The Perfect Counsellor?

Finding, cultivating, even celebrating an ability to accept ourselves in all our messy imperfection is a major element of counselling. The idea of the perfect counsellor is one which we need to dispel, rather than apologising for not living up to it.

Still more thoughts provoked by the 12-point Counsellor’s Creed, by an unknown author (see “The Counsellor’s Creed, “I cannot be your parent…”” and “More on the Counsellor’s Creed: Clear Values, Professionalism”):

3. I will be available for you, as time permits. I am human too, and have my limitations. I get tired, bored, angry, annoyed, depressed, restless, etc. Therefore, please do not place unrealistic demands upon my schedule and my abilities. I might suffer “burnout.”

This sounds like a threat, or at the very least an inappropriate placing of responsibility for the counsellor’s well-being on the client’s shoulders. I can only assume that the “counsellor’s creed” on point three veers into the territory of “counsellor’s plea”!

This said, it is true enough, that counsellors are human too, that this is indeed the whole point of the enterprise, their ‘tool’ if you like. Of course anyone expecting an infallible counsellor will be disappointed. Once I forgot the keys to the office of a place I worked which was two hours car drive away and sat with a client in my car. Once I scheduled clients on a different day from the one on which I turned up. I could say that these unorthodox situations provided stimulating material for counselling, but that would be a cop out. And I’m not sure that it was the fault of unrealistic demands on my counselling schedule and abilities either; I think it was my own absent-mindedness.

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These things happen, but I don’t see that counsellors have to stress their right to be less than perfect. It should go without saying that the counsellor is responsible for their own emotions and timekeeping, that usually they manage to deal with their own feelings and stresses adequately, that knowing what to put aside, and how to do that, which of their feelings may be useful, and how to use them, are some of their basic skills. Usually the counsellor can be trusted to look after themselves and not overschedule, etc. They have, indeed, an ethical responsibility to do so.

Where counsellors can contribute something positive is, I think, in not referring to slip-ups as “limitations”, as if they were supposed to be perfect. Finding, cultivating, even celebrating an ability to accept ourselves in all our messy imperfection is a major element of counselling. The idea of the perfect counsellor is one which we need to dispel, rather than apologising for not living up to it.

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