What is counselling psychology?
Counselling psychology is essentially talk-therapy; a treatment form that involves discussion of issues with a trained professional who is bound by confidentiality and privacy via their professional standing.
You have probably assumed the role of a counsellor at some point in your life. A professional counsellor however is highly trained and can harness their experience and robust counselling approaches to assists their clients. Talking to a counsellor is quite different from talking to a family member or close friend who are often emotionally invested and therefore likely to hold their own biases which may negatively impact on the exchange.
Generally, Counsellors have exceptional communications skills and can build rapport with the client, instilling a sense of respect, trust and understanding, while still maintaining a degree of professional distance to avoid emotional involvement.
One of the fundamental principles of counselling is the belief that clients can essentially help themselves when provided with the appropriate guidance and support. Good counselling empowers the client to make sense of what is unfolding in their own life and to make decisions that positively impact their behaviour and improve their overall quality of life.
When things are unfolding favourably in life everything feels easier and we are less likely to seek out the support of others. Counsellors tend to assist more when we encounter hardship, upsets, setbacks or general difficulties that impede our ability to thrive.
Counselling then provides a safe space to express the feelings associated with life’s difficulties such as stress, depression, anger, anxiety, guilty, fear, helplessness. Talking about these feelings allows one to process what is happening and to weave the traditionally negative experiences that have caused them into the rich tapestry that is life, and what it is to live a fulfilling life. Each life is unique, and everyone experiences different challenges, one’s life journey is to accumulate the coping skills for what you have been through.
What is well-being counselling?
That said there is a huge movement towards well-being counselling, suggesting that you do not necessarily need to be struggling or to have experienced something extreme or negative to engage in counselling.
In this context counselling gives you the opportunity to talk about your thoughts and feelings and to find solutions appropriate for your context.
Everyone can benefit from counselling as exploring the assumptions you have about yourself and your life openly with a counselling professional may help identify areas of improvements in your own behaviours enabling you to be a better parent, partner, employer etc and to derive greater pleasure and meaning from life in general.
What is a counselling psychologist?
Counselling psychology is the field of psychology focused on overall emotional and social well-being at all life stages. Counselling psychologists do not focus on mental disorders per say. The profession is orientated around assisting clients to function better in the daily lives.
Counselling psychologists are registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and are a category of psychologist generally referred to as ‘Registered Counsellors’.
From the point of view of their professional approach, counselling psychologists apply a range of culturally sensitive approaches to improving well-being. Multicultural counselling is becoming increasingly important as the populations diversify around the world.
Cultural awareness is very relevant here as the ways of explaining things may vary greatly between clients of different cultures and the counsellor needs to have the skills to distil and understand what is being communicated and respond in a culturally appropriate manner. Essentially the counsellor needs to be able to talk to the client and approach the counselling with a sensitivity and understanding of the client’s world.
Counsellors play an important role in prevention and fostering personal growth and development. Early contact with a counsellor can help to prevent more serious mental disorders which would necessitate the involvement of a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist who diagnose and treat severe mental illnesses. It goes without say that counselling psychologists operate with an acute awareness to their scope of practice and can refer clients within the profession if/when deemed necessary. Some counsellors also assist in vocational or career counselling.
What is the difference between counselling and clinical psychologists?
There is a large overlap between counselling and clinical psychologists in terms of both practice patterns and types of problems seen by clinical and counselling psychologists. In theory clinical psychologists focus on the more serious mental health issues and the formal diagnosis and treatment thereof, while counselling psychologists focus on the less severe mental health issues and interrelation issues.
What is a general counsellor?
In additional to the Registered Counsellors (a type of psychologist) there are also ‘General Counsellors’. In South Africa, the registration body for these counsellors is the Association for Supportive Counsellors and Holistic Practitioners (ASCHP). These counsellors do not work with mental disorders or dysfunctions but are authorised to assist individuals and families in a more holistic manner with a focus on wellness. Frequently referred to as Wellness Counsellors or Life Coaches, these counsellors tend to charge lower rates and are not permitted to claim from medical aids.
What is a counselling session?
A counselling session is simply the time devoted by a client and a therapist to engage in counselling therapy. The duration of counselling therapy can be both short and long term, depending on the client’s needs. For long term therapy it is commonplace to establish a specific weekly meeting time for the purposes of counselling.
Traditionally a counselling session takes place in a consulting room for a predetermined time. The consulting room is a secure and safe physical place where the responsibility for privacy and confidentially rests largely with the counsellor.
These days however there is ample evidence to suggest that online sessions are equally effective, specifically in counselling, and provide myriad benefits to clients by reducing costs, improving access and convenience.
What is an online session?
Online sessions are conducted via secure virtual rooms, in the form of a video-call. The advances in technology mean that standard internet connections are robust enough to provide quality voice and video imagery which is almost real-time.
The one distinction between physical and virtual rooms is that in the case of online sessions both counsellor and client can be physically anywhere (as opposed to confined in the physical consultation room) and as such the onus shifts onto the online session participants to ensure that the place from where the session is attended is safe, secure and private.
It is also important to be aware of the inherit privacy and confidentiality risks of using technology and ensure that these risks have been mitigated via use of encryption and appropriately compliant video conferencing software.