It can be difficult to know where to start to look for a counsellor and what to look for in one. Knowing more will help you feel more confident about choosing the right one for you.
Finding a counsellor
There are a few ways to go about finding a counsellor.
Through you GP
It is worth asking your own doctor first. Many GP practices now employ counsellors. Even if there isn't one at your doctor's surgery, they will be aware of counselling services in your area and can point you in the right direction.
Your doctor or a nurse practitioner can make a referral for you.
Through your cancer centre
Your cancer treatment centre may have a list of local, experienced counsellors.
Some cancer centres employ their own counsellors and others may have psychologists or psychiatrists as part of the team.
Do check out what is already available before looking elsewhere, as this is usually a free service.
Finding a counsellor yourself
You will need to find a list of counselling organisations or individual counsellors in your area.
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has a directory of counsellors and therapists on their website. Or you can ask them to send you a list of approved counsellors in your area.
You could also get in touch with the UK Council for Psychotherapy and look for local registered therapists on their website.
Or you could look in your local phone book for a list of counselling organisations. The library or Citizens Advice may also be able to help.
Many cancer support groups have professional counsellors working with them or in contact with them. Macmillan Cancer Support has a directory of support groups on their website.
How much counselling costs
Many of the counselling services organised through cancer support groups, the NHS, or voluntary services are free.
Many organisations charge, but have a sliding scale. They will discuss with you what you can afford at your first appointment.
This means your counselling could be free or cost anything up to their full charge per session, depending on your income. Other professional counsellors have a fixed fee, which is usually somewhere between £10 and £80 per hour.
You may want to ask about the cost when you phone up for an initial appointment. Many of us are embarrassed about talking about money, so this way you will have an idea of what the costs are before you go.
What to look for in a counsellor
It’s important to take a little care in finding someone you feel comfortable with.
One off first appointment
All professional counsellors offer a one off first appointment to discuss what you are looking for and hope to get out of the counselling.
They won't be offended if you decide that you don’t want counselling with them and will be happy to help you to find someone else.
There are other things to look out for. Unfortunately there are some (often well meaning) people who are not proper counsellors, but think they can help.
Sometimes they can. But frequently they may do more harm than good by getting in more deeply than they can handle.
If that happens, you could find you have opened up an emotional wound and the help you need to heal it may not be there.
What to ask about when choosing a counsellor
If you have important issues to get to grips with, then you will do best with professional help. Here are some questions to ask.
- Does the counsellor have experience in working with cancer issues?
- Was the counsellor's training properly accredited?
- Does the counsellor work to a recognised code of practice?
- How long have they been working as a counsellor?
- Does the counsellor have professional clinical supervision?
- Does the counsellor have regular training to keep professionally up to date?
It may feel a bit awkward asking these questions because it can feel that you are questioning their ability to do their job, and we're not used to doing that.
Your counsellor won't be embarrassed and will expect you to ask them.
Accreditation, ongoing support and training
Counsellors should be trained, have accreditation and follow a code of practice.They should be taking part in regular clinical supervision and ideally taking part in regular training.
Accreditation and training
If your counsellor has accreditation from a recognised professional body, then you know that they have the skills they need to help you properly.
They should have completed an approved training course, and meet that organisation's requirements for continued practice.
Ideally, they should be accredited by a recognised organisation such as The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or the UK Association for Humanistic Practitioners (UKAHPP).
If they are a psychotherapist they should be registered with the UK Council for Psychotherapy.
Some other professionals (for example GPs, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers) will have had training in counselling skills as well. Not all of them have though, so it’s important for you to check this out by asking some of the questions listed above.
Code of practice
A code of practice means the counsellor has certain standards to keep to.
Because of the professional bodies that counsellors and therapists can join, there are different codes of practice.
Counsellors who are recognised by the following organisations keep to an ethical framework:
- British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy
- UK Council for Psychotherapy
- UK Association for Humanistic Practitioners
The code or framework should include confidentiality, training and supervision.
Other professionals will have their own codes, which you can ask them about (for example the Code of Conduct of the British Psychological Society).
Clinical supervision means that the counsellor sees another professional counsellor or therapist regularly to talk about how their work is going.
Clinical supervision is really necessary for the counsellor to stay detached from their clients’ problems. The supervisor can help the counsellor to keep an open mind about the things they are dealing with.
The counsellor maintains confidentiality because the supervisor won't know you and your counsellor won't give your full name. The supervisor is also bound to keep what is discussed confidential.
Regular training is a good thing because it means the counsellor is always looking to improve their skills.
Keeping their skills up to date and learning new ones can help them to help you.