The Importance of Professional Development for The Counselling Profession
Affiliation: Veronika Basa, Nepean Hwy Seaford Vic 3198, Melbourne, Australia
Copyright: International Academy for Professional Development Ltd
Published: 16 September, 2023
New paper statement: Confirmed
Details of funding/grants: None declared
Conflict of interest declaration: There is no potential conflict of interest in respect of my authorship or the publication of this paper
Acknowledgements: None declared
Article citation: Basa, V. (2023). The importance of professional development for the counselling profession. Journal of Professional Development, 1, 2, 1-6. https://jpd.iafpd.info/volumes/volume-1-2023/volume-1-article-2
The commitment to both professional and personal development is universal in the counselling profession. It is believed that the development of the client is in many ways limited by the development of the counsellor. Counsellor training is in many forms but primarily in forms of formal education (qualifications such as certificate, diploma, master’s degree, or Ph.D.) and ongoing professional development (such as workshops, seminars, supervision, or conferences).
This article is a literature review of professional development for the counselling profession, including the key findings of two major empirical studies of psychotherapist and counsellor development, a rationale for the importance of professional development for counsellors, purpose, and the benefits of counsellors’ professional development.
Keywords: Professional Development, Counsellors, Psychotherapist, Supervision, Training
Basically, counsellor training consists of two pathways: formal graduate training and continuing education. Formal graduate training takes place in an educational environment, such as colleges or universities (Young, Forquer, Tran, Starzynki, & Shatkin, 2000), where counsellor build essential knowledge and competencies (Fouad et al., 2009; Neimeyer, Taylor, & Philip, 2010). For the purposes of simplification, in this article, counsellor competency is described as counsellors’ specialised knowledge, skills, and attitudes (Epstein & Hundert, 2002; Rodolfa et al., 2005). Continuing education involves continuing educational activities such as training courses, workshops, conferences, supervision, consultation, or personal therapy, that build on the counsellors’ existing knowledge and competencies (NCS, 2023)
Until recently, continuing education consisted mostly of counsellors’ self-assessment of their own competencies and needs (Neimeyer et al., 2010). Currently counsellors and psychotherapists are mandated to undergo a minimum number of ongoing professional development hours, based on their needs, by their associations (e.g. the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or the American Counselling Association (ACA)) as ethical requirements and for the purposes of renewal of their annual membership. (BACP, 2023; ACA, 2023).
This article will provide a short history of professional development, a brief introduction to and implications of the two major studies in counsellors’ professional development and discuss the importance, purpose, and the benefits of counsellors’ professional development.
The origins of counsellors’ and psychotherapists’ professional development stems from different fields of studies such as research in counselling and psychotherapy, human and career development, and the professionalism of the profession, that add positive changes in counsellors’ and psychotherapists’ skills, cognitive abilities, attitudes, emotional and interpersonal functioning, and professional identity. The relatively new research involves empirical studies of counsellor’s development that focused on their entire career life. For example, the works of Hill, Charles and Reed (1981) or Loganbill, Hardy and Delworth (1987).
The more recent conceptual and empirical studies can be found in Bernard and Goodyear (2009, 2018) and a review of counsellors’ and psychotherapists’ training, supervision, and professional development (Hill & Knox, 2013). However, Rønnestad, Orlinsky and Wiseman (2016) noted that while early training, supervision and development is emphasised in a lot of research, not much research have been conducted on counsellors’ and psychotherapists` post-graduate years.
Systematic empirical studies of the counsellors’ and psychotherapists’ career-long professional development have only been conducted in the last 25 years.
There are two major empirical studies that have focused on the counsellors’ and psychotherapists’ professional development throughout their career lifespan: The Minnesota Study of the Therapist and Counselor Development (Skovholt & Rønnestad, 1992/1995; Rønnestad & Skovholt, 2013); and the International Study of Development of Psychotherapists (ISDP) (Ronnestad, Orlinsky, Schroder, Skivholt, & Willutzki, 2018).
The Minnesota Study of Therapist and Counsellor Development was a qualitative study originated in 1985. The data collected was from about 100 psychotherapists via 172 interviews at different experience levels, from beginning students to retired counsellors/psychotherapists in the field, with the aim to understand the counsellors’ professional development over their full career lifespan. The results indicated five phases of counsellors’ and psychotherapists’ development: Novice/Student Phase, Experienced Student Phase, Novice Professional Phase, Experienced Professional Phase and Senior Professional Phase, that described three developmental paths: Continued development, Exhaustion, and Disengagement. The results were integrated into the Phase Model and the Cyclical Trajectories model, with recommendations for supervision suggesting that supervision approach needs to be sensitive to the therapists’ developmental level (Ronnestad et al., 2018).
The International Study of Development of Psychotherapists (ISDP) was a quantitative study and consisted of a major international survey that involved a collection of data from about 5,000 counsellors and psychotherapists from countries all over the world from 1991 to 2003 (currently about 12,000 therapists), using the Development of Psychotherapist Common Core Questionnaire (Ronnestad et al., 2018).
The analysis based on the counsellors’ and psychotherapists’ clinical skills, coping strategies, difficulties in practice, and how they associated with their clients and feelings during sessions, pointed to two areas of the counselling work experience: Healing Involvement and Stressful Involvement. The Analysis based on the counsellors’ experiences of current professional development indicated two areas: Currently Experienced Growth and Currently Experienced Depletion. The results were integrated into a Cyclical-Sequential Model with recommendations for clinical training, supervision and practice, suggesting their importance in counsellor development (Ronnestad et al., 2018).
The Importance of Professional Development
Both of the above major studies suggest that, counsellors, for their optimal development, need to be involved in continuing educational activities, both professional and personal, as professional growth is mostly influenced by client experience, training and supervision (Orlinsky, Botermans, & Rønnestad, 2001), and personal psychotherapy (Geller, Norcross & Orlinsky, 2005; Rønnestad, Orlinsky, & Wiseman, 2016) that facilitate the process of ongoing professional reflection leading to reflective counsellors and therapists throughout their professional careers.
The Purpose of Professional Development
Professional Development for counsellors enables counsellors maintain currency (Neimeyer et al., 2010) and improve their level of competence for the duration of their careers, and ensure that counsellors maintain safe, ethical, and legal practices within their professional role, as well uphold industry standards. (NCS, 2023).
The Benefits of Professional Development
The benefits of professional development for counsellors and psychotherapists are many. For example, to have updated skill sets relevant to current best practice and industry standards, more professional and personal confidence, staying up to date with the latest technology, or satisfy the ethical and membership requirements of their professional bodies (Rodolfa et al., 2005; NCS, 2023; Wise et al., 2010).
Ongoing education for therapists in the counselling profession is an ethical imperative towards lifelong learning (Rodolfa et al., 2005; Wise et al., 2010), toward verification and accountability (Taylor & Neimeyer, 2015). Currently, it is mandated for membership renewals by counselling associations and licensing bodies across the globe to enable counsellors maintain competency, upholding industry standards, or to be up to date on the latest research and technology used in the field.
However, even though most therapists believe that there is an increase in their effectiveness, more empirical studies are needed to create a direct link between the relationship of continuing education and client outcome (Ronnestad et al., 2018).
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Veronika Basa is an independent researcher, author, speaker, educator, and course designer. She designed, developed, and authored, within the Australian Qualification Framework (AQF), the first nationally accredited courses in supervision in Australia, the (69828) Certificate IV in Counselling Supervision (AQF level 4, 2007-2010), and the (69795) Graduate Diploma of Counselling Supervision (AQF level 8, 2010-2015). She is also a member of the European Journal of Counselling Theory, Research and Practice (EJC-TRAP) European and International Advisory Board.