Workplace Counselling

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Workplace Counselling – A Necessity

The relationship between work and the psychological well-being of the worker is a topic that has received a lot of attention in recent years. Work stress is seen as a modern epidemic, which effects one in terms of health, absence from work, and costs to the national economy. Studies have reported a wide range of pressures experienced by workers, such as workload, too many tasks, poor work environment, problems with colleagues or superiors, organization culture, lack of career development and many more.

Counselling services represent a major organizational response to the mental and psychological problems endured by employees. Workplace counseling was introduced towards the end of the 19th century where services were provided to help employees on practical issues such as coat-drying and rest-room facilities as well as other wellbeing issues. Since then, workplace counselling has grown dramatically, particularly in the area of Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs). This trend has been generally welcomed in society, as it has widened the availability of counselling to people who could not normally afford to pay for such a service, and has provided organizations a tangible way of showing care to their employees.

Some of the differences between workplace counselling/EAP work and private practice are described below, and also highlights some of the unique challenges that counselling in organizations poses; Counsellors cannot apply a private practice model within this context and need to engage with the organization to be effective. Good quality training, which helps counsellors develop flexible approaches, is vital.

Workplace counselling is different to traditional counselling or therapy in the sense that whenever a client is seen, there is one other person present – the organization. This presence is often felt indirectly (for example, a client suffering from stress seeking support from counselling funded by the organization may be concerned about information that could be fed back to the line manager).

Workplace counselling is perceived quite often as the poor cousin of counselling. It has been observed that many counselors, newly out of training, are ill-equipped to work within an organizational setting. They believe that workplace counselling is only different to private practice in that the clients seem to emerge out of the organization rather than via their advert in Yellow Pages.

This refreshing concept prompts further questioning by the workplace counsellor: * Whose side is the counsellor on?
* How should the counsellor respond when a manager sends a client to be ‘sorted out’, given that this sets up a distortion at the very start? * How can the counsellor balance the demands of the client and organization, particularly when these two conflict? * Should the counsellor purely be concerned about issues that are affecting work performance?

A private practice counsellor may scoff at such questions, wondering how the workplace counsellor can allow their boundaries to be so vague. They may become even more concerned over requirements to stick to a certain number of sessions feeling that this is an unacceptable intrusion and severely limits what can be done with the client.

Issues related to workplace counseling:

Many counsellors come out of training with an in-depth understanding of a single theoretical approach. But to what extent is this sufficient within an organizational context is a matter to be considered. Given below are a few examples:

* You are seeing two clients – one feels harassed by his boss and the other frustrated with the incompetence of her team. You unwittingly take both clients on – and then realize that they are talking about each other. * You work in a building within an organization where your ex-clients also work, and meet them in the lift, at lunch, in the corridor and so on. * You are providing telephone counselling...
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