099 – How to Dress as a Counsellor
Friendships with Clients – Progression Routes after Level 3
In episode 99 of the Counselling Tutor Podcast, Ken Kelly and Rory Lees-Oakes discuss the thorny issue of whether it’s possible to become friends with a former client. In ‘Practice Matters’, Rory discusses how to dress as a counsellor. He explores his experience of appropriate attire as a counsellor, and – without telling listeners how to dress – asks listeners to consider how what you wear might affect the therapeutic relationship. Last, the presenters talk about possible progression routes after level 3.
Friendships with Clients (starts at 2.02 mins)
Is it ethical to offer counselling to a friend, or to become friends with someone who you first met as a client?
While the answer to the first is a definite no (you’d need to signpost them to other counsellors), the answer to the second may be less clear-cut.
The BACP’s guidance on this (paragraph 37) states:
‘We will avoid continuing or resuming any relationships with former clients that could harm the client or damage any benefits from the therapeutic work undertaken. We recognise that conflicts of interest and issues of power or dependence may continue after our working relationship with a client, supervisee or trainee has formally ended.’
While Rory and Ken have managed to navigate a boundaried relationship as friends and colleagues after initially meeting as teacher and student, it is much more perilous to become friends with a former client.
Rory explains that this relates to Petruska Clarkson’s concept of the reparative relationship (one aspect of her five-relationship model) being an important element in counselling.
In this relationship, the therapist serves as a parent figure, providing a solidity and stability that allows the client to experience personal growth safely.
The resultant power imbalance (which tends to be present to some extent: however much we try to equalise this, it can only really be minimised) could be really confusing in a subsequent friendship.
Even more importantly, seeing the therapist as a full person outside their professional role (where, for example, there may well be moments of lapse in demonstrating the facilitative conditions) could erode the work achieved in counselling. It is this risk that the BACP guidance refers to.
If you feel tempted to become friends with a former client, ask yourself what in you would be satisfied by doing so.
As therapists, we may have to sacrifice our own wishes in order to maintain their progress. Above all, do take the issue to supervision (and possibly also to personal therapy).
How to Dress as a Counsellor (starts at 13.45 mins)
Rory looks at how and why the way you choose to dress as a counsellor could affect the therapeutic relationship.
This topic on what to wear as a counsellor crops up fairly frequently in our Facebook group, which includes over 21,000 people (students, tutors and qualified counsellors) interested in the world of counselling and psychotherapy.
Rory offers a number of key tips on how to dress as a counsellor:
- Avoid ‘power dressing’ – how might a client coming to a charitable agency for people on low incomes feel to see a counsellor in designer gear?
- Avoid logos on clothing – for example, Rory decided against a Guinness-branded polo shirt, after reflecting that it could lead to personal questions (taking the focus away from the client) or be insensitive to clients struggling with addiction.
- If your other work involves wearing a uniform, do get changed before you counsel – Rory tells the story of an off-duty firefighter whose epaulettes led the client to state that they felt uncomfortable talking to ‘a police officer’.
- Try thinking of your clothing as putting you in the right frame of mind for your counselling work: dressing appropriately can help you too.
- Ask your agency if they have a dress code. If not, you can still get a good idea by looking at the other counsellors there.
Progression Routes after Level 3 (starts at 17.09 mins)
If you’re currently studying at level 3, what are your options for progression?
You might choose not to continue your counselling studies, but instead to use your existing skills in other work. The skills you will have gained are sought after in many areas of employment.
Alternatively, you might want to carry on and become a fully qualified counsellor, so that you can work in counselling itself. Although many people talk about the difficulties of finding paid work as a counsellor, Ken and Rory know of many former students who have achieved this.
The minimum level to qualify as a counsellor in the UK is level 4, but some people choose to do a degree or postgraduate qualification instead.
Having a qualification at a higher academic level does not necessarily make it more likely that you’ll find paid work, as counselling is very much about the craft itself.
Pursuing good CPD can make a big difference to your employability. For example, Rory suggests that learning more about trauma-informed practice is particularly valuable.
The CSR is a great source of CPD, for which you can also download certificates to evidence your learning.