Counselling Skills at Work

Rainbow over the Garw Valley

Currently there is a growing interest in how Community Arts activities and creative approaches can play an active part in social inclusion, how they can benefit vulnerable young people and adults as well as improve services in local communities.

When Community Artists engage members of the community in activities such as mural painting, dance, drama, video production, the success of the project is measured by participation numbers and the quality of the outcome, i.e. show, mural.

There is no formalised standard of ‘good practice’ or skills training. In order to work with children and young people, Community Artists have to be police checked and have an awareness of the child protection procedures. Whilst the recognition of the potential these creative approaches have is growing and funding is provided to work with traumatised people, the support for the individual artist has not changed.

There is also a need for an official distinction between arts projects that promise great outcomes and offer access to many people and projects that prioritise the developmental process, as they demand different systems of evaluation.

Some client groups are harder to work with than others. Young people with challenging behaviour will take longer to engage and find it harder to concentrate than other groups who are willing to learn. If Community Arts strives to be successful in working with vulnerable people it is not fair to only evaluate the hard outcomes like the quality of the end product and participation numbers.

“… traditional evaluation methods aren’t sensitive enough to capture the full impact of their approaches…” (Anita Holford, Mail Out, 2004)

By subscribing to the ethical framework of counselling, there would be an understanding of the importance of the process, which reduces the pressure on the practitioner to produce high quality outcome at the expense of the process and the working relationship.

The ethical principals of counseling and psychotherapy (BACP) are intended to direct attention to the ethical responsibility of practitioners: Honouring the trust of participants, respecting their autonomy, committing to the promotion of the well-being of all participants and to strive to avoid harming them, to respect each individual and treat everyone fairly and impartially as well as caring for him/herself and seeking professional development.

These ethical principals are relevant to Community Artists, as an awareness of them will influence decisions the practitioner makes. A commitment to strive to work ethically will improve the services for the participants, and allow opportunities for development for both parties to take place.

“‘Practitioner’ includes anyone undertaking the role(s) of counselor, psychotherapist, trainer, educator, supervisor, researcher, provider of counselling skills or manager of any of these services…” (BACP Good Practice Framework, p.3)

Creating a safe environment:

In order to promote the development of the individual the Community Artist has to create a safe environment. To achieve this the most important tool is not expensive equipment or a fancy workshop space but the facilitator himself. It is difficult to work in institutions where the aim is social change but there is little or no understanding of Carl Roger’s core conditions and where warmth, openness and honesty are conditional.


Some workshop sessions can be difficult to control. If any of the participants are under the influence of drugs, they can become a danger to themselves and other people in the group. In that case it would not be appropriate to continue the session as planned.

Ground rules set up in the beginning are important to state the expectations of the participants as well as the practitioner and to make the workshop as safe and as productive as possible. Also, the responsibility for the success of the project is divided equally. Most young people see adults as law enforcers; by contracting and asking the young people what they would like of us, many have problems finding answers. One girl asked me: “Make them stop messing around so we can do some work”.

It is very difficult to balance treating the young people as equals, give them control over the project, enforcing boundaries and create a safe environment at the same time.

“Any programme of growth operates in perpetual tension between movement and order.” (Chapman, 2000.)

Young people are testing our reliability by testing the rules. Often when I did not remind them of our contract and the rules were broken it was like an invitation for the group to test how much further they could take it. Sticking to the rules is like keeping promises and a way for the participants to find out how reliable and trustworthy we are. As part of the ground rules it is important to discuss what can and can’t stay confidential. The organisation I work for has a child protection and vulnerable adults policy, which means that we have to refer to participants who we fear are harming themselves or others to the appropriate services e.g. prison counselor, social services.

Understanding Transference and Counter Transference:

A lot of what goes on between the facilitator and the participants has nothing to do with the individuals but with what and who the person reminds us of. Often participants transfer feelings from previous relationships onto the facilitator. Also the feelings the facilitator experiences towards a participant can be linked to experiences in the past.


Working on a project in partnership with Women’s Aid I saw the benefits of their supervision scheme where the non-managerial role of a supervisor focuses only on the development of the practitioner.

“A good supervisory relationship is the best way we know to ensure we stay open to ourselves and to our clients…” (Hawkins and Shohet cited in Bond, Standards and Ethics for Counseling in Action, 1993 p.156)

“Supervision provides regular stimulation to further learning, as well as a forum in which learning can take place.” (Bond, Standards and Ethics for Counselling in Action, 1993, p.156)

The educational and supportive role of the mentor or supervisor concentrates on creating a safe environment where the practitioner can reflect on their work, receive feedback, guidance, review their abilities and find greater understanding about their work, clients and themselves with the view to protect the client and offer the best possible process.

Throughout this year I have experienced the benefits of supervision. In order to ensure the safety of both parties the practitioners must subscribe to a code of practice, be self-aware and know when and to whom to refer a client. This can only be possible and expected of the individual if there is the offer of supervision. The time and cost for evaluation and supervision should be planned before a project starts. For project funders to accept the rise in cost for a project they have to understand the responsibilities of the work as well as the possibilities creative expression brings.

If you have any thoughts on the links between Community Arts, Counselling and the Person-Centred approach, please contact Katja at [email protected] or [email protected]