Saturday, 28 January 2012

Stray thoughts on counselling and advising

From time to time I am involved in "casework" type activities: mostly that involves supporting people in circumstances of their professional work. That role often involves using my professional training and experience to advise someone as to a course of action that they should take. There may be some  counselling skills used - sympathetic and accurate listening, for example - but the role is not one of counselling. It involves giving specific advice. There is a second moment in this type of activity, and that is the consent of the person being advised. That person might choose to follow the advice that has been given, but they might also choose not to do so, and there are many things that I can only do with their consent. Expressed at a more philosophical level, there is the necessity of respecting the freedom of action of the other person with respect to the advice that is given.

Another aspect of these situations is the presumptions that are implicit in the relationship that I have to the person I am advising. My working context very often contains an implicit, and sometimes explicit, expectation that I will offer advice, and this expectation underpins the relationship of trust between myself and the other person. This makes it possible for me to offer advice without it going against the freedom of the other person. Often I will have a part in the implementation of the course of action that is followed, and respecting the (implicit) basis of the trust between myself and the other person is critical.

And what happens if the person I am supporting says something to me that I, from an ethical point of view, do not agree with or support?

If I were counselling, at least if I have understood the concept of counselling correctly, the one thing I would not do is advise one course of action rather than any other. Instead, the process is one of supporting the other person to recognise and make their own choice of the course of action.

I do not have first hand experience or knowledge of counselling in the context of crisis pregnancy. What is the intention of such counselling? Is it one of advising, or is it one of counselling in the stricter sense? And does the person approaching a crisis pregnancy counsellor do so with implicit expectations that form the basis of trust underlying the counselling session? Despite the use of the word "counselling", are they expecting to be advised about a course of action? Would client expectations determine their decision to approach one counselling agency rather than another, that expectation then beginning to form a basis for the trust between counsellor and client, and thereby permitting advice in a particular direction rather than another that nevertheless is still respectful of the freedom of the client?  In any situation, how does the dynamic of possibly-advice from the counsellor and consent by the client play out?

I wonder whether the current debate about "post conception advice and counselling" is failing to really reach to the root question of how counselling/advice interacts with the freedom of the person seeking that counselling/advice? And within how we understand that interaction lies the answer as to whether or not an abortion provider or a pro-life agency can offer counselling/advice that is, to use the inaccurate language typical of public debate, impartial. Is not a range of different provisions one of the conditions that would permit this impartiality in its genuine sense?

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