In this issue


The culture of work
Peter Jenkins explores the dynamics of counsellors in organisations and asks, why the problem?

The training gap (free article)
With employee support a growth area in the therapy world, how equipped are the next generation of counsellors to join the sector? Nicola Banning finds out how one EAP is responding

A career story
From journalist to therapist: Caroline Feldon explains how she transferred her journalistic skills to the task of therapy


Notes from the chair

Workplace matters (free article)
Sandi Mann — Dressed for work?

Talking purple (free article)
Sarah Simcoe — Purple power

Sarah Worley-James — Bridging the gap

Practitioner matters
Patrick Quinn — The meaning of work

EAP matters
Amanda Smith — Why we need to measure

Cover of Counselling at Work, Spring 2017

A pdf version of this issue is available from the Counselling at Work archive

First words

Over breakfast, my eight year old tells me that she knows what makes a good leader. Three head teachers in as many years in her primary school means that she knows that each new leader makes life at school feel different. It’s an early lesson in understanding organisational culture; that the written and unwritten rules can change quickly. A good or bad day can depend on who’s in charge, what rules are being made and how they’re being communicated.

As the rhetoric of division and extremism spreads across the West, the change to our culture appears more tangible, at an individual, organisational, national and global level. An understanding of culture is vital to grasping the complexities of micro and macro dynamics and how this impacts on our work with our clients. So, why might counsellors have a particular problem with this, asks Peter Jenkins in ‘The culture of work’?

One reason, is training. The world of therapy has evolved from a task culture, with its emphasis on autonomy in our one-to-one work with our clients: ‘Counselling training implicitly gears therapists for the world of private practice rather than the complex reality of information-sharing in multidisciplinary teams’, argues Peter. The pace of change in the wider world in which our clients live and work, and in which therapy increasingly takes place, demands that therapists catch up.

It’s an area that our profession and training providers seem peculiarly blind to, leaving even experienced counsellors without the skills and competences to work with the wider organisation which, crucially, is paying for the counselling. How we choose to dress, our attitude to measuring outcomes and our capacity to work with the organisation as our client, are the written and unwritten rules of organisational work for therapists. There’s a warning from Peter that the future of our profession cannot simply exist in private practice: ‘As counsellors, we need to grasp and work within these widely varying organisational contexts, in order to promote our therapeutic work and even to survive as a profession.’

It’s a message that I, along with my BACP Workplace colleagues, Nicola Neath and Julie Hughes, delivered to students all day at BACP’s Student Conference, ‘Bridging the Gap’. We offered trainees, keen to forge careers in the field of employee counselling, some practical steps for getting started in the workplace sector and highlighted the growing mental health at work agenda which offers opportunities for our profession.

In ‘The Training Gap’, Sharon McCormick explains why she introduced a placement for trainee counsellors to receive workplace counselling experience, support, supervision, and a modest fee. Positive about the benefits, Sharon encourages other business leaders and service managers to provide similar schemes for trainees, offering a template for others to model and the chance for a cultural shift in our profession.

As counselling is rarely a first career choice, our life and work experience tend to be factors in making the shift. Caroline Feldon is a former journalist and producer with the BBC, and now a therapist. Interested to know which transferrable skills she could take from broadcasting into therapy, and which to leave behind, she spoke to other journalists turned therapists for her MSc research. Making meaning is at the heart of both therapy and programme making, and the crossovers are rich.

Calling for a cultural change in the way we tackle mental health at work, a recent Policy Report from the Institute of Directors (IoD) revealed that 54 per cent of its members had been approached by staff with mental ill health, but just 14 per cent of the organisations had a formal mental health policy in place.1 The IoD points out the disparity between how large multinationals support their staff, in contrast to small and medium employers (SMEs), which can put mental health in the ‘too hard to deal with’ box. It calls on the Government to drive cultural change from the top to enable more conversations about mental health to take place to support the workforce for the future.

Whether you trust in the Government’s capacity to drive cultural change towards enabling these conversations, may depend on how you feel about the zeitgeist. But these conversations are happening, among employers, at work and with people who, importantly, have budgets to spend on psycho-education, and who understand the benefits of supporting the mental health of their workforce.

I don’t think these conversations are new. I remember having them 10 years ago. What is new is the wider awareness and growing acceptance that we all have mental health and that it is not peripheral to our lives – counselling belongs in our communities, schools and workplaces. It’s a shift in culture and one that demands that our profession is fit for the work that lies ahead.


1 Institute of Directors. Policy Report March 2017. A little more conversation – mental health in the changing world of work. (accessed 15 March 2017).