How does counselling differ from other types of helping?


3 Jan 2014 |  for trainees | by Bill, writer at UK & Ireland Counsellor Directory


Counselling is different from other forms of helping. Here are the chief characteristics.

  • A contracted activity. Counselling involves an explicit agreement between the counsellor and the client. This means that the client must consent to counselling and will be aware that the relationship is a counselling one.

  • A psychological therapy. Whereas a helper can focus on practical solutions and support, such as helping a friend move house, counselling is always concerned with addressing psychological or emotional needs and problems.

  • Clearly defined boundaries. Counselling places clearly agreed limits on the scope of the activity, including time and space boundaries (where, when and for how long it takes place), as well as agreed limits of confidentiality.

  • Based on psychological theory. All types of counselling are based on psychological theories, although different approaches may employ different psychological models, or may make use of them in different ways.

  • Based on listening & talking. Unlike medical treatments, counselling is a talking therapy, although sometimes this may be combined with other activities (eg. a play therapist might also use sand and toys to help a child give expression to emotional issues).

  • Appropriately trained. Professional counsellors are formally trained in skills and theory so that they can practice safely and to an acceptable standard.

  • A joint endeavour. It requires the co-operation and engagement of the client in the process. With some other forms of helping, the helped person may be passive, or even unaware of the helping process.

  • Abides by a code of ethics and practice. Counsellors work to a set of ethical standards, such as the BACP Ethical Framework. People using helping skills in other roles may be bound by ethical codes, but those will relate to the responsibilities of that role (eg. teaching, nursing).

  • Uses the relationship. The relationship developed between the counsellor and client is part of the process. For example, the experience of being in relationship with a counsellor who listens and responds acceptingly and empathically may help a client to grow in self-esteem and to learn to trust their own judgement. Brief therapy methods sometimes stress this less.

  • Avoids mixing of roles. Counsellors donít normally have contact with clients except in their role as counsellor. This is to avoid a conflict of interests, although sometimes meeting in other contexts is unavoidable, e.g. in a small community. Someone may practice counselling skills to help friends or family, but it is unsafe and unethical to be in a counselling relationship with someone you are already close to.

  • Avoids giving advice or guidance. The role of the counsellor is facilitative rather than directive, to encourage client empowerment and autonomy, and to help clients develop their own insight, clarity and self-understanding. (An exception to this is more directive forms of therapy such as may be used in the early stages of rehab.)


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