What is Counselling?


Counselling involves a special type of
relationship and the term counselling relationship may be more accurate in
describing the subject; emphasising that it involves and is therapeutic because
of this relationship. Counselling can also be described as a principled
relationship; based on a clear code of ethics and practice; being confidential,
private and non-judgemental. Counselling involves a trusting relationship and
cannot proceed effectively without this trust present.

A counsellor gives a person time and attention; is patient, and respectful of
the individuals autonomy. The counsellor facilitates the counselling process in
a way that allows exploration and expression of feelings, thoughts, concerns and
intentions. As trust develops the person starts to consider aspects of their
life unapproached up to this point and begins to develop a different or deeper
understanding of the problem and themselves. The person often gains a greater
sense of self-value through the counselling relationship and process. The
counsellor highlights the options that are revealing themselves which can lead
to changes taking place in the persons circumstances. Any choice of action is
left for the individual to choose. Personal autonomy is of fundamental
importance in counselling and respected at all times; the person makes their own
decisions and decides if or when to put ideas into action.

People come to counsellors with a wide range of
issues: distress about a relationship; anxiety and panic attacks;
dissatisfaction with life; a loss of a sense of direction or purpose; unresolved
grief; low self esteem; depression; ; sexual abuse; addiction problems;
sexuality issues or to seek increased personal effectiveness in relationships or
general personal growth. Some counsellors will specialise in particular areas,
thus we have addiction counsellors, bereavement counsellors etc. Counselling may
end after one session (this may be all that the person wants or needs) or may
continue for several weeks, months or years.

“At its core counselling is a searching human relationship where the client and
the counsellor are committed to finding creative responses to the client’s
present difficulties and needs.” IACP (1995).


Good and bad practice in
Counselling and Psychotherapy

You may get in touch with a counsellor or psychotherapist through contacting
GCS, through your G.P., or by recommendation. You are paying for a service so
don’t feel obliged to continue with someone who you do not feel comfortable
with. You may find someone with an excellent reputation with whom you feel no
rapport or another who is warm and friendly but unhelpful. A good therapist
should receive you with respect, warmth, acceptance and an open mind. You may
want to ask if the therapist has experience and training with your particular
problem. Effective therapy involves a balance of support and challenge. Good
practice involves checking out your expectations and wants at the start of the
work and periodically. The therapist should also give you
information/explain/discuss such things as the limits of confidentiality and
cancellation policy.

Don’t put up with a therapist who does not adhere to personal boundaries. The
therapeutic hour is yours: a therapist who is frequently late, takes phone
calls, leaves early or is frequently distracted is not abiding by the boundaries
of the therapy. Self-disclosure by the therapist can be useful at times, if used
skilfully and sparingly, however it is not helpful for the therapist to talk too
much about themselves or their own lives. It is also inappropriate, unethical
and unprofessional for a therapist to have a sexual relationship with a client.
and similarly to have any other relationship with you presides being your
counsellor. Such behaviour should be reported to their professional
organisation. Other dual relationships that are bad practice include one
therapist seeing both individuals separately in a close relationship. Other
examples of bad practice would include distractions in or outside the room,
seeing you in the therapists bedroom! Essentially any consistent disruption to
your privacy and confidentiality is bad practice. The therapist should make it
clear if they are still in training and not advertise inaccurate information.

A therapist should regularly review with you how the therapy is progressing.
Always take note of any uncomfortable feelings you experience and share these
with your therapist in the first instance. At present there is no legal
restraint to stop anybody putting up a sign and calling themselves a counsellor
or psychotherapist. Always check the persons credentials with the appropriate
body below. Unless they are in training or working towards accreditation status
(in which case they must inform you of this in advertising material and in their
first contact with you) they will be registered with one of these organisations.
Accredited means fully qualified, experienced, abides by a code of ethics and
have regular supervision. For a listing of accredited therapists contact one of
the professional bodies in Ireland listed below.

Click Irish Council for Psychotherapy

for contact
details of psychotherapists (IAHIP, IFPP, FTAI).

IACP (Counselling), Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, 8
Cumberland St., Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin. Tel: 01 2300061. Web site:


IFPP (analytical), Irish Forum for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Tel: 01 4513076

FTAI (family therapy), Tel: 01 2722105

PSI (psychologist), Isolde Blau, Psychological Society of Ireland, CX house,
Corn exchange pl., Poolbeg St., D.2