Head office: 01245 269335; Chelmsford: 01245 359353/07958 076001; Basildon: 01268 822800/07717 126407 info@renew-us.org

The Voluntary Sector


In her address to Renew Counselling’s AGM Val Potter (Renew’s out-going Clinical Lead) looks back at some of the landmarks in counselling and the voluntary sector and her personal journey over the last 40 years.
We thought her ‘brief history of counselling in the voluntary sector’ worth making available for all to read…

(reproduced by kind permission of Val Potter)



Counselling in the Voluntary Sector

Val Potter December 2015

Voluntary Sector Counselling in the UK – the cradle of counselling

I describe the voluntary sector as the ‘cradle of counselling’. This is true of the counselling profession in the UK, which grew in the most part from our sector and it is true for individual counsellors, who often take their first steps in working with clients through voluntary placements in the sector. Many counselling and befriending services sprang from charitable and/or or religious foundations as a response to social deprivation and psychological need. Some of the best known are:

  • National Marriage Guidance Council, founded in 1938
  • The Samaritans, started in 1953
  • Of course, Robert Rowntree Clifford and his sister established WHCM long before this in 1904 but it was in the 70s that Greenwoods became a residential therapeutic community and from what I know, it was at that time your organisation began to develop counselling services.

The 1960s – Pioneers and Patriarchs

It was in the 1960s that I was first aware of counselling. I lived in Writtle and when my first child was born in 1969 I joined a voluntary group based on the church that provided practical help and support. It was not long before we came across people suffering from depression and realised they were beyond our competence to help. The vicar of a neighbouring parish had trained with WPF. He led our first Counselling Skills training and then we became affiliated to WPF.

WPF was one of several counselling organisations set up at that time by far sighted pioneers. As men of their time their leadership style was patriarchal. The ones I knew best were

  • Bill Kyle, Methodist Minister– founder of Westminster Pastoral Foundation in1969.
  • Louis Marteau, Catholic Priest – founder of The Dympna Centre 1971
  • Danny Smith, Rabbi – founder of The Raphael Centre – 1979

Pioneers need to be powerful and influential to establish and fund new services in an environment that was not always supportive. This made them interesting and sometimes challenging to work for.

It was an exciting time but memories of the damage and trauma of war were still raw. From 1944 governments recognised the need for universal access to essential services – education, health, social security systems, housing. There were still gaps and these were filled by charities such as Oxfam, Shelter and the organisations involved in counselling. Memories of how power could be abused led to the development of the humanistic movement in therapy. This shifted the emphasis from an ‘expert’ therapist leading their patient to change their life, to an emphasis on a healing relationship, within which counsellor and client worked together to effect change. This shift influenced all forms of counselling.

Socially the country was changing. Families were much less likely to live near their relatives or to live in a community where they knew many people. Fewer people were practising churchgoers. Traditional support systems were breaking down. Statutory services and the voluntary sector were filling the gap. The first counsellor trainings were developed by voluntary agencies wishing to develop counsellors to staff their services. University and college counselling courses were starting to develop. Interestingly, when I researched the state of training in the 1960s there were only 6 Masters’ degrees in counselling in the UK and these were all Masters in Pastoral Studies with counselling as one component.

In the late 60s and 70s counsellors were ‘new kids on the block’. In Chelmsford an inspired GP, Dr Ted Nottidge, set up the ‘Counselling Network’, which brought together people with an interest in the subject from health, social services, education, child guidance, churches and counselling organisations including WHCM. We met one evening a month and took it in turns to do a presentation. Can you imagine such meetings happening now? I remember this time as full of excitement and possibilities. It felt as if people were working together as never before with the common aim of improving Society.

There was also a sense of freedom and widening horizons. Like many people born in the 40s and earlier, I was brought up in a family where feelings were not talked about and parents expected to be obeyed. I vividly remember the first counselling skills course I attended in 1969 and the sense of liberation in participating in experiential training where we were encouraged to share our feelings. As one of the students I taught later said “counselling training should carry a health warning saying ‘if you embark on this your life will never be the same again’”.

The 1970s Professionalisation – C.A.R.E

We were all volunteers in those days. I was counselling and training in the evenings while I earned my living as a teacher. There was very little by way of a professional path to follow and few qualifications outside London. In 1970 the National Council for Voluntary Organisations brought together counselling organisations into ‘The Standing Council for the Advancement of Counselling. In 1977 membership was extended to individuals when, in 1977, with the aid of a grant from the Home Office Voluntary Service Unit the British Association for Counselling was founded. In1978 the headquarters moved to Rugby given free accommodation by the National Marriage Council ‘in a cupboard under the stairs’, according to one of the first staff members. Thus it was that by working with BAC we had the opportunity to be part of the development of a new profession.

The acronym CARE, set out the framework that was needed for the profession to become established. It stands for:

  • Competencies
  • Accreditation
  • Research
  • Ethics

Work on developing these areas was made lively by another characteristic of counselling and counsellors; we are a rebel group, founded by people who were anti-establishment and anti-rules and regulations. This was manifest in the lively debates within and between counselling organisations.

At BAC’s AGM any member could stand up and propose a change to a policy or procedure. If the majority agreed the change was made.

I made a note of changes to the rules in the Code of Ethics for Counsellors about sexual relationships with clients. Here are some extracts:

BAC Code of Ethics 1984 (the first code)

Clause 2.7 Engaging in sexual activity with a client whilst also engaging in a therapeutic relationship is unethical.

BAC Code of Ethics 1992

Clause 2.2.6 Counsellors must not exploit clients financially, sexually, emotionally or in any other way. Engaging in sexual activity with current clients or within 12 weeks of the end of a counselling relationship is unethical. If the counselling relationship has been over an extended period of time or been working in-depth, a much longer “cooling off” period is required and a lifetime prohibition on a future sexual relationship with the client may be more appropriate.

BAC Code of Ethics 1993

Clause 2.2.6 Counsellors must not exploit their clients financially, sexually, emotionally, or in any other way. Engaging in sexual activity with the client is unethical.

You can hear the debate going backwards and forwards here as one year members try to cover every eventuality and the next year they decide that this is too cumbersome and go back to basics. In the latest version of the BACP Ethical Framework, published in 2015, it is one of the few clauses which has a clear rule and includes the word ‘must’

Clause 17. Practitioners must not abuse their client’s trust in order to gain sexual, emotional, financial or any other kind of personal advantage. Sexual relations with clients are prohibited. ‘Sexual relations’ include intercourse, any other type of sexual activity or sexualised behaviour. Practitioners should think carefully about, and exercise considerable caution before, entering into personal or business relationships with former clients and should expect to be professionally accountable if the relationship becomes detrimental to the client or the standing of the profession.

I have been privileged to part of some of these developments. The change in the Ethical Framework from commandments to guidance, from ‘thou shalts and thou shalt nots’ to ‘consider these factors and make an informed decision’ reflect the development of a maturing profession. Practitioners now learn to think for themselves with a solid backing of training and supervision.

1980s and 1990s – Careerist Professionals or Loving Volunteers?

Between the 1980s and the 1990s Voluntary sector counselling organisations were often in two minds about professionalization: some decided to stay outside the mainstream, preferring to work as voluntary ‘befrienders’, undertaking some counselling skills training. Cruse and The Samaritans took this path. Other organisations took the professional route, setting up accredited and validated training to enable their team to become fully fledged counsellors. Despite the commitment and cost involved in training some of these counsellors chose to continue to work without payment. Renew and WPF and Relate took the professional route and that has made all the difference. In my work during that time there were painful struggles between people who felt passionately about both sides of this development. Often false dichotomies were set up:

  • unpaid equals caring and paid equals only doing it for the money
  • unpaid equals amateur and paid equals professional

These debates continue

Where there’s power there is conflict – Counselling in the 21st Century

By the start of the 21st Century Counselling was established as a profession and widely recognised as a valuable aid to health and wellbeing. There was now a career structure and many paid counselling jobs had developed in primary care, schools and colleges, employee assistance services and other settings. The professional bodies were growing in membership and consequently in influence. The government was starting to talk about developing statutory regulation for the sector. In this atmosphere it was not surprising that professional rivalries and competition took hold.

In 1970 the Alderdyce committee was set up with the exclusive aim of achieving registration for psychoanalytic psychotherapists. In response BAC later developed an inclusive forum for all organisations holding a register of counsellors and psychotherapists. (It occurs to me that this was another ‘Counselling Network’ on a larger scale. In 2000 BAC became BACP, acknowledging that some of our members identified themselves as psychotherapists. I was BACP Chair from 2002 to 2005 and much of my time was taken up with the rocky road to regulation. I won’t bore you with the details.

As you know, professionalisation and regulation put considerable strain on voluntary sector counselling organisations. Every change in government brought rethinking of policies. I found it difficult enough to keep up to date when I was BACP Chair, even though I was being constantly briefed. For voluntary sector counselling services managers I know from my own experience how hard it is to keep the service running, without reading endless confusing and contradictory documents. It was several more years and many hours of debate before the current scheme of voluntary self regulation was in place. For me the acid test is whether it benefits our clients. In my view the current system does this. It provides essential information about a counsellor’s competence and experience. That has to be better than the earlier free-for-all, when anyone could put up a brass plate and start to practise. I consider that it benefits voluntary sector counselling organisations too, by giving us legitimacy and providing benchmarks by which we can measure our trainings and counselling services.

Today – New dilemmas and new needs

What about today? We have professional registration. Some would say that to have this we have sacrificed the creative freedom we had as ‘nonconformists’ but in my time working with Renew I have found no shortage of creativity. These days it is allied with a drive to develop and maintain best practice, which I believe is invaluable. You know better than I the state of counselling in the voluntary sector today. I know of the day to day struggles through you.

I am aware of several overarching dilemmas that continue to tax us:

Adaptation or rebellion

What do we do when the government withdraws funding from mental health, or devises counselling services linked to primary care which completely sidestep our professional standards? Do we complain and say we will have nothing to do with them, or do we adapt and seek to come to an accommodation with the new order? So far we have adapted. I suspect that this is because most of the power is in the government’s hands. It would be like minnows fighting sharks and if we walk away other branches of our profession would willingly pick up the work.

Multiculturalism or assimilation

Of course this is also a big dilemma for cultures and religions – how much do we emphasise our differences and how much do we stress our similarities. Counselling, psychotherapy, psychology, cognitive behaviour therapy, psychiatry can each regard themselves as the ‘one true faith’ but we need to get together to argue from strength with the Government. I have always maintained that ‘united we stand, divided we fall’ but I am aware how that solves some problems and exacerbates others.

Social needs and business priorities

The charity ‘Kids’ Company’ had what proved to be a fatal struggle with this. Perhaps the vital factor is that we owe it to our clients to run our services efficiently with their needs in mind. If a counselling service goes under no-one is helped.

I have a hope that our sector will have a strong voice within BACP, so that BACP in its turn can exercise powerful influence on our behalf with the Government and other opinion formers. In 2008 I established a ‘Third Sector Counselling Forum’, where leaders in our sector could meet and learn about the latest advances in practice from the people who were instrumental in their development. Since then this initiative has had its ups and downs. Now with a new Chair and Chief Executive in place the time is ripe to take up this challenge. When Eddie gained his place on the BACP Board I was pleased to be able to put this work in his very capable hands. My hope and expectation is that his work on this will prosper.

I have the same hope for Renew. In my time working with your organisation you have shown yourselves to be adaptable, efficient and compassionate. I have seen you weather storms and make necessary changes, with all the upheavals they create. With Eddie’s able leadership, the constant efforts of Renew managers and staff and the steadfast support of your trustees you have everything in place to keep the good ship Renew afloat, whatever the future throws at you. You will continue to have my prayers and good wishes as you sail on without me.

Val Potter 7th December 2015

Opening Times

Sycamore Centre
  • Monday 12.00noon – 8.00pm
  • Tuesday 10.30am – 8.00pm
  • Wednesday 9.00am – 12.00noon
    4.00pm – 8.00pm
  • Thursday 9.00am – 8.00pm
  • Friday 9.00am – 4.00pm
Bridge Centre
  • Monday 10.00am – 9.15pm
  • Tuesday 10.00am – 9.15pm
  • Wednesday 10.00am – 6.00pm
  • Thursday 11.00am – 8.00pm
  • Friday 9.30am – 2.00pm
BACP logo

Renew’s therapeutic services are accredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and we adhere to their ethical framework for the Counselling Professions 2018. Renew Counselling is a registered charity No 1084940 and a Company limited by guarantee, registered in England. Registered office: Sadlers House, 2 Legg Street, Chelmsford, Essex CM1 1AH Company No. 4099810 TM The name, logotype and four squares graphic device are registered Trademarks (Reg No: 3015144) of Renew Counselling