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Counsellors in the courtroom

The road to being a counsellor entails 300 hours of theory and 150 hours of supervised practice but are we as trainers covering all aspects of the career for our students?

What many will face is an area they are possibly totally unprepared for – appearing in a courtroom. Is it time we looked at including some of our training toward this scenario?

Europe is not alone but that does not mean that Europe should not take the lead.

Counsellors in the courtroom –

Counselling Today

Counsellor educators are responsible for ensuring that students are sufficiently prepared for entry into the counselling profession. It is challenging for counsellor educators to include all areas of preparation because numerous content and curriculum standards must be met. One topic that often gets neglected is preparing counsellors for testifying in court. In a paper presented at the 25th International Play Therapy Conference in 2008, Marilyn Snow and Ruth

2008, Marilyn Snow and Ruth Ouzts Moore found that counsellors were increasingly being called on to testify in court, especially in child custody cases. But most counsellors are not well prepared to serve as competent witnesses or represent the counselling profession adequately.

Inadequate knowledge about the judicial system and process regarding court testimony may place counsellors at risk for ethical violations. Therefore, I believe it is crucial that counsellor educators prioritise educating students about testifying in court. The first time that I testified in court as a beginning counsellor, I found that I had been poorly prepared by educators and attorneys. The experience nearly traumatised me. I was not ready for the questions that were asked of me or the gruelling process of cross-examination. As a result, the client’s case suffered and the counselling profession was misrepresented.

After this initial experience of testifying in court, I vowed never to be caught unprepared again. I also determined to use my negative experience to better equip counsellors for testifying in court.

 Legal and ethical responsibility

Counsellor educators are expected to be knowledgeable about ethical and legal issues in the counselling profession and recent changes in the field of counselling. Standard F.7.a. of the American Counseling Association’s 2014 Code of Ethics states, “Counsellor educators who are responsible for developing, implementing and supervising educational programs are skilled as teachers and practitioners. They are knowledgeable regarding the ethical, legal and regulatory aspects of the profession; are skilled in applying that knowledge, and make students and supervisees aware of their responsibilities.” This section of the ethics code applies to the fact that counsellors are frequently subpoenaed to testify on behalf of their clients. Accordingly, counsellor educators are ethically obligated to educate students about their ethical and legal responsibilities when testifying in court.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) Standards (2016) also address the ethical and legal responsibilities of counsellor educators in preparing their students for practice. Two CACREP Standards apply to the issue of counsellors testifying in court. Standard 2.F.1.b. states that programs must include, “the multiple professional roles and functions of counsellors across speciality areas,” whereas Standard 2.F.1.i. specifies that training must be provided in “ethical standards of professional counselling organisations and credentialing bodies, and applications of ethical and legal considerations in professional counselling.”

Together, the ACA Code of Ethics and the CACREP Standards would appear to require that counsellor education curricula incorporate training in the roles and responsibilities that come with testifying in court and otherwise acting in the best interests of clients

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