Recently, a client said to me “what’s with all the counsellors around nowadays? Seems like anyone can hang a shingle.” What she means is, seems like anyone thinks they can be a “counsellor” of some kind. Of course, not just anyone can be a counsellor. There are a lot of different ways in which people are offering service regarding personal development and mental health and wellness however. You can see labels such as psychologist, social worker, counsellor, addictions worker, life coach, art therapist, etc. How then, does one go about choosing a ‘counsellor’?
I think the first step is to understand what it is you are after. Are you trying to address issues of mental health and wellness? Cope with addictions? Reach certain goals in life and/or business? Once you identify what your intention is, you need to consider the qualifications and credentials of the people you will approach to provide a service to you. A really critical part of qualifications is whether the person is Licensed/Registered to provide the service (more on this below). Remember, you are hiring them to provide a service for you, so you are responsible to ensure you are choosing the most qualified person for the job. Just as when you hire someone to build you a new house, you’re going to want to make sure they have the knowledge and experience to do so.
You are responsible to ask the potential counsellor or therapist if and where they are licensed or registered. Why is this important? There are Professional Associations that ensure professionals conducting business in the province have the appropriate ethics, education, ongoing training, insurance, compliance with provincial laws and regulations, etc. Doctors, lawyers, psychologists, nurses, dentists, and social workers are examples of professionals that are governed and regulated by Professional Associations. These Associations ensures that professionals follow Standards of Practice and Codes of Ethics and are accountable to their clients for high quality service.
Not all educations are accompanied by a provincial regulatory body, therefore some people will register with Federal programs such as Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA). This is sort of a catch all regulatory body for people with educations in counselling that do not have a specific professional association (such as a Masters in Counselling or Masters in Art Therapy). You may note that these counsellors have a CCPA designation behind their name. This is a reputable organization with a code of ethics, and while it is willing to ‘register’ counsellors, it cannot provide regulations to provincial standards as all provinces are different.
Therefore it does point out that professionals should strive to be registered within the province in which they practice (see https://www.ccpa-accp.ca/profession/).
In terms of education, do know that there is a difference between certificates, diplomas and degrees. For example, Addiction Worker diploma programs are generally 2 years in length and focus in a specialized area of chemical dependency (see http://saskpolytech.ca/programs-and-courses/programs/Addictions-Counselling.aspx). Mental Health and Addiction Worker Certificate programs are meant for entry level positions (see http://saskpolytech.ca/programs-and-courses/programs/Mental-Health-and-Addictions-Worker.aspx). Degrees in psychology and social work are minimum 4 year program, often longer or inclusive of years of work experience as well. These professionals will work with more in-depth mental health and wellness issues in a broader range of practice from self-development to trauma recovery. You want to ensure you choose a professional with the education and experience to best meet your needs.
The Clinicians here at Turquoise Tree also believe that all good professionals and counsellors will have a counsellor or mentor of their own that continues to challenge them and helps them to grow personally and professionally. We are not objective to ourselves. Sometimes we can’t identify where in our personal life we need to grow, or where our professional skills need to be sharpened and challenged. Mentors are a crucial part of a professional’s skills set.
So to recap, when seeking a counsellor, as the following questions:
What is your education? How does that prepare to address [my issue]?
What is your registration or licensing body?
What kind of training do you continue to do to ensure you have strong skills?
Do you have a mentor? Would they provide a reference for you if I wanted one?
What is your business or practice mission statement or value statement?
Have you worked with [my issue] before, and if so, how did you address it?
These are questions that we have been specifically asked by clients in the past. It is also information we try to make explicit to our clients so that they are confident from the outset they are making the best choice for themselves. If you have any questions for us, please don’t hesitate to call or email.