Counselling training accreditation standards and ethics

Alongside the expansion of interest in counselling, the number of counselling courses rises each year. Their scope varies significantly, ranging from short evening classes in active listening and short courses in counselling skills for health professionals, to full-time training leading to professional accreditation or chartering. There are concerns about the quality and standards of training, and it is not surprising that many are confused about the qualifications of particular counsellors; for example, 20 per cent of general practitioners who employ counsellors do not know their qualifications. (49)

For full training and accreditation, professional counsellors are required to follow, as a minimum, a 3-year full-time training course in the theory and practice of counselling. The standards required are covered by three main organizations in the United Kingdom, with equivalents in other countries.

• The British Association of Counselling, which offers accreditation for counsellors from a variety of disciplines, mainly humanistic and psychodynamic.

• The British Psychological Society, which offers accredited chartered status for counselling psychologists, trained to meet standards in applied psychology.

• The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy, which registers psychotherapists, including psychodynamic, psychodrama, and cognitive therapists.

The requirements for accreditation or registration vary between organizations. Common requirements are a minimum of 450 hours of supervised practice, evaluated via case studies and process reports; academic knowledge of counselling theory and research; personal counselling or psychotherapy; and, for the British Psychological Society, research skills and experience. The qualification requires that practitioners follow a code of practice and ethics, stipulating ethical practice, the need for supervision, appropriate confidentiality, and other standards for professional practice.

One major problem is that currently there is no statutory protection for using the terms 'counsellor' or 'psychotherapist', and therefore no means for the prevention of bad practice or abuse. Without registration through a professional body, clients may have no redress for incompetent practice. The registering organizations are now moving towards statutory registration and legal protection for the terms counsellor, psychologist, and psychotherapist; whilst these may take time to arrive, it is vital that the public and health professionals are aware of the need to seek help only from qualified practitioners of counselling.

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