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Navigating the Dilemma: The Role of Student Counsellors in Triad Counselling

The Benefits of Triad Counselling

Triad counselling has gained popularity as an effective method for counsellor training and development. Research suggests that triads offer a supportive environment for skill acquisition, self-reflection, and peer feedback (Graunke et al., 2016). By participating as both a counsellor and an observer, students can gain valuable insights into their counselling style, interpersonal skills, and areas for improvement.

The Dilemma: Balancing Roles and Responsibilities

Despite the benefits of triad counselling, student counsellors may face challenges when navigating their dual roles as both a counsellor and an observer. Research indicates that students may experience anxiety, self-doubt, and uncertainty about their ability to perform effectively in both roles (Brown & Brown, 2011). Additionally, concerns about confidentiality, boundaries, and power dynamics can further complicate experiences (Graunke et al., 2016).

Research-Informed Strategies for Student Counsellors

To address the dilemma of participating in triad counselling, student counsellors can adopt several research-informed strategies:

Establish Clear Boundaries: Clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of each participant in the triad can help manage power dynamics and ensure ethical practices. This includes maintaining confidentiality and respecting the boundaries between the counsellor, client, and observer roles. Counselling your peers is a 'real' endeavour - NOT PRETEND! You have to draw on the personal moral quality of 'care', as this peer, is a real person and a real client. Your contract is a real and tangible 'thing', where you create a suitable contract that agrees what is happening with specific reference to 'dual relationships'.

Engage in Reflective Practice: Encouraging student counsellors to engage in reflective practice can enhance their self-awareness and improve their ability to manage the complexities of triad counselling. Reflection can help students identify areas for improvement and develop strategies for managing challenging emotions and situations. Incorporating journaling into reflexive practice is very supportive and helpful. Drawing on these reflection in 'process group' can be a good way of encouraging disclosure and acceptance of emotions otherwise considered 'Taboo', such as fear, anger and shame (Etherington, 2000).

Foster a Collaborative Learning Environment: Creating a collaborative learning environment where students feel safe to share their experiences and challenges can enhance the overall learning experience. Peer support and feedback can play a crucial role in helping students navigate the ethical and practical considerations of triad counselling. Rooms should be adequately sized, a lamp, tissues, sofas and cushions.

While this pedagogical approach appears appropriate for facilitating learning and potentially provides a rich learning journey for undergraduate students, tutors must act proactively to ensure a safe learning environment. Student counsellors often find themselves facing a unique dilemma when participating in triad counselling sessions. Triad counselling involves three individuals: a counsellor, a client, and an observer. While triads offer valuable opportunities for skill development and feedback, student counsellors may struggle with ethical and practical considerations that influence their participation.

The dual roles of counsellor and observer can lead to ethical and practical dilemmas that need careful and sensitive management. The anxiety and self-doubt reported by students (Brown & Brown, 2011) highlight the need for robust support systems. Tutors must provide clear guidelines and regular supervision to help students navigate these roles without compromising their ethical standards or personal well-being. Furthermore, the power dynamics inherent in triad counselling require careful consideration. Students must be trained to manage these dynamics effectively to prevent issues related to confidentiality and boundary violations. The establishment of clear, consistent rules and the promotion of an open, supportive atmosphere are crucial for addressing these concerns.

Overall, while triad counselling holds promise as a valuable training tool, its implementation must be accompanied by comprehensive support and clear guidelines to ensure that student counsellors can benefit fully from this pedagogical approach without undue stress or ethical breaches.


Clear Communication:

Establish open and transparent communication with fellow participants about roles, expectations, and boundaries before the counselling session begins.

Self-Reflection: Engage in regular self-reflection to identify personal biases, strengths, and areas for growth. Use feedback from observers to gain valuable insights into counselling effectiveness and interpersonal dynamics.

Ethical Considerations: Adhere to ethical guidelines and professional standards (BACP, 2019) when participating in triad counselling. Maintain confidentiality, respect client autonomy, and prioritise the well-being of clients and observers.

Peer Support: Seek support from peers, supervisors, and Tutors to address concerns and challenges related to triad counselling. Peer supervision and collaborative problem-solving can enhance confidence and competence in counselling practice. Triad sessions should always include a debrief as a group.


Triad counselling presents student counsellors with a valuable opportunity for skill development and self-reflection. By drawing on research in the field and implementing evidence-based strategies, student counsellors can navigate the dilemma of participating in triads with confidence and professionalism. Ultimately, triad counselling offers a rich and dynamic learning experience that prepares student counsellors for the complexities of real-world practice.


Brown, A. C., & Brown, M. (2011). Student experiences of triad counseling sessions. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 6(4), 300-312.

Etherington, K. (2004). Becoming a Reflexive Researcher – Using Our Selves in Research, Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Graunke, S. S., Miller, R. B., & Ware, M. E. (2016). Triadic supervision: Using triads to enhance counselor education training. Counselor Education and Supervision, 55(4), 277-290.

Smith, K. (2015). Learning from triads: training undergraduates in counselling skills.

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