• Tina

The tricky business of choosing a counsellor

It is the start of a new year and for many people a chance to reflect on their life and how they wish to move forward in the future.

When Cathy and I see clients they often comment how difficult it has been to decide which counsellor to see. We agree, there is a huge amount of information out there all of which can appear confusing and contradictory for example counsellor's qualifications and the services they offer can appear bewildering.

We hope you will find some of the below helpful and allow you to find the right counsellor for you and your own situation.

What type of counselling service?

There is a good array of different ways you can access counselling and it is important you consider what will suit you best.

Most people use a face to face service, this is where you go to a certain place each week and meet a counsellor for what is known as a counselling session (50 minutes). However, this is not the only way to access counselling, here are a few other options:

Online counselling

This will be a service provided remotely by a counsellor. As with the face to face service a time is agreed each week, when you can speak to your counsellor. There are a number of different ways this can take place however most counsellors will use Skype or Facetime (if you have access to the apple mac operating system). The counselling session will still take place over 50 minutes however, to all intents and purposes it should feel like being in the same room as the counsellor. This service can really suit if you have a fear of leaving your house, work away from home and/or want to have a regular counsellor but can’t commit to coming in each week.

Telephone counselling

This service allows people to speak to a counsellor over the phone. There are some limitations, mainly due to the fact you can’t see your counsellor, however to the right counsellor these should not be insurmountable. Like online counselling this service is helpful for people who may live in remote locations, have poor internet access (like Tina) or feel traveling to a counsellor simply too daunting.

On-line courses

There are some really good on-line services that you can use to help you access support for your issues. Cathy and I would recommend several including:

  1. https://web.ntw.nhs.uk/selfhelp/ The Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS have brilliant self help leaflets and audio files. These can give you a good insight into a variety of different conditions e.g. depression, sleep, anger, anxiety. This service is based on a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approach. For some people it is a great idea to read some information before you contact a counsellor so you have a good idea of what your issues are and what suits you.

  2. App’s help people and sometimes we use these together with our counselling service. Some of the App's we use include Headspace, optimism and mindfulness apps.

As with all on-line connections they come with health warnings, however some people find these a really helpful introduction to counselling and a way in which they can see how effective counselling may be for them. The following link provides a good assessment of such services and their benefits and drawbacks.


What do the qualifications mean?

Cathy and I would recommend choosing a counsellor who has trained using a course underwritten by the National Counselling Society (NCS), the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapist (BACP) or the British Association of Cognitive Behavioural therapist (BABCP).

Most courses are two or three years long. An effective course SHOULD include a work placement, meaning your therapist has been supervised whilst training to develop their counselling skills. Both Cathy and I have Counselling Foundation Degree’s from Ulster University, underwritten by the National Counselling Society. We have also both undertaken additional training each year since we qualified. A commitment from any counsellor you chose to their own personal development is critical. In this way you can be sure your counsellor is keeping up to date with their professional practice and recent research. This year both Cathy and I will be completing a 6 month Trauma course.  You should be able to check out counsellors qualifications and dates of completion on their websites or the counselling directory where they advertise.  We would recommend looking for Qualifications AND dates they took courses.   

If you are looking for a specific issue e.g. marriage guidance, then make sure your therapist has a qualification in this area from a reputable provider e.g. a Relate course for marriage guidance, CRUISE training for bereavement.  A professional counsellor should make sure they are competent and have the necessary skills and training to deal with any issues you bring into counselling.   

In short, make sure the counsellor you chose is qualified, has completed a course underwritten by a professional association and if you are seeking counselling for a specific issue, the counsellor has the qualification necessary to undertake this type of counselling.

Professional associations 

Cathy and I find it a bit shocking however that counsellors are not required to be part of a professional association. We would recommend making sure your counsellor is a member of a professional association, such as I have mentioned above or for Ireland the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP).

By belonging to an association your counsellor has committed to adhering to the ethical standards and framework for their professional association.

Any counsellor you approach should be able to tell you their professional association, provide their membership number and their accreditation level.  The associations each have their own ethical framework that provide the standards of service you have a right to expect.  Finally they will have procedures to make a complaint if you are not satisfied with the service you have received.

Cathy is a member of the BACP and Tina a member of the NCS. We tell our clients what this means to them and how it relates to our practice.

How to find a counsellor?

  • All the professional associations have details of their counsellors, that you can search for on- line. The BACP serach engine is called ‘It’s good to talk’. 

  • Many counsellors' use the counselling directory https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk which is searchable according to your location and issue.

  • You can use facebook to search for counsellors in your area. Many counsellors will have a facebook presence. At BeeYou Counselling we use facebook extensively to provide support to people and publicise our services. Many counsellors can be reached through facebook messaging if you pop to our page you can have a quick look at our page to see how we use facebook  https://www.facebook.com/BeeYouCounsellor/

  • You can also use a search engine to search your location – I have just done that for Lisburn and BeeYou Counselling does not show…so that may be a few hours work for Tina later to work out why that is the case !! 

  • However, the best way is recommendation. If you know someone who has been to a counsellor ask them how they found it, did they get the support they needed? We both believe a recommendation is better than any random search. Cathy and I are proud of the number of clients we see following recommendations from previous clients.

What type of counselling?

This is the bit I think most people feel totally confused over…so we will try and help with some basic rules.

The BACP lists 30 types of counselling however in the main they can all be placed under one of the three main counselling theories which are Humanistic (Person Centred), Psychodymanic and Cogntive Behavioural Therapy.

All three counselling approaches (known as theories) offer a different account for how mental issues have arisen. The counselling directory offers a good description of the different types of counselling https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counselling.html

Integrative Counsellor

  • If a counsellor states they are an integrative counsellor, that means they are able to provide counselling from all three of the main schools of counselling listed above.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapist

  • Some of my colleagues may disagree however, if a counsellor is going to call themselves a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist then this means they have attended an exclusive Cognitive Behavioural Therapy course. This is a full time course and as such these counsellors normally belong to the BABCP.

  • Tina has attended a Level 5 CBT course, and she is able to offer enhanced CBT tools and techniques within an integrative framework. She does not however call herself a CBT therapist as she feels this would be misleading. For the majority of clients this is sufficient and Tina is qualified to deal with the majority of medical conditions from a CBT perspective, however she understands her limitations and if a case is too complex e.g. complex trauma she will refer on.

There are other types of therapist, but these are the main ones in Northern Ireland.

To sum all that up :-)

In conclusion if you feel you would like to speak to a counsellor give it some thought about what you want to achieve, what is the issue you are looking to resolve, do you or any of your friends know a good local counsellor.

  1. When you start to look for a counsellor check they have the right qualifications.

  2. Are they a member of one of the main professional counselling associations?

  3. Do they have the necessary insurance for their practice?

  4. Are they up-to-date with training and current research?

  5. Do they offer a free assessment? Cathy and I feel they should. Potentially you may be spending your hard earnt money and lots of your time with them and you have a right to know how effective they are and what they are offering you. Cathy and I offer free assessments as it is as important we make our professional assessment to make sure we have the skills necessary to provide you a service, as you have the right to decide whether this is right for you.

  6. Do you feel they understand you and you can work with them, because if you can’t your therapy is not likely to be as beneficial as you have a right to deserve.

A longer than normal blog, which I hope helps you make a decision on counselling and how to start the process of finding a counsellor.  We hope you choose BeeYou counselling but if not, then we hope some of this information will assist you in choosing the right counsellor.  

Happy new year.

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