The Difficulties with Choosing A Counsellor in British Columbia – Part II

The Difficulties with Choosing A Counsellor in British Columbia – Part II

In part 1 of this post, “The problem with the lack of governing body in counselling,” shows why it’s important for all counsellors to meet the professional standards and ethical requirements for counselling. People have the right to know the counsellor they’ve chosen come from a background of qualified counselling. These qualifications can come a degree, or some form of proof attendance and completion of school. Clients can then rest assured the counsellor of their choice sufficient knowledge in their field. All counsellors should have proof that they’ve spent sufficient time in researching and learning the methods of clinical practice.


What To Watch Out For When Choosing a Counsellor in British Columbia


Understanding what to look for when choosing a counsellor is super important. The emerging trend of  something called “competency based counselling” is incredibly troubling. “Competency based counselling” suggests that life experience and a little bit of training is an adequate 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. The scary thing is these organizations look every bit as official and professional as their authentic counterparts.  Especially to those who don’t know the counselling profession that well. It is very important to know that these organizations aren’t regulated for meeting standards that the BCACC, CCPA, and BCAMFT do.


Here’s a question for you: would you be comfortable going to seek medical advice or treatment from someone who hasn’t gone to medical school? Most likely not. Based on the “competency based” approach, someone who has worked alongside doctors and completed a few courses on medical issues would be equal to someone who has completed medical school. This is precisely what some of these “competency based” organizations are suggesting you should do for counselling. This is not okay.  It is completely unethical.

Counsellors are specially trained to work with people who are going through some of the most difficult experiences in life. Further, our work has a direct impact on thought processes, social relationships, daily functioning, and a lasting physiological effect on the brains of our clients.  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 to significantly influence 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). If you are seeing a Psychologist, make sure they are part of the College of Psychologists of BCThis will assure that they have met the minimum requirements set out by counsellors and/or psychologists who have been practicing in the field. It also protects you because they are under obligation and held accountable to meet ethical standards.

If a counsellor is not a member of one of these organizations, I would question their qualifications. Sometimes, a fresh graduate with a Masters degree or Ph. D may be waiting to hear back from their application or have to take additional courses to meet criteria differences between countries. Aside from these reasons, every counsellor or psychologist should be part of one of these three organizations.



Questions To Ask Your Counsellor


Sometimes it is hard to know what type of questions to ask. You might want to find out if a counsellor’s training is adequate. Or what their experience is.  Or if they are going to be a good fit for you as a client. Here are a few sample questions you can ask any counsellor. These are designed to help you get information on their training, clinical background, and whether they are what you are looking for:


  1. Where did you get your training? What were your undergraduate and graduate degrees in?
  2. Where were your practicum / internship placements?
  3. What professional training have you completed after graduating?
  4. Do you currently have a Clinical Supervisor? If not, why not?
  5. What is your experience in professional practice? What settings have you worked in (Hospitals, Outpatient Clinics, Private Practice, Other)?
  6. What experience do you have working with the issues I am dealing with? How long do you think it will take to see change?
  7. What made you decide to become a counsellor and what are you passionate about in your work?


The last question may seem strange.  However, so much of effective counselling relies on the personhood and humanity of the counsellor. Always ask your counsellor questions that relate to their education, training, and clinical experience.  The most overlooked but equally important question is “Why are they doing this? Are they in it to help clients move forward in life?” In my experience, clients who ask these questions  gain a better insight of whether or not the counsellor-client relationship will be a good fit.  



Closing Thoughts


I hope this article helps you in choosing the right counsellor. It’s important to know what to look for and what to be careful of in order to be a wise consumer.  Registering body like the BCACC, CCPA, BCAMFT, or College of Psychologists of BC help professionals stay on top of their profession, education, and ethics. It also provides clients with reassurance that the professional has met certain standards and are reliable professionals.  “Counsellors” who don’t meet these standards, or believe in “competency based” may have the good intentions but they lack the expertise of someone who has spent years in school.

You want a professional that has gone through adequate learning, practice, and who complies to the regulation of a professional body. A professional who meets these requirements have your best interests at heart. Not someone who claims to but does not want to go through the necessary schooling or training for the profession.  It is my hope that this article helps clients feel confident in their ability to make wise decisions in their counselling journey.  As well as encourage professionals to maintain the highest standards of professional practice in our desire to help others.


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)

The Difficulties with Choosing A Counsellor in British Columbia – Part I

The Difficulties with Choosing A Counsellor in British Columbia – Part I

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 ActThe 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)