Raising concerns about a Counsellor

Procedures for Ethical Concerns and Complaints

Information for people wishing to express a concern or to make a complaint.

A.  Counsellors who are Members or Provisional Members of the New Zealand Association of Counsellors are required to abide by the Association’s Code of Ethics. A copy of the Code can be obtained by writing to the NZAC or can be found on the Association’s website: https://www.nzac.org.nz/ethics/code-of-ethics/

B.   You may have a concern about how a counsellor has behaved in terms of that Code. This might arise because you are:

1. the client of the counsellor
2. the person with legal responsibility for the client of the counsellor
eg., parent/guardian/ person with enduring power of attorney
3. in a support role or professional role with the client of the
counsellor. (In this case you would need the permission of the client to act).
4. a professional colleague, supervisor or manager of the counsellor. (In this case you are encouraged to consult your supervisor before acting.)
5. a supervisee of the counsellor (In this case you are encouraged to consult a more experienced counsellor before acting.)
6. affected by the actions of the counsellor in some other role you play.

C. The Association encourages you to express your concern directly to the counsellor. This is often the most effective and timely way to clear misunderstanding or to remedy a problem. Furthermore, NZAC counsellors are themselves expected to encourage open expression of any difficulties that may arise in the course of their work.

You may choose to approach the counsellor with your own supporter/s. If you would like help or guidance in making an approach you may write to the Ethics Secretary, Ethics Office, PO Box 25287, Wellington, 6140 or ethicssecretary@nzac.org.nz

D. If a direct approach does not resolve the issue for you, or if the behaviour of the counsellor is very serious, you may wish the Association either to assist in resolving it, or to investigate the matter in a formal way. You are invited to communicate with us by writing to the Ethics Secretary.

E. The Association’s Criteria for receiving complaints:
The Ethics Committee will receive written concerns or complaints from any person about a named member or members relating to:

• Professional misconduct

• Behaviour which is unbecoming a member

• Behaviour which adversely reflects on the NZAC, or on the profession of counselling

F. Guideline for making a complaint in writing (See at the end of this document)

G. Procedure

i. On receiving your letter, the Ethics Secretary will check that the counsellor is a current Member of, or Provisional Member of NZAC and will establish whether the concern meets the criteria (see above) for receiving concerns and complaints. If it does not, you will be offered information about what other avenues might be available to you.

ii. If NZAC can respond to your concern or complaint, you will be sent a copy of the procedures and a form to sign seeking your agreement for us to proceed with the matter. You will be asked to give consent for NZAC to send a copy of your original letter to the member.

iii. On receipt of your consent, the convenor and will read and carefully consider your concern. They will then inform you about which of the following steps the Committee will take:

1. Assistance to you to seek private resolution
2. Request for a written response from the Member or Applicant
3. No further action
4. Referral to a Regional Ethics Process Team
5. Referral to the National Ethics Committee, which may result in a formal hearing

Assistance to seek private resolution
The Ethics Secretary will offer suggestions about how you might go about approaching the counsellor, and how you might access support for this step.

Request for a written response from the Member or Provisional Member
The Member or Provisional Member is given one month in which to reply to the complaint and further correspondence may occur which could extend the time before the Initial Assessment Group (made up of the Convenor, secretary and one of committee member) decides on whether further steps might be taken.

No further action
If the Initial Assessment Group agrees that the behaviour complained about is not potentially professional misconduct or behaviour which adversely reflects on NZAC or on the profession of counselling, no further action will be taken. In this case you will be informed and advised about any other courses of action you might choose to take. A copy of your original letter will be sent to the member or applicant for their information.

Referral to Regional Ethics Team (RET)

The Regional Ethics Process has been designed to enable NZAC to:

Formulate an understanding of the circumstances that led to the complaint being made.
Identify any ways in which the counsellor may have contributed to the situation,
and if this is found to be the case,
Propose restorative and/or educational actions to minimise the likelihood of such events recurring.


  • The Process will be led by a Regional Coordinator. When they receive a copy of the correspondence they will chose two members of the Regional Ethics Team to deal with this complaint. The Coordinator will endeavour to ensure that there is no conflict of interest.

  • The two team members will arrange to meet with you and you may choose to bring a support person to that meeting. There will be no electronic recording of the discussion. The meeting will provide an opportunity for the team members to hear your account of what happened, to learn more about the circumstances that led to the complaint and to discuss expectations and possible outcomes.

  • The two team members will then meet with the Member or Applicant and their supervisor to discuss the concerns raised by the complaint. The meeting will provide an opportunity for the team members to hear the Member or Applicant’s account of what happened, to learn more about the circumstances that led to the complaint, and, where appropriate, to invite reflection and review.  

  • The Regional Ethics team will then determine what steps they will take.

Possible Outcomes

  • No further action

  • Achieving a private resolution between you and the Member or Applicant

  • Identifying any restorative or educational steps the Regional Ethics Team requires the Member or Applicant to take eg., acknowledgment, further education or training, specialist consultation or additional supervision

  • Referring the matter back to the Initial Assessment Group and recommending alternative courses of action e.g., further investigation or a formal Hearing

You will be informed about the outcome, or of progress towards an outcome, by the National Ethics Secretary within a month of the meeting with you.

Formal Hearing
This procedure will be adopted where the behaviour complained about warrants an inquiry to establish the facts, and is of such a nature that if the complaint were upheld, sanctions might be imposed by the Association.

  • The complaint is now taken up by the Association. The Member or Applicant will be required to answer to the NZAC. If you are the complainant you are then invited to become a witness for the Association and can be assisted and supported by one of the NZAC Procedural Advisors

  • The formal Hearing must follow the principles of natural justice observing the right of the member to a right of reply and to seeking advocacy and legal advice. This can take some months.

  • A panel consisting of three members of the National Ethics Committee and a lay person will be appointed by the Convenor of the National Ethics Committee and, with the assistance of one of the legal advisors to NZAC, will prepare for the Hearing.

  • An NZAC Ethics Committee Hearing is not an adversarial court procedure. The Hearing Panel gathers information to determine whether the behaviour complained about occurred, and whether the behaviour is found to be professional misconduct, or behaviour which adversely reflects on the NZAC or on the profession of counselling.

  • As the person who made the complaint you will be invited to attend and to give your account of the experience. You may be asked questions by the Panel, or by the Member or by their legal representative.

  • If the behaviour described is confirmed by the panel and is found to be professional misconduct or behaviour which adversely reflects on the NZAC or on the profession of counselling, the Panel will then determine any sanctions that may be imposed.

  • Sanctions that involve change of membership status or publication of the results of the Hearing will be presented to the National Executive of NZAC for their approval. As the person who has complained you will be notified of the outcome.


Guidelines for making a complaint

The terms “counsellor” and “counselling” apply to all professional roles undertaken by Members and provisional members. This Code applies to all NZAC Members and Applicants in the full range of their professional practices. Professional practice may include work in the roles of: counsellor, supervisor, therapist, trainer, educator, researcher, advocate, mediator, consultant, manager, coach, community worker, group facilitator, mentor and spiritual advisor. The generic terms “counsellor” and “counselling” apply to all professional roles undertaken by Members. The term “client” refers to those receiving the “counselling” services.

To assist the Association in processing your concerns, it would help if you included the following information:

1. Your names, address, telephone numbers (home and work, if possible), email address. Choose contacts where you can be contacted safely.

2. Name, address and telephone number of the work place of the counsellor who you have concerns about (the respondent).

3. Tell us what your understanding of the counselling relationship was. Tell us what the context of the counselling was, e.g. ACC, Family Court, Community Agency, voluntary counselling service etc.

4. List the dates of the counselling sessions. This can be with specific starting and finishing dates, or if this is not possible, then give more general times i.e. month and year of starting and finishing time.

5. Indicate what kind of counselling this was, e.g. group, consultation or other service from the counsellor.

6. Was the counselling service you are concerned about for yourself or for someone else? If for someone else, who is that person and what is their relationship to you?

7. What did the counsellor do or say that caused you concern? Describe this as clearly as possible. If there is more than one thing, please list all of these.

8. We have enclosed a copy of our Code of Ethics for your information. You may like to read this and identify any statements in this that you think may have been breached by the counsellor you are concerned about.

9. Outline any other action you have already taken in addressing your concerns e.g. talking to the counsellor, contacting the counsellor’s employer, contacting another professional association, etc.

10. Have you made a complaint about this matter through any other complaints process?

11. In the event that your concern becomes a complaint and a hearing is held, please indicate whether you are available in the complaint goes to a hearing i.e. can you get time off work or are there any other restrictions that would prevent you attending, or cause delays in having the case heard?