Two of the most frequently asked questions I get from people is, “How do I choose a counsellor?” and “How do I know what to look for when I’m choosing a counsellor?” These are very important questions I’m always happy to answer. Nowadays it’s critical to be a wise consumer of mental health and other counselling services. Especially since not all services or service providers are the same. Be careful of the options in the community that look “official” but the counsellor is not actually professionally qualified.
The Problem with the Lack of Governing Body in Counselling
One of the biggest 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. The College abides 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. 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. These requirements 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, you can at least be assured that certain minimum standards are maintained in professions that are regulated under a College.
Not having a College for counselling profession in British Columbia is a major problem. Think about it. You could literally drop out of high school, put up a sign, and call yourself a counselor. There is absolutely nothing illegal about this, and quite frankly, this happens far more frequently than it should. This is why it is very important to know what degrees and credentials to look for when you’re choosing a counsellor.
The Current Solution – Self Regulation
Thankfully, we have a solution called self-regulation. It’s not a perfect solution but it’s the best we can do for the time being. There are three major registering bodies for counsellors in BC that are responsible for self-regulation in counselling. They are: 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 minimum level of professionalism was met. The minimum level of professionalism includes meeting mandatory education requirements and ethical standards. Self-regulation means there is a complaint process for the public that ensures accountability. The regulating bodies also require ongoing education where counsellors continue their education on the latest research and treatment methods.
All of these organizations require a minimum of a Masters degree in the field of psychology, completion of practicums/internships, and guidelines for ongoing supervision while in clinical practice. Certain requirements must be met to be covered under professional liability insurance which acts to protect the interests of both counsellors and clients.
How Does This Affect You?
Just as in any other profession, it is necessary that counsellors meet professional standards and ethical requirements. Our clients should have confidence that their counsellor has gone through proper training. Proper training includes time spent at school learning counselling theory, conducting research, and practicing the methods of clinical practice that have been shown to be beneficial to clients. Counsellors should have gone through professional training via internships where they were supervised by counsellors who have been in the field for many years. Training under such guidance can enhance their learning and practice so they become effective at helping others.
It is essential to have professional standards for ongoing supervision and accountability. These standards validate a counsellor’s commitment to ongoing learning. They also serve as a source for counsellors to seek help from when they need additional insight into the difficulties of their clients. Professional standards and regulations help ensure counsellors are always acting in the best interests of their clients and always doing so in an ethical manner.
Finally, it is important to have a process in place for complaints. This provides clients with a method for recourse if they feel a counsellor is not acting ethically. This insurance helps protect both clients and counsellors. Especially in cases of legitimate claims or false allegations. Without a governing body, there is no oversight for these very important areas.
Our next article will explore what to look for when choosing a counsellor. There are certain things you need to watch out for and specific questions you should be asking. There is a lot at stake. Your mental health and the mental health of your loved ones can be deeply affected by the counsellor you choose to see.
Update: Continue to Part 2 of the blog – The Difficulties with Choosing A Counsellor in British Columbia – Part I
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)