Planning a Career in Counseling in Singapore?

What is Counselling?
Are you looking for a career in counseling in Singapore and wondered what counselling is all about? It seems like all kinds of people from all professions can call themselves “Counsellors” even though they may not have significant advanced training in counselling. Actually, counselling is a generic term used to cover processes of interviewing, assessment, testing, guiding, and helping individuals to cope, manage or solve problems and plan for the future. The term counselor has gradually become an umbrella term covering everything from those who give intensive psychotherapy to others who offer gentle advice. Therefore, this article serves to give a timely clarification and information about the profession of a “Counsellor.”

Professional Practices
Counsellors are professionals who have significant post-graduate training in counseling theory and skills training OR its equivalent through on-the-job experience, in order to provide safe, confidential, and relevant services to the public who approach them for such services. The professional practices and ethics of counselors should include and is not limited to the following:

1. To do no harm

2. Counsellors tend to be people who have a genuine interest in others and like to develop a helping relationship

3. Respect of the other person/s, regardless of their issue/s

4. Use listening skills and interviewing skills to understand the counsellee

5. Adhere to ethical approaches

6. Practice confidentiality

7. Keep boundaries

8. Keep professional relationships

9. Share training, approaches and orientation

10. Participate in Professional Membership

11. Actively upgrade with Continuing Education

12. Abide by existing laws of the land

What Counselling is not:
While a lot of counselling is a dialogue between two people or more, a counsellor must ALWAYS maintain a professional, objective position in the counselling relationship. Therefore, it is generally discouraged for a professional counsellor to counsel a person that he/she is related to or has an existing relationship or is a close acquaintance. If a counsellor proceeds in such a situation, it is called “a dual relationship” and could affect the objective input of the counsellor. If a counsellor is approached by an acquaintance/friend/relative, he/she should consider a referral or simply assist on a personal level but not on a professional level. Generally, I advocate the following to indicate what counselling is not:
1. Telling a person what to do

2. Passing judgement

3. Moralizing

4. Encouraging dependence

5. Taking sides between couples

6. Boosting someone’s ego

7. Giving advice

8. Solving other’s problems for them (People have the capacity to solve their own problems!)

People generally are more willing to speak to a “stranger” now more than ever before and there is also a growing expectation that people expect this “stranger” to be properly trained, knowledgeable in the area of enquiry, and professional in handling their personal information and other details. People may seek help for any of the following reasons:
1. Mental Health Issues

2. Relationship/Marital Issues

3. Making Plans

4. Difficulties in making choices

5. Discussing options

6. Needing support

7. Seeking a change

8. Coping with loss / illness / grief

9. Academic /educational choices

10. Career Decisions

11. Parenting / Family Issues

12. Crisis /Disaster /War situations

Counsellors therefore, must be well equipped and be able to source adequate supervision to cover the spectrum of possible client’s needs. If counsellors encounter client’s issues that are beyond their training and expertise, they are professionally required to refer to someone else who is trained and capable of providing such a service. Counsellors should never continue in a counselling relationship to deal with issues that they have no training in and when they do not have a certified supervisor. This can be classified as counselling beyond the “scope of practice.” This is one of the most common ways to encourage counsellor burnout or to misdiagnose or mistreat or mismanage a client!

Counsellor Training
While many receive counsellor training through non-degree courses that provide them with a certificate or a diploma, or through on the job training, over the past 20 years there have been many local and foreign Universities which offer Specialist Diplomas, degree, postgraduate diplomas, Masters Degrees, and Doctorates in Counseling and Applied Psychology today! While there is no governing body that regulates counselling in Singapore, over the past 15 years the Singapore Association for Counseling has established benchmarks for counsellor training and monitors these training courses. It is therefore up to the interested person to make conscientious enquiry about the curriculum, practicum, supervision, and employment/private practice potential before embarking on any of these courses. Before embarking on any training in counselling or making a mid-career switch, look through the following list for qualities that you may need and for the kind of commitment you have to make.

Qualities and Commitment of a Counsellor
Ensure individuals get the help they are looking for
A dedicated and genuine interest in people
Patience and respect for humanity
Time & effort
Mental/Physical energy
Odd/Long working hours
Ability to network/resource
Professional in practice
Shares training, approach and orientation
Participates in Professional Membership
Actively upgrades with Continuing Education
Counselling…A satisfying Career
While there are Volunteer Counsellors who help people and have different objectives than professional counsellors, the essential characteristics that binds the two is to help alleviate the distress in another human being! Some approaches are simple, like just spending time over a cup of coffee and giving a listening ear, and at other times it may take 6 months of weekly psychotherapy! Both the end results should be that the distress in the person is alleviated and the person is ‘unstuck’ and able to move on in a new found freedom and face the future again. There is nothing more satisfying than to know that we have helped another fellow traveler along this journey of life. 

Personal Qualities
1. Counsellors believe in the dignity of the human person and the uniqueness of the individual.

2. They respect confidentiality and privacy.

3. Counsellors are people with good listening and interpersonal skills.

4. They place responsibility on each person to decide and initiate change and are sensitive towards their clients.

5. They also have a high degree of self-awareness.

Specialised Advanced Training and Modalities

Counsellors can specialize in various branches of therapy such as solution-focused brief therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy, emotion focused therapy, child counselling, educational counselling, school psychology, addiction counselling, art therapy, marriage & family therapy, and others. These areas of specialisation serve as platforms for professional development. With an advance degree, counsellors may even set up private practices to provide specialist treatment in areas of “service gaps” and/or function as Head of agencies and perform executive roles.

Rev Sam Kuna
President(1999-2003)
Singapore Association for Counseling

Updated in December 2015