a member of a group supervision group)?
  • When was your last training course or self-directed learning (continued professional development/CPD)? (Check that the therapist stays up to date with current learning).
  • Do you have indemnity insurance – and who is it with? How does your insurance protect me as a potential client of yours?
  • (If appropriate…) … having learned of my/our needs for therapy, what will be your treatment plan for me/us?
  • Is your treatment suitable for my needs?
  • Have you offered this treatment before?

Trust your Instincts with the Answers.

How do you feel with the therapist’s responses to your questions?  Were the answers given freely?  Some therapists – later on in the therapy – will not immediately answer questions, preferring to investigate the nature of the question first (psychodynamic/psychoanalytic is a legitimate model of therapy, albeit different from other models), so it might be best to bare the therapist’s response with this in mind.

How does the therapist appear to you?  Does the therapist’s website and marketing material give the appearance of professionalism?  For example, does the website look healthily maintained, or is it a bit out-of-date/bedraggled?  Do the marketing materials look professionally produced, or kind of written on craps of paper in crayon?

Services such as VistaPrint can give a professional appearance to anyone in return for some money – but these services also produce rubber-stamp images (i.e. the choices of branding can be used by anyone, over and over again).  Looking professional is a good indicator of the professionalism of the therapist, but on its own it’s not an indication of the therapist’s qualifications, practice or experience.

In addition with the above questions information, if you meet with the therapist consider the following:-

  • Do you have a feeling that the therapist is someone you want to work with?  If not, don’t … and find someone else.
  • Does the therapist at least attempt to answer the questions helpfully, or evasively?
  • Do you know of anyone who has previously seen this therapist for treatment?

Bear in mind that there is no legal requirement for any of the above considerations to be set in place, so you are responsible to protecting your own well-being.

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