Your career

Counselling as an evolving profession


By David Johnson

I can still remember the rather wealthy woman who came to see me some 18 or so years ago, who would get her husband to drop her off some blocks away from the clinic, put on her sunglasses, and walk through the back door. She was desperate for help, and the 'risk' she took in 'being seen' was testament to her high degree of motivation to rid herself of her difficulty, and alleviate her 'risk' of exposure and shame in receiving counselling. I didn't need to see her for long - her panic condition seemed to improve very quickly.

I'm sure there will always be people around who will be inclined to feel some sense of reluctance at the prospect of attending a counsellor, but I think that phenomenon has reduced greatly over the past decade or so.

Counselling has become a lot more normal and accepted a part of our personal and professional lives these days. 

A shift in attitude towards counselling


Attitudes toward counselling are clearly on the move. In many cases, counselling itself has gone beyond being a good idea, to a requirement. We find courts requiring that people receive counselling as part of their rehabilitation. Organizations are continuing to build counselling into their rehabilitative and disciplinary protocols for employees. An increasing number of organizations are participating in Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), where they pay an annual premium so that their workers (and often the families of workers) can seek counselling (at no cost to the employee). Under many of these contracts, the employee can seek assistance in relation to any matter that may be affecting her/his performance at work. EAPs have become big business - there are many organizations now who are solely and very competitively concerned with the brokering of EAP contracts.

Now, dedicated positions for counsellors can be found in schools, hospitals, private industry, community organisations and government/semi government agencies.

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Training in counselling adds value to many professional roles  

In addition, the perceived need and demand for training in counselling has become an industry of its own. Counselling and psychology training seem to be finding their way into an increasing number of professional training programs. The clergy, GPs, nurses and police are a few examples of where professional training has begun to reflect an increasing recognition of the importance of interpersonal effectiveness.

At Ampersand Australia, we have found a growing diversity of professional interest evolving in our counselling courses.

Masseurs, nurses, rehabilitation workers, psychiatric nurses, geriatric workers, teachers, administrators, managers, even psychologists and social workers, seem to be looking for more ways to be more effective, more competent and confident in their counselling roles. Many universities are finding that more incoming students wish to enrol in first year psychology than any other subject.

Counselling roles are being more and more incorporated into existing positions, where many job descriptions have been expanded to envelope a needed counselling function. Most schools will now appoint a teacher to perform 'welfare' or 'counselling' duties. Where more resources are available, we see many private schools these days employing their own counselling staff. There is a trend among organizations involved in the people professions to appoint or roster staff members to be available for debriefing or support for fellow workers. These examples highlight the increasing need and drive to introduce counselling in new arenas, where delegation and 'multi-tasking' are often utilized to compensate for a lack of financial and/or trained resources.


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The broadening role of counselling

Terms such as depression, stress, psychological trauma, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, mania, paranoia, debriefing, anxiety and of course counselling, have become household phrases We hear them on the news, read them in the newspapers, and use them repeatedly now transparently in conversation. We hear that depression is the illness of the new millennium. Stress is affecting us all, 'it's a killer', and we need to take measures to avoid its onset.


We were invited recently to provide a 'debriefing' service for the agency contracted to do the debriefing for the 'victims' and/or 'witnesses' of a traumatic incident in our locale last year - it's counselling for the counsellors, where the professional becomes the client.

People come to counselling to have conversations not available to them outside the consulting room. The feeling of 'connecting' with another human being, of sharing intimately, is a fundamental need of us all - a necessary sustenance for our existence.

One wonders whether the technology of our modern society with all its claims to enhance our ability to communicate and connect, has in many ways robbed us of, or at least dampened our opportunity to experience the intimacy we all seek. Technology is allowing that we don't need to see folks face to face any more. We can have a mobile phone, satellite television, the internet, email, and even the internet on our mobile phones, enabling us to email from anywhere in the world with a portable device. I recently sent and received some 15 email transactions at Heathrow airport that involved various places around Australia and the world. These were transactions would not have been possible a few short years ago, and they come with the limitations of the technology. It is difficult to communicate mood via email, but it's a great medium for exchanging data. However, the possibility for intimacy is reduced.


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Counselling as a career change

It seems these days that the concept of 'career' is a lot more malleable and perhaps less relevant than it may have been in preceding decades. With the rapidly exploding rate of change we are all experiencing across technological, attitudinal, educational, economic and political domains, there seems to have been an accompanying need for greater flexibility in working roles.


Shifting career is a phenomenon known to us all, and the field of counselling has emerged as a popular and perhaps an increasingly accommodating choice in the midst of our current social milieu.

There are many of us who want to reach and be reached.

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The growing need for counsellors

Demand for training and skill enhancement in the domain of counselling is increasing exponentially. Universities and private educators alike have begun to respond to this increasing demand with a plethora of post graduate and skill based courses. Universities have noticeably become more flexible in responding to the demand for a more experientially based education, and have begun in recent years to formalize links with private educators in many of their post graduate programs to assist in meeting the degree and type of emerging demand.


We have made the point previously that long standing notions held by tertiary institutions have been challenged by the economic rationalism of our current age. The 'bottom line' practicalities of organizational survival have confronted the theoretical and analytical emphasis of what seems to be a bygone era.


Many universities and colleges are looking at how they can provide training which is relevant to the changes needing to be faced by their students. The 'publish or perish' imperative is being replaced by another imperative - 'be accountable or perish'. This new emphasis on accountability raises many concerns - not the least of which surrounds the question of whether a new style of learning, a more practically oriented learning, is now required.


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The emerging need for skills training in counselling

Practitioners are demanding that their training place a greater emphasis on outcome as distinct from accentuating intellectual pursuit. They appear to be asking for training that will give them more confidence and competence in their work. Professional development has needed to go beyond simply providing ideas or theories. Professionals seem to be repeatedly asking for skills training directed at more effective and efficient outcomes.


The recent explosion in practically oriented books and journals on counselling technique and approaches, testifies to this trend in demand for relevant, practical, respectful, effective and competency based training.

The changes and trends pointed to here do not provide a complete list or overview by any means, but begin to sketch the massive swell of interest, demand and need emerging. The profession of counselling has not before seen the scope of such change, certainly not in my lifetime. The ground is literally moving and we all may need to take the strongest foothold we can to best place ourselves.

By electing to move into the counselling field at this time, you will have chosen perhaps the most exciting and generative time yet to get involved in this work. Opportunity has never been greater.


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Professional accreditation and support for a growing profession

Organizations such as PACFASCAPE and ASOCHA represent a response to this rapidly changing, exploding environment - a foothold. Organizations that provide for: standards of training and qualification; protection for both public and professionals; and a place for professionals to meet, ground themselves, improve their skills, reflect on the work and its impact, design and share better strategies, support each other and broaden perspective.

ASOCHA not only provides Ampersand Australia graduates with such a foothold at a local level, but provides a connecting route to national recognition via the standards established through PACFA, which has emerged as the most prominent and potent professional body for our field in Australia.

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National recognition and standards of training for students and graduates through Ampersand Australia

As an organization that trains counsellors and hypnotherapists, we have positioned ourselves in this movement to professionalize counselling and psychotherapy. Our earliest graduates have been trained to the standards that have applied through PACFA.


At present, students who are currently enrolled in our programs are immediately eligible to be professionally supported through an Associate Membership of ASOCHA , enabling them to attend our annual National Conference and participate in all the activities and services of the Association.


With further training through Ampersand Australia, graduates can reach a level of training, counselling experience and supervision that will allow them Full Membership of ASOCHA and attain the minimum level of training set by PACFA .

Ampersand Australia is set up to take graduates all the way through to becoming listed on the National Register of Counsellors with PACFA, as many of our graduates have done in recent years. 

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