The Difficulties with Choosing a Counsellor
The Difficulties with Choosing a Counsellor in British Columbia
by Andrew Neufeld, MC, RCC
Two of the questions I get a lot from people are, “How do I choose a counsellor? How do I know what to look for?” These are very important questions that I am always happy to get. Being a wise consumer of mental health and other counselling services is very important because not all services, and not all service providers are the same. In addition to this, there are a lot of options in the community that look “official” but do not provide services that meet professionally qualified, and ethical standards of practice.
The problem with the lack of a governing body in counselling
One of the problems in British Columbia is that there is no College for counsellors. A College is a regulatory body, established in the province of British Columbia to regulate a profession, abiding by the Health Professions Act, or in the case of Social Workers, the Social Workers Act. The lack of a College for counsellors is a problem that counsellors have been trying to fix for over a decade but have not been able to for many reasons that are beyond the scope of this article. What it means is that doctors, social workers, nurses, and psychologists all have a College that is regulated by the province with specific entrance requirements, ethical standards and ongoing training requirements that ensure that anyone calling themselves a doctor, social worker, nurse, or psychologist have met these requirements (assuming they can prove registration with the college).
While no system is perfect, in these professions you can at least be assured that certain minimum standards are maintained.
Here is the major problem with the counselling profession in British Columbia: because there is no College, you could literally drop out of high school, put up a sign, and call yourself a counsellor. There is absolutely nothing illegal about this, and quite frankly, variations of this are going on far too often. This is why it is very important to know what to look for, and also, why degrees and credentials are important when looking for a counsellor.
The current solution – Self Regulation
Thankfully, we have a solution – it is not perfect, but it is the best we can do for the time being. The solution is something called self-regulation. There are three major registering bodies for counsellors in BC: the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors (BCACC), the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA), the British Columbia Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (BCAMFT).
These organizations were created by counsellors in the profession who wanted to ensure a level of professionalism, the minimum education requirements, ethical standards for counsellors to abide by. Also these counsellors want a complaint process for the public that would ensure accountability, as well as ongoing education requirements to ensure counsellors are continually educating themselves on the latest research and treatment methods.
All of these organizations require a minimum of a Masters degree in the field of psychology, rigorous standards for practicums and internships and supervision while in school, and guidelines for ongoing supervision while in clinical practice. There are requirements for professional liability insurance, to protect both counsellors and clients’ interests.
How does this affect you?
Just as in any other profession, it is important that counsellors meet professional standards and ethical requirements. It is important for clients to know that the counsellor has gone to school, spent time learning counselling theory, research, and the methods of clinical practice that have been shown to be beneficial to clients.
It is important that counsellors have been through professional training via internships where they are supervised by counsellors who have been in the field for many years and can guide their learning and practice so they become effective at helping others.
It is important that we have professional standards for ongoing supervision and accountability so we can be sure that counsellors are committed to ongoing learning, and so they have an outlet to seek help from others when they are struggling or need insight into difficulties their clients are facing. This is to ensure that they are always acting in the best interests of the clients they are serving, and doing so in an ethical manner.
Finally, it is important that there is a process in place for complaints so that clients have recourse if they feel a counsellor is not acting ethically, and insurance to protect both clients and counsellors in the case of legitimate claims, or for the latter, counsellors who may face false allegations. Without a governing body, there is no oversight for these very important areas.
In the next article, we will explore what you need to watch out for, what to look for in a counsellor, and you will also learn how to ask the right questions when choosing a counsellor. There is a lot at stake, considering how your mental health or your loved ones’ mental health can be deeply affected by which counsellor you choose to see.
To learn more about the professional bodies, please check out their respective websites.
BC Association of Clinical Counsellors (BCACC)
Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA)
British Columbia Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (BCAMFT)
Andrew Neufeld is the Executive Director of Alongside You, an integrated health clinic in Ladner, BC. He works with individuals, couples, and families and is passionate about people receiving quality, competent and compassionate care.
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