Firm on expertise, soft on identity: How counsellors can be excluded from educating counselling students for their own profession

By Nathan Beel PhD

Written 2020. Please note PACFA’s training standards are regularly updated so view this paper as talking to a historical point in time.


Biases within higher education may restrict opportunities for counsellors to teach counselling. While the counselling profession has provided training and accreditation standards that deliver common educational requirements for shaping counselling trainees, they may not do enough to ensure qualified counsellors are sufficiently represented as counselling educators. It is possible that some counselling students are graduating without being taught by any qualified counsellors. This article argues that counsellor education is more than transmitting counselling skills and knowledge, but importantly, develops a professional identity and connection with the counselling profession and its values. The profession’s accreditation guidelines implicitly treat qualified counsellors as optional for staffing counselling courses and enables higher education providers to prioritise employing staff from occupations deemed similar. I argue that the counselling profession must ensure it more clearly supports the hiring of registered and qualified counsellors as academics teaching and coordinating accredited counselling courses and meaningfully safeguards the inculcation of the profession’s values in counsellor training. Otherwise, the future of the counselling profession itself may be shaped in alignment with the values of other professions, as members of ‘equivalent’ professions’ gatekeep and mould those entering the counselling profession.


Counsellors[1] in Australia have experienced discriminatory practices throughout the profession’s short history. Counsellors are all too familiar with adverts seeking to hire counsellors, only to find that they are ineligible to apply because they are not a psychologist or social worker. This ironically has extended into university student counselling services where counselling degrees are offered (O’Hara & O’Hara, 2015). While recognition of the profession of counselling has been improving over time, professional discrimination may still be occurring. An implicit devaluing of qualified counsellors[2] as underqualified for teaching their own students may happen in some training courses designed to prepare future counsellors for the profession and is enabled by over-inclusiveness in PACFA (and ACA) course accreditation guidelines.

A minority in teaching counselling

In 2018, a colleague and I reviewed the websites of eight counsellor training provider courses in Australia as part of an internal benchmarking exercise. We found that most staff who taught counselling subjects by these providers were not registered counsellors within the counselling profession, but were mostly psychologists, followed by social workers and teaching staff not visibly registered with any profession. A year later, I searched the staffing profiles of four universities who offered accredited training programs and this time checked registration status from professional registries (e.g., Australian Register of Counsellors and Psychotherapists (ARCAP), Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW), etc.). Two had no Counsellor Educators (i.e., qualified members of the counselling profession who teach into counselling courses), and the remaining two had a maximum of one continuing Counsellor Educator in the teaching teams. Of these four universities, Counsellor Educators were either the minority or entirely absent from the teaching teams. Again, most who taught counselling were psychologists. While the sample is too small to generalise, it raised questions for me about how it is possible that counsellors could be underrepresented or absent within the counselling discipline.

If the samples echo a more widespread lack of Counsellor Educators in higher education, it may partly reflect the relative recency of counselling’s emergence as a profession in Australia. The momentum for professionalising and consolidating counselling began with the establishment of PACFA in 1998 (Schofield, 2015) making it a very young profession in comparison to psychology (1944) (APS, 2020) and social work (1946) (Miller, 2016). Since this time, counselling training programs have proliferated both in private institutions and public universities, but I have not seen evidence of this demand translate into a significant number of applications by counsellors for counselling lecturer positions. The demand for counselling education appears to be much higher than the supply of suitably qualified and experienced Counselling Educators.

The counselling profession may not yet have a sufficient supply of Counselling Educators and thus may continue to rely on Educators of Counselling (i.e., educators from other professions who teach counselling) to fill the gaps. Even so, there are barriers in the education market that favour Educators of Counselling over Counselling Educators. Counsellor Educators are competing against a larger pool of similar professionals who typically have more extensive research and teaching backgrounds, hold doctorates, have more substantial research track records, are members of higher status professions, and can teach across disciplines in professionally accredited programs. Besides this, they often have extensive practice experience. In the interviews for Counselling Lecturer positions I have been involved with over the past 12 years, similar professionals outperform Counsellor Educators on most of the criteria. While counsellor applicants might outperform on possessing relevant membership, they lag behind with the level of qualifications, and experience in teaching, research, and even therapy practice experience. It is not an equal playing field for Counselling Educators, and unfortunately, those trained and qualified as counsellors may be on the losing side even in their own discipline area.

In the table below, I demonstrate the differential trends I have seen in applicants for counselling lecturer positions. If this reflects a broader trend, it is understandable if counsellors miss out on such appointments.

Educational attainmentMasters qualifiedPhD qualified
Research experienceVery limited (if any) publicationsMore publications
Number of applicantsEstimated average 10-20%Estimated average 80-90%
Clinical experienceYesYes
Clinical supervisionCan supervise only counselling studentsCan supervise counselling and psychology students
Teaching experienceOften limited to professional development or internal trainingOften experienced in teaching in higher education
Administrative functionsMay not have high confidence administrativelyOften excel in administration
Team skills and communicationOften highly skilled and have warm and friendly interview presenceOften have a more professional persona and communication approach
Diversity of expertiseTherapy, supervision, and some management experience. Experience in private practice, education and human services organisations.Therapy, supervision, psychological testing, research supervision. Experience in private practice, human services, health, and education settings.

There are additional factors that influence how committed a tertiary institution may be in hiring Counsellor Educators. These include whether counselling is in a department with an ‘overlapping’ profession or not, how much the Head of Department supports the counselling discipline’s boundaries in teaching and hiring decisions, the professional composition of the staffing profile of the department, including its leadership[3]; and how much the organisation or department is focussed on strengthening its research profile.

My perception is that over time, Counselling Educators in continuing positions are numerically shrinking rather than growing. If this perception is accurate, I propose three key reasons. The first is that universities are generally showing less tolerance for hiring people without doctorates. The second is that when the counselling discipline is co-located with other similar higher status professions with more prescriptive accreditation requirements, staff appointments will be biased towards the dominant profession’s staffing profile. The imbalance of the staffing profile may reinforce perceptions of counselling’s sub-ordinance within the staffing structure (and to the student body) and diminish the counsellor influence in their own domain. The third reason is that the counselling profession’s existing accreditation requirements have enabled a type of interprofessional colonising of counsellor education by remaining relatively neutral and thus failing to compensate for an unequal playing field.

The contribution of counsellor training standards

In my view, PACFA’s training standards provide insufficient incentive to hire qualified counsellors or to address this potential inequity. PACFA’s training standards allow the selection of staff based on program needs with respect to staff experience or qualifications. For those overseeing the programs, they “… must be psychotherapists/counsellors or professionals from a related discipline… who are eligible for clinical or full membership of the professional body relevant to their qualification” (emphasis added) (PACFA, 2018b, p. 5). Of eight criteria for course coordinators in PACFA’s Training Standards, none address identity or knowledge of the counselling profession.

PACFA has second document called the Course Accreditation and Application Guidelines 2018 (PACFA, 2018a). This document requires core staff to hold “relevant degrees… preferably from PACFA accredited programs… or…a closely related field” (p.8). It additionally requires core staff to “identify with the counselling or psychotherapy profession through memberships and involvement in appropriate professional organisations (i.e. PACFA or PACFA Member Association)” (PACFA, 2018a, p. 8).

While PACFA’s wording in parts signals a preference for Counsellor Educators, the wording fails to safeguard against counsellors being excluded from counselling discipline staffing profiles. PACFA does not require teachers of counselling to have any affiliation, knowledge about, or experience with the counselling profession. Also, by treating alternative professionals as equivalent, the training standards imply that the hiring of Qualified Counsellors is ‘optional’. Staffing managers higher up in faculties may have little understanding or empathy for safeguarding distinctions between professions. Why should they hire lesser qualified ‘optionals’ instead of more qualified, experienced, versatile and research productive ‘equivalents’? The profession’s current suitability criteria, undoubtedly unintentionally, enables the exclusion of Counsellor Educators.

Compare this with alternative professions with evidence of more substantial protectiveness and regard for their own members’ professional identity, allegiance, expertise and relevance in the educational processes. The profession of Social Work mandates that a minimum of 50% of lecturers have social work qualifications (Australian Association of Social Workers, 2012). The profession of psychology requires qualified psychologists to teach psychology with an onus on the provider to justify alternative appointments (Australian Psychology Accreditation Council, 2019). These guidelines do not prevent receiving training contributions from suitably qualified professionals but influence training providers to prioritise the respective professionals in hiring. Both these professions have a stronger professional identity and higher professional status than counselling and ensure their members are prioritised in teaching appointments.

Interrogating equivalence

The second implication in the PACFA’s 2018 training standards wording is the assumption of equivalence. The counselling profession has historically struggled to form a clear collective identity that differentiates itself from other professions (Alves & Gazzola, 2011). Yet the formation of a counsellor and their professional identity is important both at a broader profession level and an individual level. One of the essential roles of Counsellor Educators and Educators of Counselling is to help counselling students develop a strong sense of counsellor identity, delineate its distinctiveness from other professions, and understand its core philosophical values. Doing so will help students gain a connection with, and pride and optimism about their profession (Woo et al., 2014). As part of developing their professional identity, “…students [should] develop a set of attitudes, perspectives, and personal commitment to the standards, ideals, and identity of the counseling profession” (Choate et al., 2005, p. 384). PACFA’s accreditation guidelines reinforce the importance of the developing professional identity, stating “All staff… will be clearly committed to preparing professional counsellors and psychotherapists and promoting the development of the student’s professional identity” (PACFA, 2018a, p. 8).

Education into membership of professions requires acculturation into the profession’s identity (Tan et al., 2017), and students’ values and attitudes are shaped by role models who they equate with their chosen profession (Day et al., 2005). Can educators who have been trained, socialised, and hold primary allegiance to different professions, paradigms and identities adequately prepare students to enter the counselling profession and infuse its values? Can educators who have no membership or participation in the counselling profession sufficiently understand the profession they are preparing students for?  While those outside the counselling profession can contribute valuable expertise from which to teach theories, skills, ethics, and research, they are likely to unconsciously (or consciously) and pervasively reflect their own professional identities and associated values. Denying students’ ongoing access to counsellor role models through their training is likely to add to the challenge of developing a clear professional identity (Woo et al., 2014). The international peak body, the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) recognised the importance of staff alignment, and now requires all core counsellor teaching staff to demonstrate identification, via membership and ongoing commitment to the counselling profession and discipline as minimum requirements (CACREP, 2019).  

The questioning of equivalence is not intended to devalue the contributions and expertise interdisciplinary staff make into counselling programs, but to underscore the importance of utilising qualified Counsellor Educators in transmitting the values and traditions of the counselling profession. The critical numerical balance and the leadership roles in counsellor programs should favour members of the profession the students are being prepared for. Educators of Counselling not only train, but may arguably (and understandably) influence students towards their own professional values; just as they were appropriately influenced by the discourses of the profession they maintain an allegiance with. Exposure to Educators of Counselling is not problematic if it simply reflects a healthy exposure to interprofessional diversity of which counselling students should be exposed to. However if, for argument’s sake, psychologists make up the majority of those socialising counselling students without an adequate understanding of inter-professional differences in values, traditions, training approaches, and professional allegiance; could this ultimately lead to the dilution, replacing, and ‘psychologising’ of core counselling values over time within the profession itself?

The isolating of counsellor educators

Another issue that can emerge with a disproportionate weighting of Educators of Counselling is that Counselling Educators can be professionally isolated and be a minority in the staff teaching counselling courses. While Counsellor Educators may have strong collegiality with peers from other professions, if they are the only one, or one of a minority number, professional isolation and a reservation about speaking freely within their context may occur. If there is democratic decision-making in counsellor course decisions, the minority number of Counsellor Educators may be outvoted by the Educators of Counselling who may have little understanding or commitment to the counselling profession’s values and culture. There is a potential that the Counsellor Educator defaults to a role of monitor, guardian, discipline advocate, and staff educator about principles associated more closely with the counselling profession. They also occupy a position of being approached by students asking why most of their lecturers are not counsellors but belong to alternative professions. For institutions whereby counselling is taught alongside other disciplines, new continuing staff can be employed to meet the needs of the higher status and/or more restrictive disciplines, and counselling gaps filled with available existing staff (given that they can be taught by an ‘equivalent’ clinician) rather than staff specifically employed to contribute to the counselling course/s. Job applicants may also apply for Counselling Lecturer roles as a less competitive entry point from which to progress sideways back to their own discipline when the opportunity arises, while potential Counsellor Educators may be turned off applying for positions in universities where they see counsellor underrepresentation in the staffing profile. All these factors can affect the morale of Counsellor Educators as they find themselves minorities in their own discipline.

The influence of training standards

The current training guidelines currently enable those outside the profession to determine the professional makeup of those who train counsellors. In addition, non-members of the counselling profession also select and prepare students for entry into the counselling profession. In my opinion, the existing standards show insufficient concern for safeguarding the counselling profession’s disciplinary boundaries and identity when it comes to training. The counselling profession needs to ensure they are advocating first and foremost for the profession, its quality, its reputation, and the interests of its members; and training standards should adequately reflect this in all areas, including staffing. Universities are becoming more accustomed to practice-based professions like counselling (such as nursing, paramedicine, etc.) that produce relatively low numbers of academics from their graduates. Universities will hire and mentor staff without doctorates and research if required by professional training standards to hire from within a specified profession.

The authority to prioritise staff appointments of less experienced academics in the presence of stronger competition often does not come from the Course Leaders overseeing the programs but the professional training accreditation requirements. Course Leaders presently have no authoritative grounds within accreditation requirements to insist on advertising exclusively for, or for prioritising Counselling Educator appointments. Their recommendations to hire Counsellor Educators can be dismissed by Heads of Departments or faculties, who insist on the more qualified equivalents. While accreditation standards are what Course Leaders rely on to ensure the institution maintains appropriate quality in counsellor education, when it comes to staffing, these same standards undermine their efforts to prioritise hiring Counsellor Educators. If the profession’s guidelines do not prioritise Counsellor Educators, why should universities prioritise hiring them?

Until the guidelines are amended, Counselling Educators are likely to be limited mainly to sessional teaching appointments, particularly if Heads of Departments want to rationalise teaching staff to teach across complementary disciplines. Likewise, counselling applicants who do not possess PhDs, lack experience with teaching in higher education settings, cannot teach and supervise across disciplines and do not hold track records of research; or are not prepared to juggle the demands of a part-time practice with being a full-time academic, may also be disadvantaged.


It is understandable that the counselling profession would not set too stringent staffing requirements for such a young profession. Doing so would starve itself of academics (and potentially accredited courses) who can keep a steady pipeline of counsellors entering the profession from the higher education sector. However, at some point, a change of strategy is needed lest the existing standards contribute to starving the profession of its own identity and its own practitioners becoming excluded from teaching counselling in higher education. The concerns about the varying costs of too heavily relying on Educators of Counselling and the restricted opportunities for Qualified Counsellors to become academics, raise questions about what can be done to increase Counsellor Educator presence and influence in the teaching of counselling Courses. Available options should be considered in light of the profession’s priorities, the available supply of Counsellor Educators, the risks of institutions abandoning accreditation, and other less obvious and foreseeable impacts that such changes might bring. The choice, timing and strength of interventions also need to be considered.

There are several options available in relation to the issues posed in this paper. The first might be for PACFA’s research committee to commission a study of the professional staffing profile of PACFA-accredited Australia counselling courses. This would provide data from which to identify if a problem of significance does exist. A second might be that PACFA’s training standards more clearly prioritise the hiring of Counsellor Educators. For core staff, this might be by requiring institutions provide evidence of a commitment to meeting minimum quotas of Counsellor Educators. This would shift Counsellor Educators from being optional to being closer to an inherent requirement for staffing profiles. An alternative to quotas might be to ask new and renewal accreditation applicants to demonstrate how the course ensures students are appropriately socialised into the counselling profession. How does it ensure students have access to counsellors as role models throughout their studies? How does it ensure its staff are sufficiently familiar with the counselling profession and its values so they can align their teaching accordingly? How does it ensure the course leadership have sufficient understanding, commitment[4], and connection with the counselling profession whereby decisions are congruent with what is valued by the profession? For those with a strong staffing profile of Counsellor Educators, these will be more easily demonstrated. For others who do not meet some of these, they might be required to include a strategic plan to address shortcomings along with their accreditation application.

Academic staff and leaders can also play a part in stimulating the pipeline of future Counsellor Educators. At the higher education institution I work, the leadership team ensured that the research project in our Master of Counselling was substantive enough to enable entry into our PhD programs. We encourage students to think about a career in higher education and highlight the scarcity (and importance) of PhD holding Counsellor Educators, whilst also promoting research and academic careers as achievable and rewarding. Staff encourage individual students who demonstrate suitability, to consider PhDs and other opportunities for engagement with scholarly activity. With academic pathway students, we explain the need to develop as an experienced practitioner over time. We encourage the students to be on the doctoral journey simultaneously as developing experience as therapists.


This paper raised concerns that there is some evidence to suggest Counsellor Educators may be sidelined in favour of recruiting educators from other professions. It calls for increased strategic support for prioritising the hiring of Counsellor Educators (including psychotherapists), both for the interests of the profession’s members they represent, and also the interests of maintaining the profession’s distinctiveness and identity throughout the training offered to counselling students. It noted potential strategies that could prioritise Counsellor Educators in the hiring decisions for teaching staff, and of building the supply of future Counsellor Educators.


Alves, S., & Gazzola, N. (2011). Professional identity: A qualitative inquiry of experienced counsellors. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 45(3), 189-207.

APS. (2020). History. The Australian Psychological Society Limited.

Australian Association of Social Workers. (2012). Australian Social Work education and accreditation standards (ASWEAS) 2012 V1.4. Author.

Australian Psychology Accreditation Council. (2019). Accreditation standards for psychology programs. Author.

CACREP. (2019). Section 1: The learning environment. Author.

Choate, L. H., Smith, S. L., & Spruill, D. A. (2005). Professional development of counselor education students: An exploratory study of professional performance indicators for assessment [journal article]. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 27(3), 383-397.

Day, R. A., Field, P. A., Campbell, I. E., & Reutter, L. (2005). Students’ evolving beliefs about nursing: From entry to graduation in a four-year baccalaureate programme. Nurse Education Today, 25(8), 636-643.

Mascari, J. B., & Webber, J. (2013). CACREP Accreditation: A Solution to License Portability and Counselor Identity Problems. Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, 91(1), 15-25.

Miller, J. (2016). The people and the times: Founding of the Australian Association of Social Workers in 1946. Social Work Focus, 1(1), 9-16.

O’Hara, D. J., & O’Hara, E. F. (2015). Counselling and psychotherapy: Professionalisation in the Australian context. Psychotherapy and Counselling Journal of Australia, 3(1).

PACFA. (2018a). Course accreditation and application guidelines 2018. Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia.

PACFA. (2018b). PACFA training standards. Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia.

Schofield, M. J. (2015). Counseling in Australia. In T. H. Hohenshil, N. E. Amundson, & S. G. Niles (Eds.), Counseling around the world: An international handbook (pp. 335-347). American Counseling Association.

Tan, C. P., Van der Molen, H. T., & Schmidt, H. G. (2017). A measure of professional identity development for professional education. Studies in Higher Education, 42(8), 1504-1519.

Woo, H., Henfield, M. S., & Choi, N. (2014). Developing a unified professional identity in counseling: A review of the literature. Journal of Counselor Leadership and Advocacy, 1(1), 1-15.

A special thanks to the PACFA members who kindly provided valuable feedback and suggestions on drafts. Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone, and not representative of his professional affiliations.

[1] While this article specifically references counsellors, it applies to psychotherapists where relevant.

[2] The term qualified counsellor is used to identify those who have training and experience that make them eligible for ARCAP (Australian Register of Counsellors and Psychotherapists) registration. The term Registered Counsellor refers to those listed on ARCAP.

[3] In August 2019 I read a position description for a Counselling Head in a private college that provides PACFA and ACA accredited degrees. The first criteria stated: “Registration as a psychologist in Australia required”. The provider did not offer psychology degrees so having this requirement appeared unjustifiably professionally discriminatory to those in the counselling profession. The outgoing Counselling Head was a psychologist.

[4] Currently there are eight guidelines for Course Coordinators overseeing counselling courses (PACFA, 2018b). In these, there are no requirements of any knowledge of, or connection with the counselling profession. The professional identity, commitment, and knowledge appears irrelevant.

The Australian counselling profession in 2030: A counsellor / counsellor educator’s perspective

By Nathan Beel, August 2022 pre-print version.

Imagine the profession of counselling has come of age. The date is 2030. Counselling in Australia has acquired social and governmental recognition as a profession within the health and social wellbeing landscapes. Counsellors have access to Medicare Better Access, are recognised within the government mental health departments across Australia and are, by default, listed alongside psychologists and social workers in job adverts advertising for counselling positions. Employers who hire a registered counsellor have a broad expectation of what skills, knowledge, and values will be demonstrated, just as they can expect when hiring psychologists or social workers. Counsellors are recognised by other allied health professions and have increased membership on interdisciplinary teams. They have a protected title ‘Registered Counsellor’ that helps safeguard the profession’s reputation and identity. The profession has ensured that the leadership, training, and socialisation of counselling trainees is primarily conducted by qualified counsellor educators who were prepared, inducted, and registered in the same profession they are preparing their students for. Newer counsellors no longer feel inferior and uncertain in the presence of other helping professionals, but are proud and confident in their training and professional identity. There is now greater clarity inside and outside of the profession as to how counsellors differ from other professions who counsel, and there is clarity about who we are and how we are unique.

Before exploring in more depth my speculation of one potential future, it’s useful to identify where we are now. In my view, the counselling profession has made tremendous progress in its 20+ years since nationalising. We have approximately forty institutions in Australia offering training in counselling, with most of these having professional recognition, thus flagging the meeting of minimum training standards. We have two peak bodies, the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA), and the Australian Counselling Association (ACA), both of which have growing memberships with thousands of members, have codes of ethics (Australian Counselling Association, 2022; Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia, 2017), training standards (Australian Counselling Association, 2012; Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia, 2022), scopes of practice (Australian Counselling Association, 2020; Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia, 2018), private health insurance recognition by several providers, and NDIS access. The uptake of counselling education is offered in a range of various sized training providers, colleges, and most universities. Many job adverts for counselling related roles recognise those trained in counselling, and/or registered with the counselling profession. While counselling has some ways to go to catch up with more established professions, it is on the professional map as never before. 

At this point of writing, we still have some goals to achieve. While the social need for, and availability of counsellors is evident (Bloch-Atefi et al., 2021), counsellors are still discriminated against. Counsellors are unable to access Medicare’s Better Access program and are still excluded from being considered for roles that are essentially counselling positions.

In my view, we still have not reached full professionalisation. One article discussing national counselling association professionalisation noted several steps that, in the authors’ views, may strengthen national and institutional recognition (Montgomery et al., 2018). These included a strong sense of shared identity that is well known and understood, standardisation, a commitment to the good of clients as a primary motivation for decisions, research engagement and support, viability, and strategic engagement with key stakeholders (Montgomery et al., 2018). The Australian counselling profession is already, in my view, well on the way to what might be full recognition. It has two peak bodies to develop regulated communities of practitioners, brought together a diversity of practitioners and associations into two main bodies, defined training and entry into the professional peak bodies rules, engaged with allied professions, advocated to industry and government, sought vocational opportunities for counsellors and psychotherapists, and others not listed. The inconsistent recognition within mental health services and systems, schools, and other contexts highlights that there is still a way to go. 

This article aims to stimulate consideration of how we might press forward, and perhaps help us take stock, and maybe introduce some fresh ideas. It will do this by working backwards from a future vision where the profession is fully recognised. What follows hints at a formula that I think may partly contribute towards full acceptance and recognition socially and professionally (besides the other strategic efforts currently undertaken by the existing professional bodies and members). I am not an insider in PACFA, or the ACA, so admit my areas of ignorance about historical and contemporary strategies they have undertaken, or are undertaking. Parts of my vision may be provocative for some, and I apologise for this in advance. I offer merely one registered counsellor / counselling educator’s vision of what the counselling profession could look like if we are successful in gaining broad acceptance at all levels of society. Embedded in such an exercise are implied roadmaps of how we got there. So, in my vision of future success, how did we get complete recognition and what does the profession look like now?

Strategic planning for recognition

The counselling profession carefully developed a literature-informed, well-researched plan on how to gain social and governmental recognition, and while it continued to take advantage of ad hoc opportunities, it also developed a clear strategic five-year plan. It compared the evolutionary recognition of international counselling associations and similar Australian professions that had gained recognition and determined the key components that appeared to contribute the most. Planning was done collaboratively with both peak bodies (PACFA and ACA). Both consciously addressed their own conflicts of interests (i.e., desire for profession recognition vs desire to protect their own association’s interests) and discourses that promoted themselves when advocating for the profession to avoid undermining the larger goal of profession recognition. Both bodies committed to prioritising decisions that were in the best interests of the profession, and this decision pervaded their communication, their operations, and their strategies. They determinedly sought to identify and strategically address internal and external barriers and leveraged the strengths of each association.    

One profession, one identity

The counselling profession in Australia historically struggled to find a cohesive, unified identity (Moir-Bussey et al., 2016) and the existence of two peak bodies had been recognised as problematic (O’Hara & O’Hara, 2015). As part of its own internal reviews, including careful consultation and research with internal and external stakeholders, several issues and solutions were discovered. The profession’s leadership recognised that although they had endeavoured to present a united front through the Australian Register of Counsellors and Psychotherapists (ARCAP), they were still operating in practice and discourse as a divided profession. As a result of a meticulous review, both peak bodies decided to clearly demarcate the profession from the peak bodies, including key functions. An example of a change was that in 2024, the ACA removed the misleading bi-line that positioned itself singularly as “The [singular] peak body for counsellors and psychotherapists in Australia” [emphasis added] (Australian Counselling Association, 2022, p. 1).

The formerly known ARCAP was supported to, and granted special autonomy from the ACA and PACFA, and changed its name to the Australian Board of Counsellors (ABC) and expanded its scope and purpose. The ABC is now responsible for registering counsellors, accrediting training courses, managing complaints, and advocating for the profession in a non-partisan way. There is one code of ethics, scope of practice, and training standards for all registered counsellors. Membership of the profession through ABC is clearly demarcated from membership in professional associations. The ABC removed membership level descriptors that were meaningless to the public (e.g., numbers) or that were misleading (i.e., clinical[1]), and now uses recognised levels such as Student Member, Affiliate Member (i.e., financial only member), Associate Member (i.e., for practicing members who did not meet contemporary training standards such as sub-degree holders, and provisional members), Academic Members (i.e., counselling educators), Members (i.e. full practicing members), and Fellows (i.e. senior members). 

The two peak bodies and other associations continue as associations that registered counsellors and affiliates can join. They are complimentary and supportive of the ABC and have redefined their scope and function to maintain their operations as mainstream professional counselling and psychotherapy bodies, but have their own distinctive membership requirements and processes into their respective associations. They continue playing an important supportive role for members of the profession within their scope.

The titles of Psychotherapist and Indigenous Healing Practitioner no longer form alternative identities from counsellors, but are recognised as additional specialist identities, like clinical psychologists who are specialist psychologists. Some have additional endorsements in specialist areas such as Psychotherapist, Clinical Supervisor, Indigenous Healing Practitioner, Counselling Educator, or Mental Health Counsellor; but all have a primary and registered identity as a Registered Counsellor. This decision was made to simplify recognition of one profession, one identity, whilst allowing for select specialisations within the identity. Additionally, this reduced the previous infighting and territory marking between the two distinct identities of Counsellors and Psychotherapists. PACFA is now the Counselling Federation of Australia or CFA.

Registered Counsellors have a small number of essential values distilled through lengthy consultations with registered members. This enabled the ability to identify and clearly articulate its core values, which mirrors a similar approach in social work (with its emphasis on social justice), and psychology (with its scientist practitioner commitment). Counselling has developed and articulated its core driving values across the profession and successfully communicate and reinforce these within the training, the profession, and externally to society and other key stakeholders. Counsellors can clearly and positively delineate themselves from similar professionals who counsel and do so consistently. These values can be summarised as client-centred practice; a concept that privileges clients’ voices and preferences, implies egalitarian, collaborative, and relational practice, and can be adapted to a wide range of modalities, contexts and settings.

Credible training

The counselling profession recognises and values its own distinct identity and values, and thus no longer treats other similar professionals who counsel as automatically being qualified to teach counselling students. Qualified counsellor educators are no longer treated as optional in the preparation and socialisation of counselling students, but are now recognised as essential to maintaining the distinctiveness of counselling student socialisation. Once counsellor training standards required a minimum of 50% counsellor qualified educators to teach and lead counselling courses, there was an increase in the consolidation of the counsellor identity, and a reduction in the perception that non-counsellor outsiders could determine who was qualified to teach counsellors.   

The ABC listened to stakeholders including industry, governments, counsellor educators, private practitioners, and consulted with international standards (e.g., CACREP’s standards) and contemporary counselling education and broader education research, to determine its training standards that form the basis for registration as a counsellor. The training standards provide specific and detailed expectations and explanations to enhance the consistency of graduate knowledge and skills across institutions, and hence consistency of foundation knowledge and skills across registered counsellors. It guarded against being influenced by sectarianism of individual counselling and psychotherapy modalities, and viewpoints that contradict contemporary research and the realities of contemporary practice. Rather, its focus was both on how best to prepare counsellors to work in the contemporary world, and ensure their practice was effective, ethical, and adaptable; and enables the acquisition of transferable skills and knowledge into other related roles. While it maintains a respect for the diversity of both mainstream and less known therapies, its counselling graduates all possess predictable core skills and knowledge to give employers and funders certainty about what counsellors are trained in. The ABC has an entry test as part of applying for membership, which includes standardised tests and hurdles for entry as a further mechanism for ensuring quality across training providers.

Counsellors have developed a clear, informed, and cooperative commitment to evidence-informed practice[2] and integrate neatly within the medical model, recognising it as a culturally dominant and meaningful framework from which many clients receive mental health treatment, and from which many industry and government stakeholders ascribe to. Counsellors recognise the medical model as one model among many other explanatory models for human distress and wellbeing, and counsellors have knowledge of alternative forms of cultural and professional explanations. Counsellors are socialised to learn, respectfully engage with, operate in (and appropriately critique) the dominant and non-dominant cultural health discourses and practices. They have become increasingly competent and comfortable to participate cooperatively in interprofessional groups, and no longer experience professional exclusion from roles or teams from which they are qualified to be. They are mindful that their credibility as a recognised and legitimate helping profession partially comes from being able to work constructively, knowledgeably, and effectively within a range of systems and paradigms, including the dominant contemporary internationally paradigms such as the medical model, without compromising their core values as counsellors.

As part of a recognition that counsellors could effectively operate within the medical model context, that emphasises the use of specific Evidence-Based Treatments (EBTs), all counsellors were trained in at least one of the mainstream EBTs as required by Medicare’s Better Access. Governments, insurance companies and various employers are confident that all registered counsellors can competently deliver at least one of the widely recognised and utilised EBTs. While many training providers may also offer specialist training in non-widely used approaches, these are over and above the competencies required for the mainstream approach learned.

Counsellors provide value to contemporary need

The training of counsellors prepares them with the foundations for diverse practice, across client groups, issues, and formats of delivery. Training for entry into the profession is not primarily designed to teach students to be specialists in any area, but to prepare them as a well-rounded counselling professional. In addition, the registered counsellor has been trained and assessed in competencies that are expected of many counsellors in the modern workforce including case management, risk management, telehealth, group work, psychoeducation, administration, and record keeping, prevention and early intervention, collaboration, interprofessional, referrals, research skills, and many more. The training standards incorporate knowledge from targeted semi-regular research and consultation into employer needs, social trends, government requirements, national and international trends in counsellor education and education more broadly, to ensure that the graduates are sufficiently prepared for the roles contemporary counsellors undertake. The process of updating and proposing standards are done in a transparent manner, enabling debate and challenge by all key stakeholders before becoming finalised and introduced.  

Research competency

Counselling, like other practice-based professions, previously struggled to gain an identity with research. This meant that academics in public universities were often forced to publish in journals outside of counselling’s own journals to have their research counted against their performance measures, thus diverting away their contributions to building the counselling profession’s own research credibility. The profession of counselling recognised the importance of strategically developing a comprehensive research strategy as a means of using research to gain and maintain professional credibility with the public and other professions. It is also recognised as important for establishing, socialising, and equipping its students and members with greater research skills and knowledge; and ensure it had sufficient numbers of counsellor-trained academics.

Meaningful research training is not an optional extra in counsellor training but viewed as essential. Counsellors can read, interpret, and critically evaluate research, and recognise its value in helping to further their knowledge. 

The proportion of counsellors progressing to do doctorates has significantly increased because of the ABC training standards requiring a minimum of 50% of academic staff being registered counsellors. This incentivised the university sector to proactively encourage academically driven students towards higher research degrees to prepare the pipeline of future counsellor trained academics. There now exist doctorates in counsellor education, which are specifically designed to prepare the next generations of counselling academics. Universities are now not limited to choosing between hiring published doctorate holding Psychologists, or master’s qualified Registered Counsellors without a meaningful publication track record, but now Counsellor doctorate holders, with research publications, are prepared to succeed in the university system and be an equal status peer among academic staff in other disciplines. This equality of status in higher education helped enhance the reputation of the counselling profession from lesser qualified to equally qualified professionals.

The counselling profession’s research committee was not satisfied with unranked counselling journals that could not count toward university academic publication requirements. Rather, it strategically developed a strategy to increase the profile of its journals and had them indexed by reputable databases where they would be found and have their impact improved. As a result of enhancing the emphasis of research in the training standards and developing its own strategic research agenda, the counselling profession now has a well-ranked counselling journal in Australia that is indexed by the major research databases and attracts Australian and international contributions.


In my vision of the future of a socially and governmentally endorsed profession of counselling, I believe it will be a unified profession in its structure. Its skill-sets, and knowledge will be predictable; it will be complementary to, and offer what is valued by mainstream services and related professions; and it will maintain its diversity in additional specialisations without compromising its core. Its counsellors will have a clear sense of their own identity as counsellors, will be agile and adaptable to a wide range of contexts, and have a contemporary skill, knowledge and attitude base that will set them up to succeed in whatever contexts they work in. The counselling profession will give a higher priority to research and its value, and while not all will become researchers or aspire to be, they will be able to intelligently interpret and utilise research to remain current. Counselling educators will increase in numbers and be equally highly educated and performing peers with colleagues from other disciplines with more extensive research histories. Counselling will be seen as an equally credible profession at all levels. Its future of recognition will require not only more of what it has already been advocating for but also ensure that the counsellors themselves have been trained and operate at the level that warrants the level of recognition sought. In my vision, our profession moved from diversity as strength to recognise that diversity can lead to confusion and diffusion if it undermines developing a clearly formed singular identity. It needs indivisible unity, consistency, and to meet the metrics that other professions have achieved as a means to gain wide credibility. I recognise this document overly simplifies the complexity and issues we face as a profession. If anything, I hope this article will stimulate ideas and enhance efforts towards a common goal and a single shared identity.


Australian Counselling Association. (2012). Accreditation of counsellor higher education courses.

Australian Counselling Association. (2020). Scope of practice for registered counsellors (2nd ed.). Author.

Australian Counselling Association. (2022). Code of ethics and practice of the Australian Counselling Association (16th ed.). Author.

Bloch-Atefi, A., Day, E., Snell, T., & O’Neill, G. (2021). A snapshot of the counselling and psychotherapy workforce in Australia in 2020: Underutilised and poorly remunerated, yet highly qualified and desperately needed. Psychotherapy & Counselling Journal of Australia, 9(2).

Moir-Bussey, A., Andrews, K., & Smith, T. (2016). Toward a unified vision of professional counselling identity: A preliminary Australian perspective. Australian Counselling Research Journal, 10(2).

Montgomery, M. L. T., Shepard, B., Mokgolodi, H., Qian, M., & Tang, M. (2018). Professionalization of counseling: Perspectives from different international regions. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 40(4), 343-364.

O’Hara, D. J., & O’Hara, E. F. (2015). Counselling and psychotherapy: Professionalisation in the Australian context. Psychotherapy and Counselling Journal of Australia, 3(1).

Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia. (2017). PACFA  code of ethics. Author.

Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia. (2018). Scope of practice for registered counsellors. Author.

Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia. (2019). Evidence-informed practice statement. Author.

Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia. (2022). PACFA training standards. Author.

[1] Labelling counsellors as Clinical Members based on additional time and specific experience alone is misleading to the public. The word ‘clinical’ has connotations of working within the medical model and treating diagnosed mental disorders, implying additional endorsement in specialist clinical training. Many counsellors are not aligned, or are only partially aligned, with the medical model so the terminology does not make sense as representing senior members of the counselling profession.

[2] as distinguished from evidence-based practice. For more information, see Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia. (2019). Evidence-informed practice statement. Author.

Increasing Your Chances of Employment as a Counsellor Part 3 of 3

By Nathan Beel, 2018 reprinted from QCA blog and PACFA’s Psychotherapy and Counselling Today.

In the second part of this three-part series, I discussed five strategies for increasing one’s chance of counselling employment. These included possess a minimum of degree level or higher, gain volunteer experience in counselling, be a member of a counselling association, become known within the profession, and develop a positive professional reputation. This final part of the series will address an additional four strategies that I believe will help enhance your chances of employment as a counsellor.

Ensure your CV is professional: Your curriculum vitae (CV) is often one of the first evidence for panels of what type of professional you are. It should be error free. Errors, particularly basic or repeated errors, send signals of lack of attention, diligence, or writing ability. It should be targeted at the job you are applying for. Customise it to the potential readers. What will you include? What will you exclude (that doesn’t add value to the application)? How will you express it? You might consider gaining help from a professional in resume writing. Your CV gives the potential employer a window into who you are, what skills and potential you have, and your communication abilities.

Ask for critical feedback: Sometimes our blind spots can undermine how others perceive us or weaken our applications. When I prepare articles, I send drafts to people I trust will tell me where the mistakes are and give me hints on how to improve. I will have done this with this article, and I guarantee there will be corrections that will spare me the embarrassment of putting my name publicly to a document with errors I missed. Get someone to critically review your CV and cover letter to help enhance it. Ask someone to take you through a practice interview and then give you critical (and supportive) feedback to help you learn how to do better. Supportive feedback makes us feel good and critical feedback is the path to enhanced awareness and improvement. Intentionally ask for feedback, particularly from someone you think has strengths in the area you are seeking feedback in.

Prepare for the position: Study the company website, research about the target client group, target issue, and recommended therapy approaches for the target group, and research anything else that will help you gain a sense of what might be required in the role. While you may not be an expert and should not pretend to be if you are not, it shows the interview panel that you are committed to preparing for the position. If you don’t get the job, you still will have benefited by learning new information about a referral source and information about a target issue you may not have understood much about previously. Conversely, if you under-prepare, it signals the interview panel about a lack of care about the role and/or lack of willingness to demonstrate diligence that might be required for the role. It is generally evident which applicants have spent time preparing for the interview.

Cultivate professional character: The earlier tips are useful to enhance your chances of gaining employment. However, there are some more fundamental areas that form the substance of your professionalism that will probably be seen over time and contribute to the formation of your reputation. Cultivate the substance of a reputable professional. Seek to learn and grow as a counsellor. Aim to practice ethical decision-making consistently. Seek to excel in your studies and counselling practice. Seek assistance in the areas of your life which might be problematic. Continue learning. Read counselling books regularly even after you finish university. Actively seek to learn rather than merely meeting PD requirements. Practice what you preach. These may not be noticeable in first impressions, but over time, people will recognise them and give you regard accordingly. This is where your broader reputation will come from and will provide inspiration to younger members of the profession to follow the virtues you operate by. Your qualities will become a gift to others.

I hope these ideas will be helpful for both the younger members of the profession and to those currently seeking work. In my own experience, I have gained one job because a previous colleague of mine recommended my name to an employer friend of his seeking staff. My reputation with my colleague must have been sufficient that he had the confidence to commend me years later. I’ve gained jobs in which I applied, knowing I didn’t meet all the criteria. From what I have learned in two decades in the field from both sides of the hiring table, is that gaining work as a counsellor often requires strategic planning and development at multiple levels to give oneself the edge in a competitive process. Those who prepare best throughout their counselling journey and, more specifically, for specialised positions are likely to demonstrate greater value and attractiveness to future employers than those who haven’t paid attention to strategic preparation.

These blogs have highlighted one person’s perspectives. No doubt there is much expertise on this topic within the counselling profession. I’d encourage members to share their own ideas and tips in the comments below about how to increase one’s chances of successfully gaining counselling-related employment.

Are you studying counselling or a qualified counsellor and wanting professional mentoring? See here for more information.

Increasing Your Chances of Employment as a Counsellor Part 2 of 3

Young smiling woman getting support on psychotherapy session

By Nathan Beel 2018, reprinted from QCA blog.

In the first part of this series, I discussed the competitive nature of advertised counselling applications. We have established that employers are looking for who they perceive to be the best applicant out of their pool of applicants. Your role then is to give yourself as many chances as possible to be the best applicant. Below are five strategies that may help increase the perceived value of what you might offer an employer:

Qualification: These days, more employers are looking for a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in counselling or a related discipline. Given that bachelor degrees are more common now than previous years, a bachelor’s degree or higher will generally provide an edge over a holder of a certificate or diploma.

Experience: Accredited counselling degrees nearly all have a placement component in them. However, if you and two of your fellow graduates are going for the same position, it is better to have additional experience. I recommend people consider volunteering at Lifeline, Drug Arm, or similar service that provides ongoing experience and close supervision. Quality volunteer experience plus a degree often gives a significant edge over a degree alone. In addition, there may be pathways in the volunteer organisations for becoming a volunteer supervisor, allowing additional skills and experience to be accrued.

Demonstrate commitment to the profession: When I would look at counsellor or counselling educator applicant CV, I always look for mention of membership in a counselling association. When I see a CV that indicates membership in a counselling association, it sends me a signal this person is committed to their professional identity and growth. When I see CVs without mention of membership, it raises questions in my mind. Is the depth of this person’s interest in counselling only limited to the possibility of gaining employment? Membership maintenance requires commitment to an ethical code, maintaining professional development, maintaining clinical supervision and contributing financially to the profession.  When I’m involved in hiring, I’m looking for evidence of commitment beyond the pay packet and promises made in the interview itself.

Get known: Counsellors are often introverted. We don’t put ourselves out there but prefer more intimate relating with our clients behind closed doors. However, our profession is a relational profession. I recommend people aim to become known. When people become familiar with who you are and the value you represent as a person, this may influence them if they are on your interview panel. Counselling is a fairly small profession, so it is fairly easy to get known by other counsellors. Attend professional development events and get to know other counsellors. Contribute to the association newsletter and blogs. Join an association subcommittee. Seek opportunities to provide professional development in an area you have knowledge and expertise in. Set up a LinkedIn account to put your CV for the world to see. When meeting people, give them your business card and later invite connection with LinkedIn. You might also consider setting up your own special business Facebook page or website as another ‘shopfront’ for your brand. The more people who become familiar with who you are and learn to trust you, the more likelihood that someone on your interview panel may know you and your ‘brand’ and may trust you over other candidates whom they do not know.

Develop a positive reputation: Your interactions with others in person and online, and your online footprint, will contribute to developing your reputation. Likewise, if you are studying, will your interaction with fellow students and behaviour in classes send signals of someone committed to the journey of becoming a counsellor? What type of person do they see? Do they see someone who they would want to refer clients to? Your reputation begins in university and people are unlikely to forget the behavioural impressions you leave with them. If people Google or Bing you, will the results send a signal of professionalism and other qualities associated with counselling? Determine what type of counsellor you want to be viewed as and ensure that is what you communicate in person and online. Employers and clients will look you up online or may ask questions of people who know you. A good reputation takes years to build and can be lost quickly. Aim to build it and protect it.

This segment has offered five ways of enhancing the chances of success in gaining counselling employment. In the next installment, I will list a further four strategies that I believe will enhance your chance of employment as a counsellor.

Increasing Your Chances of Employment as a Counsellor Part 1 of 3

Nathan Beel 2018, reprinted from QCA blog.

Reality hit me hard when I graduated with my first counselling degree. I was 23 years old and confident that obtaining my degree meant that I would become employed as a counsellor in the first weeks of looking for work. I diligently applied for successive positions and on occasions when I received replies, they politely declined and indicated that I needed more experience. I learned the hard way that degrees in counselling were not a guaranteed ticket to employment.

I returned to study for a graduate diploma in counselling with a 200 hr internship for experience and was fortunate to pick up a counselling job soon afterwards. After two decades in various counselling related roles, including being on panels interviewing for counsellors, my understanding of counselling employment has grown, and I can see how naïve my presumptions were in the early days.

A key assumption I operate on now is that counselling employment is a competitive supply and demand market. Employers aim for the most attractive candidate who applies. This attractiveness is based on the perceived value the applicant can bring to the role. Value is subjective depending on the position and the hirer, and the field of applicants.

What applicants often do not see is who they are competing against. This is an important factor that shouldn’t be overlooked. Missing out on a job does not mean that one was deemed inadequate or under-qualified. It may mean that there was another applicant with more diverse or specialised experience and training who gained the position. However it is measured, the applicant who gains the job is deemed by the panel to offer the role the most potential value compared to the other candidates. The challenge for the job seeker is to help shape the panel’s perception that s/he is the most valuable applicant.

Some counselling job seekers will miss out on positions because they disqualify themselves from applying. They may believe they are slightly underqualified for a position, that the position is difficult for them, or that others going for the position will be more qualified and experienced. However, if these job seekers do not apply, they might miss out on gaining the job that they may have otherwise gained. If they were to put their application in, they might be the most attractive candidate compared to the other candidates. I recommend against self-selecting out of applying when there may be some criteria that are not met or when the position description may appear intimidating. I have gained several positions which I perceived were above my capabilities and experience, but which if I had not have applied, I would have missed out on gaining the employment and discovering that I could do the role despite my self-doubts. While job seekers have increased chances of gaining work when they meet all the job criteria, their chances reduce to zero if they self-select out from applying at all.

In this instalment, I have highlighted that advertised counselling positions are competitive by nature and that organisations are seeking the most potentially valuable person from among a number of applicants. Missing out on a position does not imply that one is professionally deficient or unemployable as a counsellor but may simply reflect high-quality competition. I also recommended job seekers to go for positions that one may not meet all the criteria or where the position description tasks appear too difficult, as the job seeker may still be the viewed as the most potentially valuable person for the role compared to the other applicants. In the next instalment, I will discuss five specific strategies for increasing one’s perceived potential value of applying for jobs.

Do counsellors become more effective over time?

By Nathan Beel (reprinted from QCA)

The counselling profession prizes clinical experience. For counsellors to advance from intern through to clinical member, there is an expectation that they will accrue hundreds of hours of counselling practice over years. Exposure over time to a broader range of clients and their issues, training, professional development, and clinical supervision, is likely to lead counsellors to acquire expanded learning at multiple levels. But does this accruing of experience, knowledge, and skill translate into improved outcomes over time? Or, put another way, will the senior members in the profession be getting better results than they did when they first began their counselling practice?

Goldberg and colleagues (2016) set out to measure therapist performance over time in a longitudinal study. They reviewed the outcome data from 170 therapists from a university counselling service over a period between .44 to 17.93 years (av 4.73). Therapists covered a continuum of career status, from trainee students through to experienced licensed professionals.

The results of the study were surprising. Therapists, as a group, did not improve with experience, whether the experience be measured in time or cases.  In fact, overall, there was a very slight decline of outcomes with experience. Breaking it down further, 60% of therapists declined slightly while the remaining 40% improved slightly over time. The bulk of therapists experienced very little improvement or deterioration in their outcomes over time.

How might we interpret these results?

General effectiveness: first, we need to remember that counselling is generally very effective (Smith & Glass, 1977). Finding that counsellor performance generally does not change over time does not suggest clients are not benefitting from treatment. Most clients will benefit from most counsellors.

Staple profession requirements: The results raise questions about the impact on outcomes of professional development and clinical supervision. Both of these areas have little research support on their contribution to improving outcomes. If counsellors are receiving regular supervision and professional development but are not improving in outcomes, we need to understand why. Do these activities simply help us maintain our existing levels of effectiveness? Are benefits of clinical supervision not generalizable across our clients? Or are these activities primarily for other benefits, such as increasing therapist practice knowledge, self-awareness, and resilience?

Over-estimates: Over time, counsellors collectively may not improve in their effectiveness, but they tend to increase in confidence and professional self-belief. Research has demonstrated that therapists over-estimate their effectiveness and typically suffer from self-assessment bias (Walfish, McAlister, O’Donnell, & Lambert, 2012). However, there is some evidence that counsellors who display more professional self-doubt tend to get better outcomes than those who have more professional self-confidence (Nissen-Lie et al., 2017). The interpretation of why this might be the case is that those who lack professional confidence are likely to spend more time devoted to considering their work in comparison to those who engage in less critical professional reflection.

So how can counsellors continue improving their effectiveness?  This area of psychotherapy expertise research is still very young. Current suggestions include ensuring appropriate reliable formal outcome feedback is collected. Therapists are typically over-optimistic in their perceptions of client improvement and fail to recognise failing cases (Hannan et al., 2005), hence objective measurement is important. The second is utilising the feedback and translating it into deliberate practice (Goodyear, Wampold, Tracey, & Lichtenberg, 2017), and then checking to see if this deliberate practice converts into improved outcomes.

Counsellors cannot rely on experience, supervision, professional development as pathways to improve their client effectiveness. Current recommendations suggest counsellors need systematic outcome feedback combined with deliberate practice if they seek to continue to improve.

Click here for a YouTube version of this article.


Goldberg, S. B., Rousmaniere, T., Miller, S. D., Whipple, J., Nielsen, S. L., Hoyt, W. T., & Wampold, B. E. (2016). Do psychotherapists improve with time and experience? A longitudinal analysis of outcomes in a clinical setting. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 63(1), 1-11.

Goodyear, R. K., Wampold, B. E., Tracey, T. J. G., & Lichtenberg, J. W. (2017). Psychotherapy expertise should mean superior outcomes and demonstrable improvement over time. The Counseling Psychologist, 45(1), 54-65. doi:10.1177/0011000016652691

Hannan, C., Lambert, M. J., Harmon, C., Nielsen, S. L., Smart, D. W., Shimokawa, K., & Sutton, S. W. (2005). A lab test and algorithms for identifying clients at risk for treatment failure. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 61(2), 155-163.

Nissen-Lie, H. A., Rønnestad, M. H., Høglend, P. A., Havik, O. E., Solbakken, O. A., Stiles, T. C., & Monsen, J. T. (2017). Love yourself as a person, doubt yourself as a therapist? Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 24(1), 48-60. doi:10.1002/cpp.1977

Smith, M. L., & Glass, G. V. (1977). Meta-analysis of psychotherapy outcome studies. American Psychologist, 32(9), 752-760. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.32.9.752

Walfish, S., McAlister, B., O’Donnell, P., & Lambert, M. J. (2012). An investigation of self-assessment bias in mental health providers. Psychological Reports, 110(2), 639-644. doi:10.2466/02.07.17.PR0.110.2.639-644