Be wary of non-qualified "counsellors', NZAC warns

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

It is essential to research a person’s counselling qualifications before trusting them with yours or a loved one’s mental wellbeing issues, warns the NZ Association of Counsellors (NZAC).

The NZAC president, Christine Macfarlane’s, caution follows the breaching of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights by a non-qualified “counsellor”.

Mental Health Commissioner Kevin Allan recommended the “counsellor” provide a written letter of apology to the boy she was seeing and his mother, and undergo de-escalation and developing empathy training.

While she was not a member of any professional association, the “counsellor” has since stopped working in this area.

Ms Macfarlane urges people searching for mental health support to scrutinise a counsellor’s registration with a professional association – like NZAC, Drug and Alcohol Practitioners Association Aotearoa New Zealand, or the NZ Christian Counsellors Association.  

“These associations all have their own robust code of ethics and a complaints process to match.

“For example, NZAC’s code of ethics establishes and maintains standards of professional practice for all our members, and thus protects the public seeking their services.”

In addition, Ms Macfarlane is troubled with Mr Allan reportedly raising his concerns with the Ministry of Health about the lack of protection when dealing with an unregulated counsellor given the profession is not regulated under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003.

That is despite the Ministry of Health’s own reasoning that being regulated under the Act doesn’t imply that a profession lacks professional standards. 

“Our members demonstrated their willingness to adopt a more enhanced quality assurance and professional process through self-regulation including continuing professional development for all members which incorporates an annual auditing process,” Ms Macfarlane says.

“Additionally, our self-regulated regime also aligns more closely with a Te Tiriti o Waitangi-based approach and allows for developing structural equity for tangata whenua.

“So, I hope this boy’s mishandling by a non-qualified counsellor and Mr Allan’s comments about an ‘unregulated profession’ doesn’t dissuade people from seeking help from trusted professionals.

“NZAC counsellors provide highly qualified, effective and professional services that actively address and find solutions to emotional wellness issues.”