Counselling on Trial; 'What Do You Say to the Criticism That Counsellors Are Just a Plague of Locusts?' More Than 250,000 People Now Use Counselling Skills at Work. We Ask Phillip Hodson, a Psychotherapist and Head of Media Relations for the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP), to Defend His Profession

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Byline: KARIN MOCHAN

Q Isn't counselling just an expensive excuse for the self-obsessed to talk about themselves?

A image of therapy has partly been constructed through movies and TV dramas, but this is almost never an accurate portrayal of a therapist obeying the rules of the profession. Counselling is a professional, specialised area. A lot of what is called counselling is no such thing: it's social work.

Q Critics have labelled counsellors 'worthless', a 'plague of locusts' and a waste of public money. Do you recognise an element of truth in these criticisms?

A The most effective treatment for most depressions is a form of talking counselling. This is according to research by Professor Michael King at London University, who conducted a [pounds sterling]1/2million trial into different approaches to treatment. Based on the available research, the Department of Health says that psychotherapy is the treatment of choice for depression, phobias and anxiety.

Q When there is a disaster, counsellors aren't far behind the emergency services.

Why not let the bereaved grieve in the time-honoured way?

A These are not counsellors but support workers who are involved in trauma debriefing. Trained counsellors know that not much can be done immediately after an accident.

Q Sometimes we're happy, sometimes we're sad, confident, or fearful.

Surely anyone who says we can be happy and fearless all the time is deluding themselves?

A There's a clear difference between what we call the normal range of ups and downs and times when there is a danger of clinical depression.

Q The Adam Smith Institute says it has been proved that victims who are NOT counselled recover faster than those who have been. Is this true?

A This is not research into counselling at all, but it is used to blacken our name by the media. It's inappropriate and maladroit - and we are very angry about it. The work in question is by the Cochrane Panel (an international organisation that monitors all aspects of healthcare) and what it says is that bad trauma debriefing is counterproductive.

Q It also says counselling costs the country billions a year. Wouldn't the money be better spent on real solutions - more doctors, nurses, police?

A I can prove that it saves billions a year. In 2002, Professor John McLeod did a study of workplace counselling. He found it reduced levels of stress by more than 50 per cent, and levels of sickness and absence by 25 to 50 per cent.

Successful results are achieved within only three to eight sessions.

Q Latest figures reveal that a quarter of a million people incorporate counselling skills into their jobs.

How many of them are properly trained?

A It is not possible to answer this question, as the figures are not known, but we are taking steps to help decrease, the number of unqualified therapists.

Q How can an ordinary person distinguish between a proper therapist and a charlatan?

A If you want to be sure of a psychoanalyst's credentials, check them out with the Institute of Psychoanalysis. If it's a psychotherapist, make sure they are accredited with the UK Register of Counsellors and Psychotherapists.

The BACP website carries details of training, our ethical code and style of work. …