Joseph N. Thilakaratne

Often I meet persons who seem to say that they are counsellors. Such a person is at least likely to say “I am some kind of a counsellor.” Many of these people are not counsellors in the sense in which we members of the Sri Lanka National Association of Counsellors use the term. Why then, do they describe themselves as counsellors?

There would be many reasons. To be fair, one reason is that the word ‘Counselling’ has many meanings. Some of these meanings were assigned to the word before it was used to describe what we now know as counselling. Another reason is lack of knowledge about the new discipline of counselling. It may also look fashionable a word to use. It may even seem to be a fund-generating word in certain circumstances. So we may not be able to blame everyone who calls himself a ‘counsellor of some sort.’

Nevertheless, we have to clarify what we understand by ‘counselling’ and counsellor’ with others in the community, so as to prevent confusion and what is worse, potential damage to people.

'Counselling' as we understand, is the helping process involved in the growth-stimulating and healing relationship given by a trained and competent counsellor to a person who calls for help in coping with a problem. This definition is, no doubt, too simple and too brief to be complete or even adequate. However it helps in some manner to distinguish the process of counselling from other activities like advising, instructing, teaching, preaching, comforting, listening or befriending.

These activities may be useful in themselves but must not be mistaken as counselling. Therapeutic counselling must be undertaken only by persons who have been trained in the discipline and who have been adjudged as being competent. If untrained and incompetent persons undertake counselling, that would be very damaging to the people in distress. This is what research has clearly shown.

Therefore the Sri Lanka National Association of Counsellors was setup 38 years ago, among other goals, to bring together qualified competent counsellors in Sri Lanka, to maintain high standards of training, assess competency and services rendered by counsellors and to promote ongoing study and research of the advancement of counselling in this country. This is what we are about at the moment. In the future we would also have to think of a wider exchange of experiences with international bodies of professional counsellors.

The going has no doubt been difficult; often discouraging. But SRILNAC has stuck to its task with determination all these years. The office-bearers down the years deserve our warm praise for what they have done to keep the organization going with much sacrifice on their part specially till the year 2017.

Looking forward, I strongly feel SRILNAC must engage itself in a task of consolidation. The profession of counseling is still building up in Sri Lanka. The recognition and support it deserves is not yet in keeping with the need.

One critical task of SRILNAC in the future would be to create an awareness of that need, particularly in schools. It is a pity that in these times of rapid socio-cultural change, youth are left to fend for themselves, with hardly any help from the parents, who themselves feel lost and helpless in and unaccustomed social environment, so different from the one they grew up.

Another concern of SRILNAC should be the 'Standardisation' of counselor training. Perhaps in the early stages a certain “Laissez-faire”situation was inevitable. But now I feel it is time to ensure that all training facilities conform to certain standards, which will ensure adequate competence of those who graduate from them. It is both immoral and unjust to let incompetent “counselors” loose on unsuspecting clients; the outcome is not difficult to imagine.

So I believe there is no dearth of work for SRILNAC in the years ahead.

Joseph N. Thilakaratne, SRILNAC