Bay Counselling & Therapy Services has the philosophy that;
- Counselling involves valuing your beliefs rather than the counsellor's beliefs.
- Counselling enables you to make effective decisions, take responsibility for your own life, develop different perspectives of yourself and others and maintain good self esteem.
The counselling process has three steps:
- identifying the issues
- becoming aware of them in a total sense
- developing a plan of action to resolve them
A professional counselling team which is fully trained and supervised offers you a wider range of skills and experiences.
Issues seldom exist in isolation and where possible and appropriate, those around you may also need to be involved in the counselling process.
Choosing A Counsellor
You can ask friends, colleagues and trusted health workers to recommend counsellors.
Most counsellors have guidelines about seeing acquaintances, work mates, friends or partners of those people.
Similarly counsellors tend to avoid working with people who are close to their clients (eg. partners, flatmates, etc) unless it is for couple counselling or issues the two of you may want to work on together.
In small communities it may be unavoidable that you know your counsellor in another setting. This is something you need to talk about before beginning counselling. You may decide to avoid social contact with each other for the duration of the counselling.
What Is Counselling?
Many counsellors work in both therapy and counselling at different times. Roughly speaking, therapy tends to go on over a longer period than counselling (though it can be focused and short term also) and may look in detail at your life history, early experiences and internal conflicts.
Counselling tends to focus more on immediate problems in your current life and assumes that you already have good coping skills. Counselling is often very focused on the issues that are uppermost for you at the time. It will concentrate on developing skills to deal with that issue.
It is important to "shop around" until you find a counsellor you feel happy working with. Background reading can be helpful, on styles of counselling or personal accounts of counselling, Eg. "In Our Own Hands" by Sheila Ernst and Lucy Goodison lists questions to ask to get a feeling on how the counsellor will work with you. You can save time and money by asking some questions on the phone before making an appointment.
Details of payment should be arranged before the first session. Fees vary, and some counsellors offer sliding scales of payment, depending on the financial situation of the client. Clients are usually expected to pay at the end of each session. If your counsellor asks for payment in advance, find out how you will be refunded if either of you cease the counselling arrangement.
As a consumer of a professional service you have the same rights as any consumer, Eg. good reliable service, value for money, to be informed of any changes in the service that is offered, etc. Counsellors should not charge high fees, keep you waiting, cut your session short, ask favours of you, etc.
You Might Ask
- What style of counselling do you use?
- What is your training and background?
- Where did you train and for how long?
- How long have you been working as a counsellor?
- What is your fee?
- When are appointments available?
- How often would you expect to see me and for how long?
- What is your cultural background?
- Do you offer couple or family counselling?
- Are you experienced in working with drugs and alcohol dependency / sexual abuse / eating problems etc?
- Do you have regular supervision?
- Who is your supervisor?
- Do you belong to a professional body or community organisation?
The first session can also be a time to explore how you might get on. You might also want to take a list of questions with you to this first session.
You have the right to stop counselling at any time you choose and for whatever reason, eg. you feel that the issue is resolved, you want to break off from dealing with the issue, you don't like the counsellor or his / her methods, you can't afford it anymore, etc. You don't have to explain or justify to your counsellor your decision to leave.
Did You Know That...?
- It is not okay for counsellors to have sex with their clients
- You can discontinue your counselling at any time
- Most counsellors won't see clients who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- You should let your counsellor know if you cannot make it to a session on time, there may be a cancellation fee
- If you feel dissatisfied with your counsellor you need to discuss this with them
- It can be helpful to have a counsellor who is of the same gender, sexual orientation and cultural background as yourself
Your counsellor has an obligation to you to keep what you tell him / her confidential unless they have a very good reasons for not doing so, ie. the safety of yourself or, other people.
Your counsellor should tell you what the reasons are, when they intend sharing the information and who with. Your counsellor may also want to talk to other counsellors or health professionals you have seen, but again should discuss this with you in advance and get your permission, unless your safety is at risk.
Counsellors need regular supervision to monitor and receive feedback on their work, and to discuss any issues that arise for them in the course of their counselling. You have the right to know who your counsellor receives supervision from.
When you agree to work with each other you and your counsellor enter into a contract. It may be verbal or written. If you are having counselling for the first time you may not be clear about what to expect or what your responsibilities are. To get the most out of counselling, you need to be honest with yourself and with your counsellor.
You have practical responsibilities, such as;
- being on time
- giving at least 24 hours notice of cancellation or the full fee will be charged
- not being under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- making payments as you have agreed
It is usual for counsellors to keep written records of sessions. Counsellors should make their notes available to clients on request.
Ask you counsellor about their policy on this. Notes should be kept in a safe place, ideally under lock and key.
Though written notes are confidential, they can be seen by the counsellor's supervisor. If you have concerns about sensitive information about you, Eg. your sexual preference, being passed on, please ask your counsellor not to record this.
You have the right to know what will happen to information collected about you, Eg.for agency statistics. Notes can be subpoenaed if they are considered relevant evidence in a crime, but this is rare.
Agencies and individual counsellors have different policies on how records are kept and what happens to them once counselling stops. Again, ask your counsellor about their policy on this. Bay Counselling & Therapy Service practitioners keep notes for 10 years as per the law.
In our communities, it is likely that clients and counsellors will meet socially. It is important to address this possibility in the first session and establish guidelines.
Some clients prefer to ignore the counsellor in public, while others agree to acknowledge each others presence with a smile or a "hello". You may need to consider what you'll tell people who ask "Oh, do you know...?"
During the course of counselling it is not appropriate for clients and their counsellors to invite each other to social occasions or to have more than superficial contact when they meet socially.
In counselling the focus will be on your relationship and what happens between the two of you. Your counsellor will see you and your partner together, though they may also ask to see each of you separately to work on issues about your relationship.
Groups are run both for therapy and for support. It is important for group leaders and members to know which type of group they are in, as this will determine how they are run.
Ground rules need to be set in the first session. A main rule in most groups is that group members maintain confidentiality. "What is said in the group, stays in the group". If someone breaks this rule, they may need to leave the group.
Other common ground rules are that violence will not be tolerated, smoking is not allowed in the group, members do not interrupt each other etc.
Family Therapy involves seeking help for problems within your family. This could be your family of origin or your chosen family. Family members are seen together and sometimes separately. Because this is such a complex area, ask your counsellor how much training and experiences they have had in family therapy before you begin.
Each culture has its own ethics, way of handling conflict and experiences of racism.
Ideally, women and men should have access to counsellors from their own cultures. Sometimes people deliberately choose a counsellor outside their culture because of the smallness of their community. When this happens, or when a culturally-appropriate counsellor is not available, it is the counsellor's duty to familiarise themselves with that client's culture.
When possible, the counsellor should seek supervision from an appropriate person from the client's culture. It is not the client's responsibility to educate the counsellor.
Alcohol & Drugs
Because these are mood altering substances they will have an impact on your counselling. If you have a problem in these areas and want to work on them directly you will need to see a counsellor who specialises in working with these issues.
Most counsellors have rules that they will not work with a client who comes to a session under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
They may contract with you to focus on your drug intake as well as the other issues you came to discuss or they may refer you onto someone who specialises in their field before they will work with you on other themes.
It may be that at some time in your counselling you feel suicidal. It is important for you to discuss this with your counsellor. You both have rights in this situation.
You have the right to determine the course of your life.
Your counsellor has the right to uphold their ethical beliefs and they have professional obligations to ensure your safety.
If your counsellor feels your safety is at risk, they may want to talk to your partner, your friends or family and perhaps your doctor. They may make a contract with you that they won't try to stop you, but that you must notify them if you are acting on your suicidal feelings. They have the responsibility to tell you what steps they will take to keep you safe, before they take them.
Counsellors are sometimes confronted with violence from clients or with the knowledge that their client either is violent themselves or the victim of violence.
Your counsellor has a responsibility to intervene if they fear for their own or someone else's safety. This may involve them breaching confidentiality to protect you, themselves or others at risk. They may need to contact the appropriate authorities (Police, Crisis Team).
It is NOT OK for counsellors to have sexual relationships with their clients. This is an abuse of power by the counsellor. It is against the code of ethics for all professional counselling and therapy organisations in New Zealand.
It is your counsellor's responsibility to behave ethically in the counselling situation. If you both wish to pursue an intimate relationship then your counselling should stop and both of you should seek counselling with someone else to discuss this issue.
There is an unavoidable imbalance in power in the counselling relationship, because you will reveal your vulnerabilities to your counsellor while they will keep theirs to themself. This is helpful in a healthy counselling relationship, but it can be abused by unethical therapists and counsellors. You have the right to refuse any behaviour by your counsellor which you consider to be sexually orientated. This may include discussions of their attraction to you, touching, unwanted inquiries into your sex life, or any other behaviour that you consider to be sexualised.
You have the right to;
- challenge this behaviour
- stop the counselling
- make an ethical complaint to the counsellor's agency, professional body (N.Z.A.P, N.Z.A.C, N.Z.Ps.S) or if they are an agency, then to the director.
Belonging to a registered body or working for an agency is no guarantee of competence or ethical behaviour in a counsellor. Counselling agencies should have guidelines and procedures for handling complaints. These will vary from agency to agency.
If guidelines have not been made clear and you have a complaint, you can contact the director of the agency. Private counsellors and therapists may be answerable to a registered body, such as the New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists, the New Zealand Association of Counsellors, or the New Zealand Psychological Society which have complaints procedures.
Ideally, the counsellor will advise clients of their lines of accountability at the beginning of counselling, either verbally, by a notice on the wall, or in a pamphlet or card that is given to clients. If it is not clear, the client can ask. Clients need this information before they can proceed with an official complaint. If a counsellor does not work for an agency or belong to a professional body, the client can still take action. You can;
- Make a complaint directly to the counsellor
- Stop seeing the counsellor
- Talk to the Health & Disability Advocate / Service
- If it involves criminal behaviour, notify the police
- Both agree to ask someone to be a mediator in your dispute
The therapists and counsellors at Bay Counselling & Therapy Service all support and endorse the above which was prepared to provide clients with information from which to make informed choices.