Going for Accreditation as a Pluralistic Counsellor
John Hills, Tricia Joyce, Julia McLeod, Nicola Blunden, James Schindler-Ord, and Gary Tebble. With thanks to: Kevin Kirwan (BACP) and Jenny McLintock (COSCA)
If you are a pluralistic therapist preparing to apply for accreditation, you may be wondering about professional body attitudes towards pluralism, as an emerging approach within counselling and psychotherapy. This year we—contributing members of the Pluralistic Practice Steering Group—have consulted with assessors at the British Association for Counselling and Psychology (BACP) and the Confederation of Scottish Counsellors Association (COSCA) and have been reassured that applicants who identify as working with a pluralistic framework are not at any disadvantage and are just as likely to be successful in their accreditation claims as applicants working within other integrative frameworks or modalities. You also don’t have to have qualified from a pluralistic course. Your pluralistic application is about where you are today.
Here we offer some advice for pluralistic practitioners to consider as you prepare your accreditation applications. See also Mick Cooper’s blog So you want to be a pluralistic therapist‘, on which the current article builds.
Coherence is Key
You should provide a clear account of what pluralistic practice means to you as a philosophy and what it means in the room working with your client. The challenge is to get beyond abstract terms and give the assessor a clear sense for what your pluralistic practice looks like: e.g., from a ‘fly on the wall’ perspective—if the assessor could see you at work with your client, what would they see?
Crucially, as you identify a plurality of modalities, strategies, or interventions that you might draw upon, you need to be able to offer a brief explanation around your rationale for using these different approaches and how you would move between them. You might consider core principles—such as collaboration with the client, or metatherapeutic communication—as applicable to all your client work and therefore the consistent ground from which you might invoke a plurality of approaches.
A key principle of pluralistic practice is shared decision-making—working together with the client to agree which therapeutic activities might be most relevant at different points in therapy. This is a key difference between a pluralistic approach and other approaches in which a pre-existing model is rolled out in a standardised way. The assessor will get a concise and credible appreciation of how you function as a counsellor if you can briefly explain how you go about finding what the client wants (their goals), then working together to identify tasks and activities that contribute toward that goal, and then continuously invite feedback and reviews to make sure that your work with a client is on track.
For BACP accreditation the issue of coherence relates particularly to Criterion 8.1—‘Describe a rationale for all your client work’, but note also that your case material in Criterion 9.1—‘How your practice is consistent with your described way of working’ must clearly illustrate your theoretical account in Criterion 8.1. For COSCA accreditation, criteria 3.3 (‘core orientation’), 5.6 (‘assessment skills and referral system’), and 5.8 (‘case study’) are particularly vital here.
It is important that both your account of your rationale (BACP Criterion 8.1) and your case study (BACP Criterion 9.1) are consistent with what you have written earlier on the form about your training. The assessor needs to see that any therapy intervention or activity mentioned in Sections 8 or 9 can be tracked back to a specific training input. Also, the training needs to be appropriate in terms of duration and level. For example, if your training only included one model on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), it is not credible to then describe yourself as ‘using a CBT approach’ with clients. It is more convincing if you can be specific about which aspect of CBT you were taught to use—such as a particular CBT case formulation model or a protocol for working with panic disorder.
For many pluralistic therapists, mobilising client resources is a valuable aspect of the work. Mentioning this in your theory/rationale section, and in your case, reinforces this distinctive element of pluralistic practice. In terms of describing how you were trained to do this, you can say that this strategy was covered in your training, or you might be able identify relevant elements of training that introduced you to a strengths-based approach, or to relevant aspects of solution-focused therapy or narrative therapy.
Less is More
As you identify a plurality of approaches that you might draw upon, try not to pepper your application with many different modalities, strategies, or interventions, as it will make it harder for you to demonstrate the coherence of your approach both in general terms and as you come to supply case material (or to provide a credible explanation of how and when you learned all these things). Instead focus on a selection of skills, activities, and approaches that are well established in your practice and demonstrate how and in what circumstances these come into play within your pluralistic practice. The reader needs to see you demonstrate a level of depth and maturity within your understanding and in relation to your application of the pluralistic approach in the room with your clients.
If we consider the BACP accreditation application it would be important that Sections 8.1 and 9.1 are matched theoretically—you should not identify a skill, activity, or an approach in Section 9.1 that wasn’t first introduced in Section 8.1. For COSCA Accreditation, Criteria 3.3 and 5.8 are important to consider for the same reasons as stated by BACP. It is important to show consistency between both.
Write in Plain English
While you may wish to refer to academic writings and textbooks in your written pieces, applications that are dense with technical or abstract language will be regarded unfavourably by assessors. It is important to explain to the assessor in plain English what these terms mean to you in the reality of your practice. There is a requirement from COSCA to write in a reflective, exploratory style of writing—reflective rather than descriptive—with the need to show an understanding and application of theory in practice.
You can choose whether or not to include citations in your written pieces, but if you do you should also supply a reference list.
Consider this principle of writing in Plain English also when you are referring to your use of your professional body’s ethical framework. It is not just a case of showing off your knowledge about the framework in general terms, but you must show how you mobilise it in practice. If your writing on ethical issues is too abstract and theoretical the assessor may conclude that you do not really understand what the framework means in practice. It is worth including, in your case material, a brief account of an aspect of your work with that client that demonstrates how you have handled the tension between two ethical principles, or how you have applied a particular ethical principle. Such examples help the assessor to see how you apply your ethical awareness in practice. It is worth remembering that any hint of inconsistency between training and how you work with clients may lead the assessor to conclude that you do not understand the section of the framework that refers to working within the limitations of your competence.
The ultimate test of whether you are writing in plain English is whether someone who is not a trained therapist can make sense of what you have written. This is particularly important in relation to pluralistic practice, which usually involves conversations with clients about the pros and cons of alternative ways of working with their problem. Perhaps you could ask a lay person—a friend or family member—to look through your writing and feed back to you.
Contemporary Social Context
Consider carefully the contemporary context in which your practice sits. Since the pandemic, many more practitioners are working remotely via video conferencing or telephone. How do you adjust your practice when working in these media? What special considerations do you need to make as a pluralistic practitioner? What is your awareness of phenomena such as the disinhibition effect? How do you manage technical glitches?
Consider also issues of difference or sameness in the room. For instance you could consider how you will work with power differentials, privilege, different processing or learning styles, and neurodiversity. These considerations may be represented most explicitly in sections where you are asked to comment on awareness of difference and sameness (e.g., BACP Section 8.3).
You’ve Got This!
We hope these lines of advice are helpful to you as you go for accreditation. Do note also that the BACP offer tele-surgeries for accreditation prior to application, or following a deferral, for a small fee. Additionally COSCA offer accreditation workshops twice yearly via Zoom and individual support through the counsellor accreditation scheme.
The Senior Team at the NCS have also commented on this article and have told us that it “offers sound advice which applicants are likely to find useful”.
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