A Short Introduction to Counselling Psychology


Vanja Orlans & Susan Van Scoyoc

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  • Short Introductions to the Therapy Professions

    Series Editor: Colin Feltham

    Books in this series examine the different professions which provide help for people experiencing emotional or psychological problems. Written by leading practitioners and trainers in each field, the books are a source of up-to-date information about

    • the nature of the work
    • training, continuing professional development and career pathways
    • the structure and development of the profession
    • client populations and consumer views
    • research and debates surrounding the profession.

    Short Introductions to the Therapy Professions are ideal for anyone thinking about a career in one of the therapy professions or in the early stages of training. The books will also be of interest to mental health professionals needing to understand allied professions and also to patients, clients and relatives of service users.

    Books in the series:

    A Short Introduction to Clinical Psychology

    Katherine Cheshire and David Pilgrim

    A Short Introduction to Psychoanalysis

    Jane Milton, Caroline Polmear and Julia Fabricius

    A Short Introduction to Psychiatry

    Linda Gask

    A Short Introduction to Psychotherapy

    edited by Christine Lister-Ford


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    About the Authors

    Vanja Orlans, PhD, Dip. GPTI, AFBPsS, is a chartered counselling psychologist, a chartered occupational psychologist, a UKCP Registered Psychotherapist, a Foundation Member with Senior Practitioner Status, BPS Register of Psychologists Specialising in Psychotherapy, and Visiting Professor at Middlesex University. She has extensive training and experience in a range of approaches to therapeutic work, as well as in the understanding of group and organizational dynamics, and has been working with individuals and groups in many different settings for over 20 years. Vanja is currently Joint Head of the Integrative Department at the Metanoia Institute in London, and Programme Leader of the BPS accredited Doctorate in Counselling Psychology and Psychotherapy by Professional Studies (DCPsych), a joint programme with Middlesex University. She also runs a private practice in psychotherapy, counselling, coaching and supervision.

    Susan Van Scoyoc, BSc, MSc, is a chartered counselling psychologist, a chartered health psychologist, and a Foundation Member with Senior Practitioner Status, BPS Register of Psychologists Specialising in Psychotherapy. She is currently Registrar for the Qualification in Counselling Psychology at the British Psychological Society and Past Chair of the BPS Division of Counselling Psychology. Susan is also an Integrative Psychotherapist with a special interest in relationships, and a registered ‘expert witness’ working in areas such as human rights, family law and cognitive testing.


    What is counselling psychology? This is a frequent question, both from those who are seeking to understand the work of counselling psychologists and at times from counselling psychologists themselves. In the course of undertaking and working on this project we have had many long conversations in which we sometimes could answer this question and at other times became confused or unconfident. This left us curious about the links between our experience and the field itself. A number of themes emerged for us as a result of this reflective process and the research which we have undertaken for this book.

    Firstly, there is the fact that counselling psychology appears to sit somewhere between scientific psychology, at least as traditionally defined, and the more creative realm of artistry, reflection and self-awareness. A series of polarities and related tensions appeared to inhabit the field – male/female, hard science/soft science, thinking/feeling, subjective/objective, doing/being, one theory/many theories.

    Secondly, it appeared that a perspective on these tensions which could constitute a clear identity had yet to be defined, made more difficult in our view by the gradual separation of mainstream psychology from its parent discipline of philosophy. We came to recognize what a challenge it is to articulate a coherent professional identity; the field is so wide ranging, encompassing potentially so many approaches. It seemed to us that the identity of this profession would be better encapsulated by the capacity to hold tensions rather than to resolve them.

    Thirdly, it seemed to us that our personal experiences of these issues could reflect both individual and institutional dynamics in that a number of issues could manifest at either level. We considered that it might be the challenging nature of these tensions and dynamics, and the resulting difficulty of articulating a conclusive or collective position, that contributes at times to the dilemma of making a clear choice and taking a stand, and to an apparent lack of clear ‘speaking out’ in favour of the field, at least in the wider professional community.

    In researching areas for the different chapters we came to see how wide-ranging and complex the field of counselling psychology actually is. The profession sits somewhat uncomfortably in the family of psychologies – indeed, if we accept that metaphor we could view the system as a whole as a somewhat dysfunctional family. Counselling psychology itself is dogged by philosophical complexities, an enormously wide theoretical span, and a vast array of practice locations. However, we might also view counselling psychology as the ‘carrier’ of challenges and difficulties that should actually be shared with other members of the ‘family’. At the start of this project we felt somewhat daunted at the idea of attempting to find a way through these complexities. Having negotiated these challenges (for now) we have come up with what we think are some interesting ideas about these complexities, and have done our best to speak out in favour of a professional field to which we are both committed. In a sense we have attempted to rise to the challenge posed by Sequeira (2005) in reporting the comment from a meeting of the Division of Counselling Psychology in the British Psychological Society that as a profession ‘we are very good at listening but we have to start speaking!’ (p. 1). In this book we have set out the issues as we currently see them, where possible putting forward facts, and where we are dealing with opinion to make this clear to the reader. Some of our ideas may be contentious among our colleagues and in those cases we welcome more discussion and debate as the field of counselling psychology matures even further. At the heart of counselling psychology lies the recognition, and indeed the celebration, of the subjective and the intersubjective and our aim in writing this book was to mirror this process in the book itself.

    In the following pages we tackle the issue of what counselling psychology is and might be. Each chapter is relatively self-contained, so we invite the reader to review the chapter descriptions in the contents and start wherever their interest takes them, returning to other sections at a later date. While we include much information of particular relevance to the professional situation in the UK, we also address a number of issues pertaining to counselling psychology in a range of countries around the globe. We have a strong interest in collaborating more consistently with colleagues from different countries, and in sharing challenges and difficulties as well as a vision for the field of counselling psychology. To this end we particularly welcome any comments or issues evoked by our ideas among colleagues in other countries. In Chapter 1, we set out the social and historical context of the field as a whole, both within the UK and internationally, consider some of the institutional factors and dynamics that surround the profession, and outline the values that are embedded in the practice of this work. Chapter 2 tackles the issue of the philosophical basis to counselling psychology, a matter which is currently a live and often contentious one in professional settings, especially in the context of accredited training programmes in counselling psychology. We review the historical separation of the parent discipline of philosophy from the discipline of mainstream psychology, consider a number of developments which have run counter to this trend, and review what we might broadly think of as current postmodern perspectives which have a relevance to the field. We conclude this chapter with a consideration of the location of counselling psychology within the tensions and debates highlighted.

    Chapter 3 develops these ideas further and outlines the professional knowledge base that underpins the practice of counselling psychology in its many different forms. This chapter includes a review of the major traditions in the psychological therapies that practitioners draw on in this field, together with related research. We also highlight the role of reflexivity as a key characteristic of the profession, and consider the implications of this emphasis more generally for research and practice. Chapter 4 provides a review of professional training in the field of counselling psychology, with the predominant focus on the UK, but with a consideration also of global perspectives. We outline information on training structures, routes to qualification, university and non-university locations for training, as well as recent developments in curriculum philosophy and design. We highlight the current demands that face trainees, especially in the UK where training programmes are now required to offer doctoral level study, a change which carries a number of potential implications for the development of the field. In this context also we discuss the role of personal therapy and the related debates that this has thrown up over recent years. Finally, we highlight some of the challenges that trainees face, as well as requirements for on-going supervision and continuing professional development.

    Chapter 5 addresses the issue of what qualified counselling psychologists actually do and outlines the many different settings in which the profession plays a key role, highlighting also the actual tasks and activities which are a part of each role and its related context. Our aim is to demonstrate the very wide range of work settings that are potentially available and relevant to qualified professionals, depending on their own interests and specific forms of training and development. In this chapter also, we include a number of vignettes from individuals actually working in the settings outlined. Our final chapter considers a number of key debates and challenges that are currently very alive in this professional field. We review the position of counselling psychology within the wider field of the psychological therapies and address a number of political considerations which are currently facing the profession, notably the move towards statutory registration. We also consider the question of boundaries between the different helping professions, and some recent perspectives on training considerations. We conclude with some of our own personal reflections on this field. In the appendices the reader will find information on a range of resources relevant to the profession which will include resources from both the UK and other countries around the world.

    The details included in the book are designed to be a resource for anyone who is thinking about training and working as a counselling psychologist – not just the bare facts – however, those can probably be gleaned from relevant websites. We also consider the implications of different facts, offering potential trainees an opportunity to reflect more deeply on what they might be undertaking in making a commitment to this field. Our reflections on current tensions and possible ways forward in the profession will, we hope, be of interest also to qualified practitioners and more senior colleagues, and importantly, to colleagues in other countries across the world. We have both worked in this field for a long time and have enjoyed the opportunity of setting out a number of key debates in this profession so that they can be taken further by the reader. As this book also takes its place as one in a series of volumes on different therapeutic professions, we hope that the distinctive nature of counselling psychology comes through.

    VanjaOrlansSusanVan ScoyocAugust 2008


    A special thank you to our colleagues, Paul Hitchings and Patricia Moran, who provided comments and feedback on the developing manuscript. Our warm gratitude also to clients, supervisees, students and BPS colleagues who have contributed so much to our learning, to all at Sage who have been endlessly patient and supportive, and to our families and friends who have lovingly put up with our physical and psychological absence as we worked on this project.

  • Relevant Contact Information

    The British Psychological Society

    St Andrews House

    48 Princess Road East

    Leicester, LE1 7DR

    Tel: +44(0)116 254 9568


    Information on how to train as a BPS recognized chartered counselling psychologist can be obtained directly from the BPS or on http://www.bps.org.uk/careers

    For details of whether you are eligible for GBR as a UK or overseas graduate contact the BPS or look on http://www.bps.org.uk/membership/grades/gbr1.cfm

    BPS training routes in counselling psychology:


    BPS Division of Counselling Psychology:


    BPS Division of Counselling Psychology – Scotland:


    BPS Division of Counselling Psychology – Wales:


    BPS requirements for Continuing Professional Development (CPD):


    BPS Division of Clinical Psychology and other divisions, special interest groups etc:


    Health Professions Council (HPC)

    Park House

    184 Kennington Park Road

    London, SE11 4BU


    NHS careers information and pay scales


    The Quality Assurance Agency for UK Higher Education (QAA) You can find descriptors for the different levels of higher education at: http://www.qaa.ac.uk/

    British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)

    BACP House

    15 St John's Business Park

    Lutterworth, LE17 4HB


    UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)

    2nd Floor, Edward House

    2 Wakley Street

    London, EC 1V 7LT



    The Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI)

    CX House, 2A Corn Exchange Place

    Poolbeg Street

    Dublin 2, Ireland



    The American Psychological Association (APA)

    750 First Street, NE,

    Washington, DC 20002-4242, USA


    Canadian Psychological Association (CPA)

    141 Laurier Avenue West, Suite 702

    Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5J3, Canada



    USA and Canada: information about licensure


    The Korean Counselling Psychological Association (KCPA)


    Australian Psychological Society (APS)


    New Zealand Psychological Association (NZPA)


    Hong Kong Psychological Society's newest division is that of counselling psychology formed in 2006.

    For details go to http://www.hkps.org.hk/www/

    Chinese Psychological Society formed the Committee of Clinical and Counselling Psychology in 2001.


    Professional Board for Psychology of the Health Professions Council of South Africa


    The International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP)


    European Association for Counselling Psychology (EACP)


    European Association for Psychotherapy (EAP)


    European Federation of Psychologists' Associations (EFPA)



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