Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Personal Growth Matters - How To Choose a Counsellor

When you are experiencing psychological distress; it could be grief, depression, anxiety, anger, addiction, trauma or relationship problems, you might decide to seek professional help but Where do you begin? Who do you trust? What do you look for in an “expert”? These are hard decisions when you are vulnerable or in crisis.

Remember, this is a commercial transaction; you are a customer and, just as when you buy any other good or service, you have a right to shop around, be discerning and find the right match for your particular needs.

Qualifications & Skills
Counselling is a combination of knowledge, interpersonal skills and experience. It is essential your counsellor has recognised qualifications. However helping professionals come with a range of assorted qualifications.

Someone with a degree in psychology, for example, might have academic training in statistics and research, laboratory experiments or a narrow doctorate subject but lack listening skills and personal qualities such as empathy and understanding.

A counsellor might lack a university background, however he/she might be a caring listener and skilled at drawing out the client’s own suppressed feelings and insight.

Request an initial meeting and ask the person about their qualifications, skills and experience and also ask about their “approach”. Do you feel comfortable with the person?

Style & Approach
Humans are made up of three parts: body, soul and spirit. Which part of you is hurting? Which part needs help?

The body will express physical symptoms when the mind is out of sorts, and might require changes to diet, exercise or sleep habits. You might have a physical ailment or hormonal or brain chemical imbalance and require medication prescribed by a doctor or psychiatrist.

Perhaps your spiritual self is in need of guidance and you would be wise to turn to a church or your personal faith.

The “soul” (mind or psyche) is comprised of three aspects: cognitive/thinking; feelings/emotional and decisions/behaviour. This is the area that psychologists, counsellors and psychotherapists focus on.

Some are Cognitive-Behavioural. They will focus on changing your thinking and behaviour. Some will give directive advice.

Others, from the Psychotherapy school, focus on your emotional state and exploring issues from your present situation and past, encouraging the client to express pent-up emotions and develop insight.

Usually counsellors favour one approach or the other. However, the well-rounded counsellor encompasses beliefs, feelings and behaviour.

Values & Ethics
Counsellors are meant to be neutral and objective. I believe this is impossible. All of us have our own values, ethics, morals, issues, biases and agendas.

Instead of pretending to be objective, it is my view, that counsellors should be up front and inform their client of the values that steer their counselling. For example, a counsellor might believe strongly in marriage and be committed to helping save a troubled marriage while another counsellor might believe a client would grow and develop by leaving a troubled marriage. (Quite possibly the counsellor chose to leave her/his own marriage.)

Counsellors with Christian principles tend to support solving marital problems and working toward a happy, life-long marriage rather than breaking up.

If divorce is inevitable, a responsible counsellor will recognise this event as a significant trauma and recommend on-going support.

Be aware of a counsellor’s stated or un-stated values and ensure his/her values match your own.

It is common for a vulnerable person to view a counsellor as an expert or parent-figure and be overly influenced. Good counselling will empower you to find emotional health, your own values and ethics and make your own decisions.

Diane Priestley is a Certified Professional Counsellor with the Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors (AIPC) Diploma of Counselling with triple major in Relationships, Abuse & Trauma and Grief and Authorised Instructor in Effectiveness Training communication skills with the Effectiveness Training Institute of Australia (ETIA). She holds Christian values and recommends a ‘client-centred’ approach, rather than an overtly directive approach to counselling.

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