The Counselling Agreement

The Counselling Agreement

Over the past several months I like many of my colleagues have been wrestling to create something called a Counselling Agreement – this sets out some boundaries within which the Counselling or Therapy can take place (see descriptions from the BACP and iCounsellor). Some people call this a “Contract”, but I personally don’t like using this term, as to me personally it sounds legal and intimidating.  I have a law degree and so I have a healthy dislike for the over use of legal terms where they are not appropriate.

I prefer to use the term “agreement” as both parties mutually agree to how they would like the counselling relationship to work. Each Counselling Agreement is as individual as the counsellor that has written it: he/she wishes to work in the manner that their unique agreement sets out. Each individual client can choose to work with their counsellor within the boundaries of their agreement or not.

Here are a few of the things that should be in a Counselling Agreement:

  • protecting your client’s confidentiality
  • record keeping
  • what I ask my client to do to keep their side of the agreement (giving notice if unable to attend, costs etc.)
  • what I will do in order to keep my side (punctuality, professionalism, reliability)

I feel that it is useful to give the client this information in written form, preferably before their first session. It is this written form that I have been wrestling with.

Counselling is a special kind of relationship, which needs very specific rules and boundaries to keep both the client and the counsellor safe, and I do mean to use the word safe. Even though many of my clients have been awe inspiring in their strength and their ability to pick themselves up and carry on, when they come to counselling they can be at their most vulnerable, sharing their deepest fears.

I feel very deeply that whilst my clients remain responsible for themselves, it is my role to offer a safe, confidential, professional space.  In order to do this I need to place secure and transparent rules of engagement in place from the start.

My dilemma has been how many of these guidelines should I write down. I want my clients to feel safe and comfortable yet I do not wish to scare them away by bamboozling them with too many rules, regulations and jargon-loaded clauses. You see one of my main concerns is “informed consent”. I feel that Counselling is something that a client needs to understand and give their consent to in for them to be an active participant. In order to give informed consent, the individual concerned must have adequate reasoning faculties and be in possession of all relevant facts at the time consent is given.

So I after many months of research, soul searching, and consulting with colleagues I have produced my Counselling Agreement, the emphasis is on the word “my” as it fits me, my personality, my ethos and the way that I wish to function within the counselling relationship with my clients, at this time. I have no doubt that this is a document that will evolve with use.

I would like to express my thanks to Mel Riley Counselling, and my many colleagues and friends who have kindly and patiently helped me through this process. If you would discuss anything in this blog post, please get in touch.