077 – Fitness to Practice in Counselling

077 – Age of Counselling Students – Working within Your Competence – Fitness-to-Practise Letters

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In episode 77 of the Counselling Tutor Podcast, Ken Kelly and Rory Lees-Oakes discuss whether age is a barrier to starting counselling training. ‘Practice Matters’ then looks at working within your competence as a counsellor. Finally, the presenters talk about getting signed off as fit to practise.

Age of Counselling Students (starts at 1.54 mins)

Is it possible to be too old to train as a counsellor? Ken and Rory think not, and both entered the profession themselves after experience in other fields. Rory began training aged 42 with few formal qualifications, and was one of the younger members of his group. Learning is lifelong: we can always learn more, however old we are.

Becoming a counsellor is a vocation, often attracting people who have come through difficult times themselves. It’s more about who you are than how old you are or how academic you were when at school. Not all learners prosper in the school environment – for example, as Ken points out based on his own experience, young people with dyslexia may be seen as lazy and incapable when really it’s simply that the learning style at school doesn’t suit them.

So if you feel drawn to counselling training, go for it! And if you’d like to discuss this topic with other actual or potential students of counselling – and some qualified counsellors and counselling tutors – do visit our Facebook group and start a conversation.

Working within Your Competence (starts at 9.48 mins)

Working within your competence as a counsellor is vital whether you are qualified or a student. If you don’t have the right knowledge, skills and experience to help a potential client, it’s important to make an ethical referral.

How do counselling students know whether or not they are working within their competence? It is not at all uncommon for students – and others – to experience feelings of incompetence (FOIs). In fact, Dave Mearns and Brian Thorne write about FOIs in their book Person-Centred Counselling in Action (Sage, 2013).

Rory offers some tips to help you ensure you work within your competence as a student counsellor:

  • Make sure you choose a placement where a qualified counsellor assesses all new clients before allocating them to counsellors (considering presenting issue, risk level and modality).
  • Get yourself a good supervisor to support you and your learning.
  • Seek out appropriate continuing professional development, e.g. on working with bereavement and working with trauma.
  • Be familiar with the limits to confidentiality within your agency.
  • Ensure you understand and work within the ethical framework of your professional body (e.g. the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions of the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy).
  • Be aware of your own process, e.g. any transference within the counselling room.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for support – doing so is neither wrong nor weak.

You can download Rory’s handout on working within your competence here, or it is also available in the Handouts Vault and Counselling Study Resource (CSR).

Free Handout Download

Working within Your Competence

Fitness-to-Practise Letters (starts at 27.07 mins)

‘Fitness to practise’ refers to being fit to go into practice in a placement, sit with clients there, and handle the material they bring. You are not expected to be a mature, seasoned professional at this stage. Above all, it ensures that students counsellors do no harm in placement (e.g. by providing advice to clients).

Your college tutors assess whether you are fit to practise – usually by observing you in skills practice, or by listening to taped sessions with peers. When they feel you are fit to practise, they will give you a letter to show your prospective placement.

Getting your fitness-to-practise letter is a real landmark in counselling training, and something to celebrate – though of course you will never stop learning!

We have two articles available that might be helpful for you as you prepare to be assessed for your fitness to practise:

Links and Resources