Choosing A Counsellor - Are They Qualified?
Today, the BBC published a short piece: Can Anyone Call Themselves a Therapist?
If you haven't seen it yet, then give it a watch (It's only 5 minutes long). But please, don't think that all counsellors are unqualified, or bought a certificate off the internet. It just isn't true.
The short answer is that yes, anyone can call themselves a counsellor, psychotherapist or therapist. They're not protected terms. So, technically anybody could set themselves up as any of those and start advertising without breaking any laws, cheap internet "qualification" or not.
However, I'm not sure how common this actually is. Both examples used in the video could well be qualified therapists (with a recognised diploma/degree); it doesn't make this clear. But, it's wise, when looking for a counsellor, to be careful.
My Tips For Making Sure A Counsellor is Qualified
Going to see a counsellor or psychotherapist, and trying to talk about what can be difficult, painful and traumatic can leave you feeling vulnerable. So I would advise anyone looking for a counsellor to be careful, and to take certain precautions when approaching potential counsellors. These are my tips for how you can make sure your counsellor is qualified.
Tip 1: Check Their Qualifications!
Sounds simple, doesn't it? And it should be. But how do you find them? And how do you know if a qualification is legit?
Most of us have a website, most of us will put our qualifications on there. (See my qualifications here). Most of us have done courses at recognised institutions that consist of many hundreds of taught hours, hundreds of client hours, and an awful lot of hard work.
We have earned our qualifications with blood, sweat and tears. Sometimes literally!
Some counselling qualifications are diplomas at level 4, some are foundation degrees at level 5. Some counsellors (including myself) have gone further than that and completed a bachelor degree at level 6, or even a masters degree at level 7 or even further. But as a general rule, the minimum level unofficially accepted to practice in the UK is a diploma at level 4.
Tip 2: Are They Registered With A Membership Body?
There are several membership bodies for counsellors and psychotherapists in the UK. The most common you’re likely to see are the BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy), NCS (National Counselling Society), UKCP (UK Council for Psychotherapy), and the BABCP (British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies).
These membership bodies are just that: membership bodies. They’re not regulatory bodies, and you don’t have to be a member of one to practice as a counsellor or psychotherapist. They do, however, hold accredited registers with the Professional Standards Authority (PSA). Counsellors and psychotherapists, by choosing to be a member of one of these bodies, are voluntarily registered by the PSA.
In addition to this, these membership bodies have certain standards for their membership. So, you have to have done training that is deemed acceptable by them in order to become a member.
This DOES NOT include the short internet “courses” referred to in the BBC's video!
Likewise, in order to remain registered each year, there are standards that a counsellor/psychotherapist must meet: 30 hours of CPD (continuing professional development), and supervision requirements (our practice must be monitored by a qualified clinical supervisor) etc. If a counsellor or psychotherapist is registered, then you know that they do these things.
Likewise, by being a member of one of these membership bodies, we subscribe to their ethical code of practice (the BACP's is here). If we are found to break that code of practice, then we can be removed from their registers. You have the right to complain about us to these bodies.
In short: if someone is a member of one of these bodies, it’s a safeguard for you. You can be sure that they fulfil these requirements. They are "properly qualified".
Tip 3: Check Their Directory Entries
Most counsellors and psychotherapists have entries on online directories. Aside from our websites, it’s how you find us! The most common directories are Counselling Directory, Psychology Today, and the BACP’s Find a Therapist Directory.
ALL of these directories require proof of a counsellor’s qualifications,
AND proof of membership of a recognised membership body (see point 2).
Again, it’s a safeguard against someone who doesn’t have a recognised qualification. They won't allow counsellors with dodgy qualifications to advertise with them.
Tip 4: Check Where They Work
Some counsellors will work from home, and if they do, this doesn’t apply, so if that’s the case, then disregard this point!
I don’t work from home. Where I do work, The Wishing Well in Bromsgrove, is great. It’s fabulous for many reasons (warm, friendly, it always smells nice, great coffee and cake…) but one of those reasons is that they will only allow professionals to rent rooms when they have checked their qualifications.
I had to provide the Wishing Well with proof of my qualifications, along with my professional indemnity insurance before they would agree to allow me to rent rooms there.
This means that, again, there is a safeguard in place for you. All therapists who work there hold a proper qualification. It also means that we are building up a fantastic community of well-qualified Mental Health Professionals there.
Tip 5: Ask, Ask and Ask Again!
Counselling and psychotherapy is often a big investment of your time and money. If you’re still unsure, and if you’re worried, or if you don’t understand what all the letters actually mean (and who can keep track of all the abbreviations these days?) then please ask.
No ethical counsellor or psychotherapist will mind in the slightest.
They will be happy to explain their qualifications to you, along with how they work. If they don’t, or won’t, then find someone else who will.