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South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault & Family Violence

Types of counselling

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There are three main types of counselling or support. These are:

  • Individual work with one counsellor and either one client, a couple or some members of a family.
  • Group work where a counsellor leads or facilitates the group.
  • Self-help groups where there is no leader. Members attend on an equal basis for mutual support.

A group called a support group may have a counsellor as a leader or facilitator, or it may be a self-help group without a leader. Some self-help groups follow the 12 step program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous.

No one has found an approach to counselling that will work with everyone in every situation. Some will work better for you than others. You need to find a counsellor with beliefs compatible with your own. Self-help groups usually have some common beliefs about the issue they share. The 12 step groups, for example, share common beliefs about the causes of addiction and the steps necessary for recovery.

No matter how much knowledge a counsellor has, if she can't listen to you and understand you she won't be able to help you. In fact, some women believe that the personality of the counsellor is more important than technical skill or training.

A counsellor may have trained in a particular style of counselling but use other types as well. Very few of the training courses for counsellors include training in cultural awareness or working with an interpreter. A counsellor's training may not have challenged her racism or sexism or prejudices about lesbians or women with mental illnesses.

Some counsellors are trained to use the medical model and only look at what is happening within you, your body or your mind. They ignore things that are happening to you and the ways you're affected by other people. For example, you may be very stressed by your family situation in which you're being abused or not getting enough support. You may be told that 'it's just your nerves' and only be given pills to take. You may have been diagnosed as having a mental illness but find that it is treated as purely a physical problem when you also need to talk about traumatic experiences you've had. You need to ask each individual counsellor about her work.

People who offer counselling


People with many different backgrounds work as counsellors. The name is not used to refer to any one type of training or qualification. There are many training courses in counselling skills.


Psychotherapists have a variety of qualifications. They have usually been in counselling or psychotherapy themselves and can work on personal change at a deeper level.

Community Health Nurses

They are qualified nurses who have completed extra training in community health which includes some counselling skills.

Family Therapists

They have a variety of qualifications. Members of the Victorian Association of Family Therapists (VAFT) have at least two years additional training in working with individuals and families.

Feminist Counsellors

There is no specific qualification in Victoria in feminist counselling. They have an awareness of the specific experiences and pressures on women. You need to ask each individual what she means by feminist counselling.

Financial Counsellors

They are trained to help sort out finances and renegotiate contracts and other financial obligations.

Social Workers

Social workers have a degree in social work. Some of them do counselling and they use a variety of approaches.


They are medical doctors with extra training in psychiatry. They deal with the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. They can prescribe drugs. Some of them use other approaches as well.


They have university qualifications in psychology. Some with extra training are registered psychologists. They counsel people in a variety of settings using a range of techniques. They do not prescribe drugs.


They can train in several ways which are regulated by the Psychoanalysts Association. Some are medical doctors. They use a specific process to explore buried feelings from childhood. It can involve several sessions per week and take many years.

'Support groups are good later on, particularly with incest the secrecy means that it is incredibly threatening to start doing that in a group it's very exposing. Later on it's great and what you get is understanding and not feeling isolated and validating your own experiences.'
'I was on medication prescribed by a psychiatrist, but another doctor said that it was bad for me and took me off it.'

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