What questions should I ask before engaging in counselling?

By Craig E. Brewer

I have often been asked what a client should be looking for when they are attempting to identify and appropriate counselling professional to assist them with their problems. Many people have their own opinions and as such I am going to avoid the usual focus on the type of professional help that should be sought.

In Australia counselling is a non regulated activity and falls across a number of professions including Social Work, Psychology and Occupational Therapy; however, in recent times the raise of a several Professional Counselling bodies have also taken a lead towards the development of Counselling as a profession in its own right.  Unfortunately, whilst the former are established professions where counselling is a part of a greater skill set, the limitations of training and qualifications among some counsellors can lead to confusion. Instead I will be looking at the fundamentals that go across the professions weather they be Social Workers, Psychologist, Psychotherapist or Counsellors. Instead of identifying individual professions I will refer to all as “Counselling Professionals”.

These comments are also from my perspective in the Australian context; however, they can possibly be used as a reasonable guide for clients seeking assistance anywhere. There are a number of helpful questions that you can ask a prospective counsellor prior to signing a contract with them.  Again remember you must research your own location to ensure that the questions are relevant to you.

1.  Is the counselling professional a registered or accredited member of a National Professional body?

2.  Does that Professional Body have a Code of Ethics and Practice Standards or Scope of Practice that the counsellor is required to abide by?

These two items in my opinion are important as they show that the counselling professional in question has made a commitment to their profession and have a structure around how they practice.  A copy of these documents should be available for download if you need to obtain a copy.  You can ask the counselling professional where you can obtain a copy of them.

The next thing that needs to be explored is the qualifications held by the counselling professional in question.

3.      What Qualifications do they hold and where were they issued?

4.   Does the Counsellor engage in regular professional supervision as part of their practice?

There are a large number of differences between many counselling qualifications ranging from Masters level tertiary qualifications to accredited Diploma qualifications and unaccredited certificate or attendance workshop.

Next thing to look into is your safety as a client.

5.      Is the Counsellor insured for both Public and Professional Liability?

6.     Is there a complaint process if a problem arises?

The answer to these questions can provide you with an assessment of safety and risk involved in engaging in counselling with the Counselling Professional.  As Counselling is not a regulated activity in Australia anyone can call themselves a counsellor regardless the qualifications held.  By asking the questions above you can obtain relevant information to ensures you are seeing an appropriately qualified person to assist you with you problem.  The information you obtain will help you to make an informed decision.

Other questions that you may ask that would assist would be;

7.     Do you need to make an appointment?  

or do they take walk ins off the street.

8.   What is the hourly rate for a counselling session? 

9.   Are there any additional cost?

10.   Is bulk billing available (Australian Medicare)?

11.  How long does a session go for?

12.    What happens if the session runs overtime?

13.   Is there a Cancellation Policy in place?

The list of questions that I have provided above is not exhaustive, it is just a start to let you see the issues that you may need to know about before engaging in a contractual counselling agreement.  Many Professionals who provide counselling services have ready answers for these and many more questions.  If in doubt ask, counsellors are professional communicators and are generally happy to discuss you needs and any concerns.  I hope this information is of assistance to you when you are looking for the support of an appropriately qualified Counselling Professional.

 

 

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