How to find a counsellor

There are a few ways to go about finding a counsellor:

It is worth asking your own doctor first. Many GP practices now have counsellors. Even if there isn't one at your doctor's surgery, they will be aware of counselling services in your area. They can point you in the right direction.

Your doctor or a nurse practitioner can make a referral for you.

Your cancer treatment centre may have a list of local, experienced counsellors.

Some cancer centres have their own counsellors. Others may have psychologists or psychiatrists as part of the team.

Check what is available before looking elsewhere. This is usually a free service.

Find a list of counselling organisations or individual counsellors in your area.

You can look at The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). They have 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. Look for local registered therapists on their website.

How much counselling costs

Many free counselling services are organised through:

  • cancer support groups
  • the NHS
  • voluntary services

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. It will depend on your income. Other professional counsellors have a fixed fee. This 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. If you ask, 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. During this appointment, you 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. They will be happy to help you to find someone else.

Professionally qualified

There are other things to look out for. Unfortunately, there are some (often well meaning) people who are not proper counsellors. But they think they can help.

Sometimes they can. But, they may do more harm if they open up more in you than they can handle.

If that happens, you could find you have opened up an emotional wound and not have the help you need to heal.

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. 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

Your counsellor should have accreditation from a recognised professional body. That way, you know they have the skills to help you.

They should have completed an approved training course. They should also 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)
  • UK Association for Humanistic Practitioners (UKAHPP)

A psychotherapist should be registered with the UK Council for Psychotherapy.

Some other professionals might also have training in counselling skills. They include:

  • GPs
  • nurses
  • psychologists
  • psychiatrists
  • social workers

Not all 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.

Different professional bodies have 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. You can ask them about it. An example is the Code of Conduct of the British Psychological Society.

Clinical supervision

Clinical supervision means the counsellor regularly talks about how their work is going. They can talk to:

  • another professional counsellor
  • a therapist

Clinical supervision is necessary for a counsellor. It helps them 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. This is because the supervisor won't know you. Your counsellor won't give your full name. The supervisor is also bound to keep what is discussed confidential.

Ongoing training

Regular training is a good thing. 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.

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