…originally published by Alongside You
What To Watch Out For When Choosing a Counsellor in British Columbia
Knowing what to look for is very important when choosing a counsellor. There is a movement of late towards something called “competency based counselling.” This is, quite frankly, a very scary thing and clients should be aware of this. This movement suggests that life experience and a little bit of training is an okay substitute for years of schooling, ongoing professional development, and clinical supervision. There are a number of organizations being formed right now based on this idea, and they look official and look professional to those who do not know the profession well. It is very important to know that these organizations are not providing the same regulation of their membership, and do not have the same standards that the BCACC, CCPA, and BCAMFT do.
To talk about it in a less formal manner, I will ask a simple question: would you be comfortable going to see someone for medical advice and treatment who has not gone to medical school? I certainly hope not. If we were to take the “competency based” approach, it would then be ok to go see someone who has worked alongside doctors for some time, and have taken a few courses on medical issues and that this would be the same as going to see a medical doctor. This is precisely what some of these “competency based” organizations are suggesting you should do for counselling, and in my opinion, this is not okay, and is completely unethical.
Counsellors are specially trained to work with people who are going through some of the most difficult things anyone ever experiences in life. Further, our work has a direct impact not just on thought processes, social relationships, and daily functioning, but has a physiological effect on our clients’ brains. There are quite literally thousands of studies documenting brain changes based on psychotherapy. This is not something to be taken lightly – working with a counsellor has the potential to affect your brain chemistry. This is why it is so important that your counsellor has proper training and experience before you allow them this sort influence in your life.
What To Look For In A Counsellor
The first thing I would look for in a counsellor is that they are a member of one of the three organizations mentioned previously (BCACC, CCPA, BCAMFT), or if you are seeing a Psychologist, the College of Psychologists of BC, because it assures that they have met at the very least, the minimum requirements set out by counsellors and/or psychologists who have been practicing in the field and have been recognized by their peers as meeting the requirements. It also assures you that they are under obligation to meet the ethical standards of the profession, and will be held accountable.
If a counsellor is not a member of one of these organizations, I would ask why. In my opinion, the only acceptable reasons a counsellor would not be a part of one of these organizations is if they have just graduated from their Masters degree or Ph.D and haven not had a chance to apply, or are waiting to hear back about their application, or they are from another country and have some courses to take to meet the criteria because of differences in the programs in their home country. Other than these reasons, every counsellor or psychologist should be a part of one of these three organizations. You might wonder how to tell if someone is registered? The first indication are the letters after their name: “RCC” (for Registered Clinical Counsellor with the BCACC); “CCC” (for Canadian Certified Counsellor with the CCPA); “RMFT” (for Registered Marriage and Family Therapist with the BCAMFT); or “R.Psych” (with the College of Psychologists of British Columbia). I would also suggest that if they do not have their diplomas or certificates in the office somewhere, you may confirm by asking to see their registration card, or by looking them up on the respective websites for the organizations. You might feel awkward asking for these things, or looking the information up, but as professionals, we should have no problem providing this information for clients.
Questions To Ask Your Counsellor
Sometimes it is hard to know what questions to ask to find out if a counsellor’s training is appropriate to their services, what their experience is, and if they are going to be a good fit for you as a client and the goals you are wanting to achieve. Here is a few suggestions for questions you can ask counsellors to get a sense of their training, clinical background, and whether they are what you are looking for:
- Where did you get your training? What were your undergraduate and graduate degrees in?
- Where were your practicum / internship placements?
- What professional training have you completed after graduating?
- Do you currently have a Clinical Supervisor? If not, why not?
- What is your experience in professional practice? What settings have you worked in (Hospitals, Outpatient Clinics, Private Practice, Other)?
- What experience do you have working with the issues I am dealing with? How long do you think it will take to see change?
- What made you decide to become a counsellor and what are you passionate about in your work?
Some may wonder about the last question, but so much of the effectiveness of counselling relies on the personhood and humanity of the counsellor and their relationship with the client that in my mind, this question rounds out the heart of the matter: does the counsellor have the education, training, and clinical experience to be effective, and are they in it to help clients move forward in life? In my experience, clients will have a thorough understanding of the qualifications of the counsellor and a better gut feeling about their fit with the counsellor after hearing the answers to these questions.
I hope this article is helpful to people trying to understand what to look for in a counsellor and why degrees, professional credentials and registering bodies are important. As in any profession, it is important to know what to look for, and what to look out for in order to be a wise consumer. Being a member of a registering body like the BCACC, CCPA, BCAMFT, or College of Psychologists of BC helps professionals stay on top of their profession, education, and ethics, and it helps clients know that the professional has met stringent standards to practice in their professional capacity as a counsellor. This is not to say that some “counsellors” who do not meet these standards, or believe in “competency based” practice cannot help – I am sure they do help some people. What you cannot be sure you are getting is someone who has spent years in school learning, practicing, being supervised, and is regulated by a professional body that has your interests at heart. It is my hope that this article helps clients feel more able to make wise decisions about who to choose as a counsellor, and encourages us all as professionals to maintain the highest standards of professional practice in our desire to help others.
To learn more about the professional counselling associations, 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)