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The Dangers of Counselling Children Without Experience or Qualifications: Ethical Considerations

Updated: Jun 25

Counselling children is a delicate and critical endeavour, requiring specialised training, experience, and a deep understanding of child psychology. Engaging in this work without the necessary qualifications poses significant risks, not only to the children but also to the unqualified counsellor. This blog explores the dangers of unqualified child counselling and highlights the ethical considerations involved.

The Risks of Unqualified Counselling

Misdiagnosis and Inappropriate Interventions: Lack of Knowledge

Without a thorough understanding of child development and psychological disorders, an unqualified counsellor may misdiagnose issues. This can lead to inappropriate interventions that might worsen the child's condition.

Harmful Advice:

Unqualified counsellors might offer advice that, while well-intentioned, could be detrimental to the child's emotional and psychological well-being.

Emotional and Psychological Harm: Inadequate Support

Children dealing with complex emotional issues require sensitive and appropriate support. An unqualified counsellor may inadvertently invalidate or exacerbate the child's feelings, leading to increased distress or trauma.

Breaching Trust:

Children are vulnerable and trusting. Mishandling their issues can lead to a breach of trust, making them less likely to seek help in the future.

Legal and Ethical Violations- Confidentiality Issues:

Properly trained counsellors understand the importance of confidentiality and the legal implications of breaking it. An unqualified individual may not fully grasp these concepts, potentially leading to serious breaches of privacy.

Mandatory Reporting:

Qualified professionals are trained to recognise signs of abuse and neglect and are mandated reporters. An unqualified counsellor might miss these signs or fail to report them appropriately, leaving the child in danger.

Ethical Considerations - Competence: Scope of Practice:

Ethical guidelines in counselling stress the importance of working within one's scope of practice. Attempting to work with children without proper training and experience falls outside this scope and violates ethical standards.

Continuing Education:

Qualified counsellors engage in ongoing education to stay updated on best practices. Without this commitment, an unqualified counsellor is likely to be uninformed about the latest research and methods.

Informed Consent - Transparency:

Ethical practice requires that clients and their carers are fully informed about counsellors qualifications and the nature of the services being provided. Misrepresenting qualifications is deceitful and unethical.


Respecting the autonomy of the child and their family means ensuring they have all the information needed to make informed decisions about their care.

Non-Maleficence and Beneficence:

Do No Harm: The principle of non-maleficence requires that counsellors avoid actions that could harm the client. Without proper training, the risk of harm is significantly increased.

Promoting Well-Being:

Beneficence involves actively working to benefit the client. Unqualified counsellors may lack the skills necessary to provide effective and beneficial support.

The Importance of Proper Training:

Understanding Developmental Stages: Children are not just small adults; they have unique developmental stages and needs. Proper training ensures that counsellors understand these stages and can provide age-appropriate interventions. Counselling children often involves specialised techniques, such as play therapy, that require specific training to be used effectively.

Crisis Management: Children may present with crises that require immediate and skilled intervention. Properly trained counsellors are equipped to handle these situations safely.

When working with children, a counsellor should have specialised training that equips them with the necessary skills, knowledge, and sensitivity to address the unique needs and challenges of young clients. Here are some key areas of training that are essential for a child counsellor:

Counselling Qualifications

Foundational Education in Counselling

Bachelor’s Degree: Typically in psychology, social work, or a related field.

Master’s Degree in Counselling: Specialisation in child or adolescent counselling is highly recommended. Courses should be accredited by relevant bodies.

Developmental Psychology

Understanding Developmental Stages: Comprehensive knowledge of child and adolescent development, including cognitive, emotional, and social development stages.

Attachment Theory: Training in understanding attachment states and their impact on children’s behaviour and relationships.

Specialised Training in Child Counselling Techniques

Play Therapy: Skills in using play as a therapeutic tool to help children express emotions and work through issues.

Art and Expressive Therapies: Techniques for using art, music, and other creative methods to facilitate communication and healing.

Behavioural Therapies: Knowledge of behavioural intervention strategies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) tailored for children.

Assessment and Diagnosis:

Child-Specific Assessment Tools: Training in using developmentally appropriate assessment tools to diagnose mental health conditions in children.

Behavioural Observations: Skills in observing and interpreting children’s behaviour in various settings.

Trauma-Informed Care

Understanding Trauma: Education on the impact of trauma on children, including recognising signs of trauma and implementing appropriate interventions.

Crisis Intervention: Techniques for effectively responding to children in crisis situations.

Cultural Competence:

Cultural Sensitivity: Training in understanding and respecting cultural differences that impact child development and family dynamics.

Inclusive Practices: Skills in working with children from diverse backgrounds and adapting counselling approaches to meet their specific needs.

Ethics and Legal Issues:

Child Protection Laws: Comprehensive knowledge of laws and regulations regarding child welfare and protection, including mandatory reporting requirements.

Ethical Standards: Adherence to ethical guidelines specific to child counselling, as outlined by professional organisations.

Family Dynamics and Involvement

Family Systems Theory: Understanding family dynamics and their influence on children’s behaviour and well-being.

Parental Involvement: Training in techniques for involving parents or guardians in the counselling process and providing family counselling when necessary.

Supervised Clinical Experience:

Extensive supervised clinical experience working directly with children under the guidance of experienced professionals. This hands-on training is critical for developing practical skills and confidence.

Continuing Education:

Ongoing Professional Development: Commitment to continual learning through workshops, seminars, and courses on the latest research and techniques in child counselling. Pursuing additional qualifications in areas such as play therapy, trauma counselling, or specific mental health issues affecting children (e.g., ADHD, autism).

By obtaining comprehensive training in these areas, counsellors can ensure they are well-prepared to support the mental health and well-being of children effectively and ethically.

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