1. Differentiate between a person who uses counselling skills and a qualified and trained counsellor

Most people have experience of using counselling skills with family, friends, neighbours, colleagues at work etc… Some may understand Counselling as a discipline, may even have taken an introductory level of study. However there is a fundamental difference between these situations based often on friendship, or at least familiarity between participants versus a professional counsellor who will probably never have met a client before the first counselling session.

Fundamentally, a professional counsellor is bound by ethical boundaries and codes of practice laid-down by professional bodies such as the BACP (British Association of Counselling & Psychotherapy). In addition, the primary nature of any relationship with a client is based on some desired outcomes. A person using counselling skills has no such boundaries.

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Furthermore, a professional Counsellor “needs to have an understanding of psychology and human developmental processes, understand counselling theory, and a range of theoretical approaches” 1

Without formal training and experience, no-one should ever claim to be a counsellor who is not.

2. Demonstrate knowledge of the BACP Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy

Counselling as a practice is becoming increasingly regulated. This is for good reason, given the impact a counsellor can have on a client, both positive and negative. Without the necessary skills and experience, great damage can be caused by unqualified or feckless practitioners. The process of accreditation is aimed at giving those seeking counselling a benchmark standard and confidence in those people advertising themselves as ‘skilled practitioners’.

The BACP seeks to provide a framework within which both counsellors and clients can come together in a common understanding of what to expect and what NOT to expect, what is acceptable practice and what is NOT, what minimum outcomes ought to be realised and a framework for progressing from beginning to conclusion of any counselling undertaken together. The BACP are committed to advancing good practice.

The framework itself is not prescriptive in its intent. It is exactly what its definition says it is, namely a ‘framework’ within which individual counselling professionals have the freedom to operate. It is entirely possible that one counsellor may reach a different conclusion to another counsellor in similar circumstances. The “obligation is to consider all relevant circumstances and to be accountable for decisions made.” 2

In summary, a practitioner must consider each of the practices noted below and choose a path that takes ALL of them into consideration.

The headline principles of the framework encompass the following practices: –

* Fidelity: honouring the trust placed in the practitioner

* Autonomy: respect for the client’s right to be self-governing

* Beneficence: a commitment to promoting the clients well-being

* Non-malfeasance: a commitment to avoiding harm to the client

* Justice: the fair and impartial treatment of all clients and the provision of adequate services

* Self-respect: fostering the practitioner’s self-knowledge and care for self

3. Compares the above framework with other professional codes and with organisational requirements, particularly constraining factors

The Framework exists to guide the counselling practitioner but, importantly, it does not, indeed cannot always operate in isolation from other frameworks, be they ethical, organisational, Religious or even legal. It is important to recognise that the framework must co-exist with other frameworks. Where areas of conflict exist it is sensible for practitioners to seek advice and guidance, which could be sought via the process of ‘Supervision’ amongst other routes.

Ethical conflicts are both possible and may even be inevitable form time to time. For example, a practitioner may also be a Roman Catholic who finds them-self counselling a female client considering an Abortion. For a Catholic, this is forbidden and one of the cornerstone’s of the catholic faith. In such circumstances a clear conflict of interest exists within the ethical framework of the practitioner as a counselling professional and as a member of the catholic faith. The counsellor must recognise the possibility of making a moral judgement about the client based on his/her own beliefs and value system.

4. Explore the key issues of the following scenario: –

‘It can be argued that being a professional means maintaining an objective emotional detachment from a client, ensuring the client’s safety and monitoring very closely your involvement with a person in the client role. Having regard to the ethos in which counselling skills are practiced and taking into account a recognised code of ethics, evaluate this statement and its implications in your work situation and in your case supervision’

In essence, the core value of an ethical code of practice is what drives the entire counselling process. From first meeting to last, from first words uttered in conversation to last, the whole process should be handled with regard to the client’s rights of care. Taking into account the trust placed in the counsellor and counselling process, respect for the client to self-govern the process and his/her own well-being but committing to promote the client’s well-being and avoiding any harm coming to the client.

Finally, the counsellor must ensure that he/she is able to remain impartial (conflict of interest example given earlier). Whilst managing the environment in which any consultation takes place, it is critical that the counsellor also fosters their own learning and care for themselves, not allowing the process to impinge negatively on their own self. Given the extent of responsibility placed in the hands of practitioners it can be seen how important it is to remain objective and emotionally detached from a client’s personal situation. It is imperative that professional detachment exists at all times if the counsellor is to best serve the client.

Consider the earlier example of the counsellor who is also a Roman Catholic by faith and the moral conflict when faced with a client considering abortion. It would be potentially challenging to remain fair and impartial with the client, or to respect the client’s right of self-governance, especially when that could lead to the termination. In such circumstances the counsellor MUST recognise and deal with the conflict before progressing. It may be necessary to refer the client to a different counsellor.

Throughout the entire process, it is fundamentally important that the counsellor, client relationship is conducted in complete privacy and with total confidentiality assured. This has two key elements; the first being that a client who does not believe the consultation(s) will be 100% confidential may not open them-self up sufficiently to facilitate a successful outcome and secondly, the counsellor must take all reasonable steps to ensure the anonymity of client’s records, especially recorded sessions, for example. Counsellors must, as far as possible, avoid ‘the ‘leakage’ of client information, typically to family, friends and colleagues.’3

Not withstanding any ethical code, there are clear legal responsibilities on counselling practitioners. They must take steps to ensure appropriate professional indemnity insurance to cover any costs incurred in any grievance case against them, for example. The keeping of any personal information relating to clients will be subject to the Data Protection Act, for example. With a clearly defined framework =there is an opposite side whereby a practitioner when measured against ethical or legal requirements can be open to accusations of negligence. Within the BACP framework there are procedures for handling such circumstances but legal requirements may have b reached such that a civil action can result in addition to those of a member body, such as the BACP.

Personal background, circumstances and experience are key drivers of every individual. It is this ‘cultural’ context that defines us as individuals. It is imperative that counsellors are self-aware about these things and how they impact their thoughts, feelings and decisions. In the counselling context the acceptance of the diversity of human experience, background, ethnicity, social position etc. are key elements in any successful outcome. For example, a black person from a poor social group may be suspicious of a white counsellor from what the client perceives as being a “better” class. He may find it impossible to accept that a counsellor could identify with his problem(s). Until such cultural and social differences and perceptions are overcome, it will be difficult to progress the counselling process.

5. Understands the need for physical safety, emotional safety and mental safety for both client and worker, e.g. right environment, health and safety issues and contracting

It is a necessary element of a positive counselling outcome to ensure the safety of both practitioner and client. Safety can be viewed in terms of the ‘physical’, ’emotional’ and ‘mental’ states of both counsellor and client. Physical relates to the actual environment in which the counselling is taking place, the proximity of client to counsellor, the confidential nature of the room etc. whereas the others are less obvious. Emotional safety is well described by Linda Marks4as being created by the correct pace, space, accountability, appropriate boundaries and presence.

What is meant here is that the pace at which the session(s) proceeds along with the time and patience to allow the client to progress at their own speed and giving due attentiveness and focus to the client’s needs will assist in providing a desired ‘safe’ environment. Mental safety relates predominantly to the faculty of the participants to fully engage in the session(s) whilst being mentally able to do so. Personal issues at home, stress at work, illness etc. can all contribute to a mental state that is not conducive to participating in a counselling session(s). Anything that cannot be ‘parked’ on one side could be classed as a barrier.

A further element here is the setting of appropriate boundaries at the start of each and every session. It is important for client and counsellor to agree what appropriate outcomes are desired, what can be expected, what is desired etc. and these can change in each session.

Put simply, an appropriate environment is one where both client and counsellor are mutually comfortable, feel safe, understand the boundaries of the counselling process/session, know what the intended outcomes are, do not feel threatened and agree on what each side can expect from the other. As mentioned earlier, any number of factors can contribute to a positive or negative environment.

6. Owns and shows the importance of case-work and managerial supervision

Supervision in counselling is a structured and collaborative arrangement whereby a counsellor has the opportunity to reflect on work (regularly) with someone who is experienced as a practitioner and, more importantly, as a supervisor. It is a significant part of the learning and ‘growing’ process for counselling professionals. In order to fully validate and without relying on memory alone, case-work (notes, recordings etc.) allow the counsellor to share the details of his/her work such that the supervision process has maximum value. Of course, confidentiality for the client is paramount at all times, even within supervision.

It is necessary to maximise benefit and to assure quality of learning for the counsellor and quality of counselling for client’s of the counsellor, that case-work as well as one-to-one managerial supervision are undertaken often. Indeed, this is also important as an audit trail in any conflict situation.

Counselling practitioners are constantly learning and ‘growing’. Theirs is not a finite skill whereby one day they arrive at the top of the tree with all skills and knowledge topped-up to 100%. This is not a profession for anyone who misunderstands that counselling is a lifetime learning activity. If this learning is to be valuable then it is critically important that both case-work and personal managerial supervision be of the maximum standard possible. This ongoing learning is hampered when standards drop because in order to evaluate case-work then it must be up to date, clearly annotated, concise and relevant.

Without such fundamental accuracies then the person evaluating the case-work cannot possible make valid and valued assessments that will help the counsellors ‘growing’. In fact, it could lead the supervisor to draw wrong conclusions and that is bad for counsellor and clients of that counsellor. There is a computer term “Garbage in, garbage out” that fits well here. The corollary is that good case-work and supervision ensures good outcomes for clients, good learning and ‘growing’ for counsellors and benefits all parties in the process, even the supervisors.

References

1. ABC Handouts/Counselling Skills page two, paragraph two

2. BACP Ethical Framework

3. Egan’s Skilled Helper Model – Developments and applications in Counselling. – Val Wosket, Page 177

4. Emotional Safety: A Cornerstone For Healing – Linda Marks

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