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What is Counselling

Counselling is a contracted meeting between a client and a counsellor. Counselling happens at a specified time and at a specific place and the sole focus of the meeting is to benefit the client.

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, or BACP, define counselling as...

“Counselling and psychotherapy are umbrella terms that cover a range of talking therapies. They are delivered by trained practitioners who work with people over a short or long term to help them bring about effective change or enhance their wellbeing.”

Difference between counselling and other helping activities

Counselling differs from other helping relationships as it takes place within a set of boundaries.

  • Counselling is a managed activity.
  • A counsellor contracts with a client.
  • This contract determines the date and time of sessions, how many sessions and the cost involved if it is a paid service.
  • The counsellor will also inform the client about confidentiality and what they are legally bound to disclose.
  • A counsellor will not offer advise, they believe that the answers are within the client and with the safe environment that counselling offers, the client will find them.
  • Counselling, at its core, is about building a trusting relationship where a client feels comfortable enough to talk about the difficulties they are experiencing.
  • Outside of the counsellor-client relationship a counsellor will have regular supervision from a supervisor.

    In comparison, a helping relationship is not always bound by time, advise can be offered and is not overseen by a professional body.

Boundaries in Counselling

The counselling relationship takes place within pre-defined boundaries that are outlined in a contract and agreed upon by both client and counsellor. Boundaries help keep the relationship therapeutic and may include:

  • ethics
  • policies and procedures
  • laws and legislation
  • supervision and continued professional development of the counsellor

When asked what is counselling, I find it is an interesting question that is maybe deeper than it seems.

People in different professions use counselling skills.

There are some fundamental differences between someone who uses counselling skills as part of their work role and a counsellor:

  • A counsellor should be qualified in counselling or working towards their qualification.
  • Clients should know that they are entering a counselling relationship and should want to be counselled.
  • Counselling and psychotherapy are always undertaken at the request of the client and no-one can properly be "sent" for counselling or psychotherapy.

So we can see that counselling is quite different from someone just listening to you.

A counsellor will contract with you, making an agreement on when the sessions will take place, how many sessions there will be, and the cost (if it is a paid service).

They will inform you about confidentiality in terms of what they can and cannot disclose.

Counsellors should have regular supervision from a supervisor who will be able to support and develop their skills and knowledge. In this sense, counselling is a managed activity.

Perhaps the biggest difference between counsellors and other professionals who use counselling skills is that counsellors do not offer advice.

If you take a second to think, you would want advice from some professionals who use counselling skills, such as doctors, teachers and hairdressers.

A counsellor believes that you have the answers within you, and together you can find them.

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How to Survive counselling training by Rory Lees-Oakes

Rory has over 10 years expereince as a counselling tutor. He shares his best tips on how to get the most from your counselling studies.

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