How do I discern between a professional counsellor and a lay counsellor?

Not everybody who calls themselves ‘counsellor’ can provide professional counselling services in India.  There is no regulatory body or association for governing the practice of counselling in India. This has unfortunately led to anybody with or without formal training, calling themselves as counsellors.

Therefore there seems to be confusion and misinformation about the nature, role and activities of a counsellor, in the mind of the general public today. From tarot card readers to college guidance cells, the term ‘counselling’ is used freely by anybody providing services in the spheres of advising, guiding and healing.

It is important for you to know what professional counselling is, so that you are in a better position to discern the real thing.

Qualities of a professional counsellor

  • He/she has a minimum of a degree or diploma in counselling from a recognized university
  • He/she follows professional guidelines, processes and ethics while providing counselling services to people. These are standards that govern the counselling practice, regulated and monitored by a professional body
  • He/she does not rely on intuition or personal opinion rather basis their counselling on scientific knowledge, psychological theory, research based approaches and skills.
  • He/she refrains from advising, fixing problems or providing instant solutions. A professional counsellor is defined as ‘a skilled therapist whose purpose is to release and strengthen the individual, rather than to intervene in his life. He/she does not suggest, advise or persuade, but rather encourages the client to take responsibility for making new choices.’
  • He/she bases their practice on the science of psychology, and not based on a particular religion and worldview. However professional counsellors are bound by ethics to understand a client from the religion, culture and worldview they come from in order to help them better.
  • He/she does not enforce their personal beliefs and values on the client.
  • His/her understanding of the client is neutral, objective, fair and unbiased.
  • He/she is trained in the acquisition of basic and advanced counselling skills that help build a warm, empathetic, genuine and congruent relationship with the client.
  • He/she is ethically bound to maintain confidentiality of what clients share. Client safety and wellbeing are protected and nurtured.
  • He/she charges a fee for their service and meets the client only in a professional setting. Professional counsellors don’t meet clients at home, coffee shops or any other informal setting.
  • He/she does not provide answers or solutions but helps the client to discover their own answers or solution.
  • He/she is accountable to a professional supervisor, in order to ensure client safety and wellbeing.
  • He/she also meets a counsellor regularly to work through his/her personal issues to enhance personal growth and wellbeing

Good intentions are not enough in the counselling profession. One also needs to be professionally trained and qualified to provide quality and safe counselling services. A person who may not have all the above professional credentials, but perhaps has a genuine desire to help people is generally referred to as a ‘lay counsellor’.

Many lay counsellors are found in religious organizations and wellbeing centers. While they help people in their own way, one needs to know the difference between lay counsellors and professional counsellors.

In a scenario where there are reports of abuse of power and violation of client rights, you need to be careful while choosing a counsellor. An advantage of meeting someone who is professionally trained and qualified is that their practice is governed and accounted for by other professionals in the same field, therefore there is an assurance of confidentiality and safety.

The TalkItOver team consists of professionals who come in with a minimum of a Masters degree in Counselling psychology, along with atleast 250 hours of supervised counselling experience. They follow the ethical guidelines prescribed by professional associations like American Counselling Association (ACA). In addition to this, each counsellor is accountable to a supervisor to ensure the quality of our counselling services.

Feel free to go through our ethical guidelines or get in touch with a professional counsellor.