Professional Practice for Counsellors

Professional Practice for Counsellors

In this section of the website, we explore the building blocks that counsellors need to have in place in order to practise professionally.

It is therefore a useful resource for student counsellors who may be preparing for – or already be in – a placement counselling post.

ethics in counselling

At the point where you begin to practise with ‘real’ clients (as opposed to with peers on your course), you may well be encouraged to join a professional body, such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or the National Counselling Society (NCS).

Each professional body has an ethical framework, and it’s important that you familiarise yourself with this, using it as a guide to your practice. For example, the BACP has its Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions (2018) and the NCS has its Code of Ethics (2020).

Counselling and the Law

As a practising counsellor, you need to be aware of laws that affect counselling, including equality and confidentiality. For example, the BACP’s Ethical Framework (2018: 20) states:

‘We will give conscientious consideration to the law and how we fulfil any legal requirements concerning our work.’

Counselling Supervision

Professional bodies require members to receive regular counselling supervision: 'Supervision is essential to how practitioners sustain good practice throughout their working life’ (BACP, 2018: 22).

For example, to apply for BACP accreditation, you can count only those client hours for which you received regular 1.5 hours of clinical supervision every month.

Equality and Diversity in Counselling

As members of a diverse society, we need to be aware of equality and diversity in counselling order to be able to counsel ethically and effectively: ‘We will respect our clients as people by providing services that … endeavour to demonstrate equality, value diversity and ensure inclusion for all clients’ (BACP, 2018: 15).

Diversity and difference can impact on our clients, our profession, our own lives and the therapeutic relationships we form with clients. Two particular aspects of diversity are heritage and culture, both of which form part of a person’s self-knowledge and history.

Starting and Ending Counselling Sessions

Part of professional practice as a counsellor is becoming skilful in starting and ending both individual counselling sessions and courses of sessions.

The first counselling session is different from subsequent ones, and endings in counselling – both planned and unplanned – must be dealt with safely and effectively too:

‘We will endeavour to inform clients well in advance of approaching endings and be sensitive to our client’s expectations and concerns when we are approaching the end of our work together’ (BACP, 2018: 19)

Boundaries in Counselling

Boundaries in counselling create clarity for both parties around expectations, and a safe frame for the work of therapy. Clear boundaries promote client trust in the practitioner and provide clarity about the purpose and nature of the relationship.

Boundaries need to be made explicit in the contracting stage of the relationship, so that they are mutually agreed and understood by both therapist and client:

‘We will establish and maintain appropriate professional and personal boundaries in our relationships with clients’ (BACP, 2018: 17).

Referrals in Counselling

There are times when we must make referrals in counselling because may realise that a client’s presenting issues falls outside our competence (BACP, 2018):

We must be competent to deliver the services being offered to at least fundamental professional standards or better. When we consider satisfying professional standards requires consulting others with relevant expertise, seeking second opinions, or making referrals, we will do so in ways that meet our commitments and obligations for client confidentiality and data protection.

While student counsellors will have had their clients pre-assessed by a qualified counsellor within the agency, this can still occur if the client reveals more at their first or early sessions than they did at assessment.

Making referrals is an important part of professional practice as a counsellor, and this is an area that it is important to be familiar with and to have prepared both yourself and the client for.

Barriers to Communication in Counselling

Barriers to communication in counselling can be challenging for clients and counsellors. It’s good to be aware of possible barriers, and to develop ways of overcoming them so that we can ‘be as open and as communicative with our clients, colleagues and others as is consistent with the purpose, methods and confidentiality of the service’ (2018: 19)

Note Taking in Counselling

Taking notes in counselling can feel like a difficult task when you first begin in counselling practice, but it is important that we ‘keep accurate records that … are adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary for the type of service being provided [and] comply with the applicable data protection requirements’ (BACP, 2018: 14).

Session notes and process notes are two categories of notes that may be very different from each other; understanding what goes in each, and how each is to be stored, is an important part of counselling practice.

Personal Development in Counsellng

Our selves are vital to the safe and ethical practice of counselling, which is why personal development in counselling forms such a key part of counselling training.

Reflexivity and use of self are two key areas of how we bring our selves into our counselling practice.

Similarly, continuing professional development is also important in offering the highest-quality service to our clients.

Last but not least, many counselling training courses require students to write case studies about clients they have worked with, as a way of demonstrating their competence. Clearly, this must take account of client confidentiality.

It’s not always easy to know how to go about writing your first case study, but we can offer you guidance on this.

© Counselling Tutor, updated 11/11/2020

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Professional Practice for Counsellors


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