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Published in:  Windy Dryden & Brian Thorne (eds.) Training and Supervision for Counselling in Action.  London:  Sage Publications (1991)


Selection and Assessment in Counsellor Training Courses


Campbell Purton


This chapter offers a survey of the approaches to selection and assessment adopted in four established counselling courses. My aim is to give a fairly full account of the procedures adopted in these courses, and at the same time to draw attention to how the differences between the approaches are related to the general philosophies informing the courses.

The four courses I discuss cover a range of counselling approaches - the psychodynamic, the person-centred, the eclectic and psychosynthesis. They are, respectively:

1    Diploma Course in Advanced Psychodynamic Counselling, organized by the Westminster Pastoral Foundation (I shall refer to this as the ‘WPF course’);

2    Training Course in Person-Centred Counselling and Psycho-therapy, organized by the Facilitator Development Institute, Britain’ (the ‘FDI course’);

3    University of London M.Sc. in Counselling, organized by Goldsmiths’ College (the ‘M.Sc. course’);

4    Professional Training Course in Counselling and Psychotherapy, organized by the Psychosynthesis and Education Trust (the ‘psychosynthesis course’).

The factual material I presents was obtained through interviews with staff members of the courses, as well as from course documents. The staff members were Paul Keeble for the WPF course, Brian Thorne for the FDI course, Windy Dryden for the M.Sc.  course and Diana Whitmore for the psychosynthesis course.  Before looking at the details of selection and assessment in each of these courses, it may be useful to reflect on what principles in general could or should inform these procedures. What sort of assessment is appropriate for the very special kinds of training that are involved? What criteria are relevant in selecting trainees in the first place?

These questions raise a wide range of issues, some of which touch on deep questions about the general nature of counselling as a profession. Counselling is by definition a very individual and personal activity, yet the very conception of training involves something in the way of agreed standards of what counts as competence. A crucial issue with which any responsible training programme has to wrestle, then, is how to protect and encourage the development of the trainee’s individual style, while providing adequate critical assessment. Similarly, a balance has to be found between encouraging trainees to learn from their own experience, and providing them with the opportunity to learn from the experience of others. And linked with this is the need to balance the requirement that a trainee should have some critical awareness of the theoretical perspectives underlying counselling practice, with the need of individual trainees to find their own perspective.  So far as selection is concerned it may be easiest to agree on what should count against selecting a particular candidate. I think that many of the doubts a selector might reasonably feel have to do with the candidate’s motivation. It seems reasonable to exclude someone whose interest is of a casual nature, who is merely dabbling in counselling. All the courses discussed effectively discourage such applicants, simply through making sure that applicants are aware of the commitments they are taking on. Another fairly clear negative criterion for selection would be serious psychopathology in the applicant: the WPF course is particularly concerned about this issue, but each of the courses is clear that their function is the provision of training rather than therapy. Among other inappropriate motivations could be power-seeking, purely academic interest and the wish to belong to a counselling ‘in-group’. In addition to these motivational considerations, which the different courses emphasize to different degrees, there are considerations of intellectual ability and emotional maturity, together with the applicant’s resources in terms of time and money.

Regarding assessment the issues are more complex. There are issues to do with whether the trainee has come to acquire enough of ‘what it takes to be a competent counsellor’, in terms of skills, theoretical knowledge, self-knowledge, emotional sensitivity and so on. Some of these qualities are open to formal assessment, some less so. Then there are issues to do with whether the trainee is likely to cause harm to his or her clients, through over- or under-involvement, power-seeking, the satisfaction of unconscious needs at the client’s expense and so on. The requirements of assessment in this connection are not easily met by any formal procedure.  Rather, I think, they tend to be met through the general structure of a course, with its particular blend of self-, peer and staff assessment opportunities. The assessment procedures differ widely Selection and assessment in training courses  35 between the courses, and I shall say more about these differences after looking at the details of selection and assessment in each case.  One further preliminary point seems worth making. Counselling is generally accepted to be more of an art than a science, so that it is unreasonable to expect its professional training standards to be specifiable in a hard and fast way. As in many other professions, but to a greater degree, assessment must involve elements of intuition and personal judgement which may not always be easy to back up with argument. This will be especially true in justifying assessments to those working in different counselling traditions. To some extent counsellor training must involve something of an initiation into the tradition which is embodied in the training course, and whether the training results in a satisfactory outcome will depend partly on how the trainee is able to relate to the tradition to which he is exposed. Writing of therapy more generally, Joel Kovel remarks:”” All therapies offer some sense of community .... Indeed a kind of communal feeling is established with the entire ideology and institution of the therapy, its way of life .... Whoever undertakes therapy, then, should recognize that he is going to experience a powerful pull towards joining up with its community, and that the kinds of feelings he is likely to find himself having towards the therapist and the therapeutic ideology are going to play a large role in what happens to him.  Whether or not this is always true of individual therapy, it does seem undeniably true of any extended counsellor training. Selection and assessment cannot be separated from this ‘initiatory’ element, so that although criteria of one sort or another can be usefully established, it remains true that selection involves something like offering a trainee the opportunity of ‘becoming one of us’, and assessment is to some extent the assessment of whether he or she has ‘become one of us’. In the four courses reviewed here I think the initiatory element is probably strongest in the FDI and psychosynthesis courses, and least prominent in the M.Sc. course, but I believe it is a significant aspect of each course which should not be lost sight of in studying the details of the selection and assessment procedures.




The WPF course

WPF offers three routes to its Diploma which is awarded jointly with the Roehampton Institute of Higher Education: a two-year course, which is full time in the first year, a three-year half-time course and a four-year day-release course. The general principles of selection and assessment are similar for each of these routes.  The selection process for the WPF course is lengthy and intensive. This is partly a consequence of the fact that trainees will begin to work with clients within three weeks of starting the course.  The general principles of selection are: (a) the candidate should have some experience of the helping relationship; there should be some evidence that they are able to listen, attend and so on; (b) there should be clear evidence of growing self-awareness, either through personal therapy or group interaction; and © they should have had at least one year of counselling skills training (WPF run an appropriate course, but other courses are acceptable).  More generally, the selection process is informed by a concern with both potential and pathology: ‘Can this person learn?’, but also ‘How do they handle anxiety? Is there evidence of gross deficiency in their personal defences? Are they able to reflect on neurotic or psychotic aspects of themselves?’ The psychodynamic nature of the WPF course is thus reflected in the considerations which inform the selection process, and the selection interviewers are required to work with unconscious as well as with conscious dimensions. This is seen as important since the trainee’s basic stability may well be under threat when working with a very disturbed client.  In practice the selection process works as follows. There is a short application form. If the answers to the questions on this seem appropriate the applicant is asked to submit an account of their own life: an autobiographical case-study. Guidelines for this are given in the form of a questionnaire which includes references to early experience, relations with parents and so on. WPF may write to the applicant for further clarification. No applicants under the age of 25 or over 60 are interviewed; interviews are unlikely for those in the 25-30 and 55-60 age-groups. Two references are requested.  Candidates who appear promising are invited to a selection interview. The interview, lasting about 75 minutes, is conducted by one of WPF’s senior therapists. The interviewer’s brief is to look at what emerges in the interview, at how applicants handle their anxiety, for example. The interviewer submits a l’/2 page report, including comments on countertransference feelings, and this report is made available to a selection committee (see below). On this basis the applicant is provisionally assessed as a probable/possible/ unlikely candidate.

Candidates are then invited to a half-day selection event.  Normally sixteen people are invited, being divided into two groups of eight. The session divides into two halves. In the first half the applicants are given a page of information about a client. They are Selection and assessment in training courses  37 requested to discuss with the group and group supervisor how they would offer counselling to this client. The supervisor’s role is partly to facilitate the discussion, but also to note how the applicants respond in a situation which can arouse considerable anxiety because of the elements of competition and concern over self-presentation. In the second half of the session the group is asked to explore and reflect on what has been happening in the group so far.  A group facilitator sits with the group and assesses how the applicants use skills such as empathy, confrontation and coping with anxiety.

A selection committee of five or six staff meets immediately after the half-day event and the two WPF staff involved in the event give verbal reports. The report of the selection interview is studied, most weight being given to this in reaching the final decision. Rapid agreement is usually reached on the suitability of perhaps half of the applicants, and the others are discussed at length. Applicants’ references may be taken into account at this stage, where the committee finds it difficult to reach agreement. Typical numbers involved would be: 150 initial applications, 80 full applications, 60 interviews, 40 half-day participants, 25 accepted.

The FDI course

This is a 2Vi year part-time course leading to a diploma of the Facilitator Development Institute. The selection process for the course consists of the completion of an application form and a selection interview. Two references are required, and referees are given guidelines. The general considerations informing the selection process are: (a) evidence is sought that the applicant has a sufficient level of sophistication in self-awareness and self-exploration to make it likely that they will be able to complete the course without becoming hopelessly tangled in their own psychological difficulties;    (b) evidence is sought that the applicant has already undertaken some helping activity which requires an empathic capacity; (c) it is important that applicants should have some knowledge of what the person-centred approach involves, and that they should be choosing this course on the basis of such knowledge.

The application form for the course is designed to give applicants the opportunity to demonstrate their level of self-awareness. Questions are included about applicants’ views on their current strengths and weaknesses in helping relationships, their reasons for choosing the course and their previous experience of working with other people. There is an open-ended final section which is intended to help in assessing the applicant’s level of motivation.  The selection interview is conducted by two staff members, and lasts about an hour. In the tradition of the person-centred approach the interview is designed to create an opportunity for dialogue: the interviewers are concerned not only to assess the applicant’s suitability for the course, but also to give the applicant an opportunity to form an accurate impression of what the course involves. The interviewers therefore aim to create conditions for a frank inter-change, and to encourage the applicant to assess the course as much as vice versa.

The interview provides an opportunity to assess applicants’ empathic capabilities. To what extent are they able to be sensitive to the interviewers in a situation which naturally encourages self-centredness? It also provides opportunities for assessing self-reflectiveness. In addition to these major themes the interviewers are also concerned to check on: (a) the applicant’s capacity for theoretical study: this is seen as especially important since the course has no academic entry requirements; (b) the applicant’s awareness of the effects which the training may have on his or her domestic life; © that the applicant can realistically afford the expense of the course; (d) that the applicant is primarily interested in counselling training rather than in personal development; (e) that the applicant genuinely wants to participate in this course, as against just any kind of counselling training.

The M.Sc. course

This is a three-year part-time course leading to a University of London M.Sc. in Counselling. Selection for the course has to take account of the University of London rules for entry to a Master’s programme. Academic entry requirements are normally a first degree in social sciences or equivalent, but those without such a qualification may take an entry examination which has the form of a 7,500-word essay. The general aim is to encourage a critical and evaluative approach to counselling; applicants are preferred who do not already have much counselling experience.  The course is broad based. It does not emphasize any particular theoretical approach to counselling, and it is made clear at the interview that the psychodynamic approach in particular will not be prominent. The general framework of the course is constructed around the idea of the therapeutic alliance of counsellor and client, and this is linked with Egan’s view that counsellors need different skills at different times within the counselling process.  Applicants fill in a standard application form, and all who satisfy the basic entry requirements are interviewed. Interviews last for three-quarters of an hour, and there will, when the second staff member is appointed, be two interviewers. In the interview the Selection and assessment in training courses  39 general points looked for are: (a) that applicants have made a firm decision to train in counselling as a career; (b) that they have some kind of experience of therapy or of settings in which they have experienced personal growth. This can, but need not, involve having been in formal therapy. Applicants are expected to be able to talk intelligently about their own growth. It is expected that applicants will be willing to have formal therapy during the course;

(c)  that applicants have some knowledge of the counselling literature; (d) that they can talk intelligently about their own strengths and weaknesses.

The interview is designed to be probing and has the secondary function of enabling some assessment to be made of how the applicant copes with a degree of pressure. An applicant is welcome to raise issues about what is happening in the interview; engagement with the interviewer is seen as important.

Two references are required; the second reference is taken up only in cases where there is doubt. References are not seen as a very important part of the selection process, since they tend to be uniformly good.

While there is not yet any set policy on age limits, it is likely that a minimum age of 25 will be preferred. No applicants to date have been over 60, but such applicants would be considered. Twelve places are offered per year to around 100 applicants.

The psychosynthesis course

This is a three-year part-time course leading to a Diploma of the Psychosynthesis and Education Trust. Prospective trainees first enroll in an introductory programme, ‘The Essentials of Psycho-synthesis’, which is a representative sampling of what may be expected from the three-year course. This introductory programme involves fifteen three-hour sessions. It is taught by two trainers who complete an evaluation sheet on each student at the end of the course.

Upon completion of the introductory programme prospective trainees make a written application (in answer to a wide-ranging questionnaire) for a place on the three-year course. Each candidate then attends a selection interview with two trainers, who are not those involved in the evaluation at the end of the introductory course. However, the evaluation sheets from that course are used as part of the selection procedure. Thus four people are involved in the selection process. Selection criteria include previous professional training and experience, ability to form a helping relation-ship, openness to the transpersonal, capacity to deal effectively with the psychological and cognitive demands of the course, self- awareness, maturity and the ability to function co-operatively in a group with awareness and sensitivity.

Where there is disagreement between the selectors on the suit-ability of a candidate, ratings are made based on the above criteria.  Each year 25 students are selected from about 75 applicants. Only about 10 per cent of applicants are simply rejected (with reasons being given to the applicant); others are often asked to reapply when they have fulfilled the selection criteria more adequately. Two references are asked for, but as with the other courses these are found to be of limited value because they almost always present a favourable impression of the candidate. There are no formal educational prerequisites for entry to the course. Students under about 28 or 29 years of age are discouraged, but not ruled out in exceptional cases. Most students are in the age range 3ft-60, several being in their late fifties or early sixties. There is no upper age limit.



The assessment procedures in the four courses reflect not only their general philosophies, but also their detailed structures. In each case I will therefore begin with a brief account of the course structure.

The WPF course

The main emphasis of assessment in this course is connected with ongoing supervision of work with clients, special attention being paid to whether trainees are satisfactorily integrating theoretical psychodynamic notions both with their experience of clients and with their experience of their own development.

The course structure involves the following (there are some variations between the full, half and day-release versions of the course which I will not discuss in detail):

1    Seminars on counselling skills and styles, psychopathology, human development and other topics. Trainees’ performance in these seminars is not formally evaluated, but seminar leaders may give feedback to the yearly Assessment Committee (see below).

2    Personal therapy: this is confidential and does not contribute to the trainee’s assessment.

3    Experiential student group: this is a group of about nine trainees, which meets for 1% hours each week. It is led by a staff member,  and provides opportunities for informal  and confidential  peer  and  self-assessment.  Such  assessment  is, however, specifically excluded from the formal assessment process.

Selection and assessment in training courses  41

4    Supervision group: this is a group of three or four trainees which meets with a supervisor for one and a half hours a week. The group is primarily case-oriented, but issues of group dynamics may also be explored.

5        Each trainee has a personal tutor, with whom they can meet to discuss general issues relating to the course. 


At the end of the second term of each year each trainee writes a self-assessment, for which a standard form is provided. Trainees discuss the self-assessment with their supervisor, and on the basis of this the supervisor prepares a report on the trainee’s progress.  The trainee reads the report and may initial it to register agreement with it, or may wish to add comments if there is any disagreement.  Each trainee also writes a case-study of between 3,000 and 6,000 words, which is graded on a pass/fail basis. Essays may be rewritten and resubmitted.


The formal assessment procedure takes place towards the end of each year, and involves an Assessment Committee which considers the progress  of each  trainee  based  on  (a)  the  written  self-assessment; (b) the supervisor’s report; (c) the trainee’s case-study; (d)            feedback from seminar leaders; and (e) any comments from the trainee’s tutor. Most of the members of the Assessment Committee will have had some contact with the trainee.

An external assessor from the Roehampton Institute sits in on some of the Assessment Committees, and gives feedback to super-visors and trainers. The external assessor also takes half of the scripts and evaluates the assessment procedure, making a report to the Roehampton Board of Examiners.  In this way WPF has achieved an integration of external academic standards with their own norms of evaluation. The conclusions of the Assessment Committee determine whether trainees may proceed to the next year of the course, or, at the end of the final year, whether they receive their Diploma.

The FDI course

The assessment procedure in the FDI course makes a radical break with traditional academic methods of assessment. The underlying rationale for the procedure is that, just as in the person-centred approach to counselling it is the client who primarily determines the aim and procedure of the therapeutic process, so in a person-centred training course it should primarily be the trainees who assess their own development and competence.

Throughout the course trainees are expected to assume a high level of responsibility for their learning. The function of the staff is seen as one of providing ‘core’ material and instruction, and resources upon which trainees can draw.

The structure of the course, which lasts two and a half years, involves six residential weeks, group supervision (in groups of about eight) averaging eight hours per month, and individual supervision/ personal therapy involving a minimum of 50 hours distributed evenly through the course. (No sharp division is envisaged between individual supervision and personal therapy, and there is no feed-back from the individual supervision into the assessment procedure, except in the form of self-assessment.) It is also required that trainees should arrange for their own counselling placements, such that they can expect to see a minimum of three clients a week from the start of the course.

Five essays of about 5,000 words each are required, their themes being linked to the themes of the first five residential weeks. The sixth residential week is devoted specifically to the task of assessment; I will discuss this shortly. The residential weeks provide opportunities for intensive work in various groups: unstructured meetings of the whole course community (‘the community group’), encounter and development groups (small groups in which ‘pro-filing’ takes place, whereby trainees explore their own strengths and weaknesses, and identify directions for future development), the supervision groups, and other groups for more specific learning tasks. The residential weeks also provide opportunities for counselling practice, role-play, use of audio and video recordings, as well as lectures, seminars, discussion and reading groups. Trainees are encouraged to contribute actively to the design and development of the training programme.

Throughout the course much informal self- and peer-assessment takes place through the group interactions. Trainees are expected to develop their own ‘portfolio’ of material which will reflect their development. This may include records of responses to set tasks, written self-assessments, and audio and video recordings of counselling sessions and role-plays. The development of, and reflection on, this material forms an important part of the self-evaluation work in the ‘profiling groups’.

In addition to this continuous assessment throughout the course, trainees are required to produce before the last residential week a substantial written assessment statement. This is to include reference to the trainee’s competence in counselling skills, their ability to conceptualize and describe their therapeutic work, areas of special competence,  skills and attitudes which require further attention, and client groups with which the trainee is particularly effective or not adequately effective. In preparing this statement Selection and assessment in training courses  43 the trainee is required to consult their personal supervisor, at least two staff members, the profile group and the supervision group.  The assessment statement is presented for the consideration of all course members in the last residential week, and trainees read and comment on each others’ assessments throughout that week. It is planned to involve an external consultant in the assessment process in the future. The FDI Diploma is awarded on completion of the training, the trainee (with the assistance of staff and other trainees) thus making the final decision as to their theoretical and practical competence. At the end of the first FDI course one trainee decided that she was not yet ready to receive the Diploma, and postponed the award until she judged that she was adequately competent.  Staff assessment enters the FDI process in the following ways.

1    There is staff feedback on the essays written during the course.

2    If it appears that a trainee is reluctant to receive feedback, or in other ways does not seem to be participating in the self-assessment facilities of the course, a staff member will consult with them about what is going on, and reflect with them on the issues involved. Similarly, if a trainee appears to be encounter-ing serious difficulties with any aspect of the course, a staff member will engage with them in connection with the anxiety the staff feel.

3    If staff misgivings persist it is an unwritten principle that the matter should be tackled no later than the end of the first year of the course. The matter will be fully discussed with the trainee, and some trainees do leave the course. There has as yet been no case where staff have judged that a trainee should discon-tinue, while the trainee has wished to proceed. If this did occur recourse would be made to an external consultant to help in reaching a decision.

The staff view is that on the first course the final assessment procedure worked extremely well. Trainees took the procedure very seriously, often going beyond what had been required in drawing up their self-assessment statements, and in the extent of their comments on each others’ statements.

The M.Sc. course

The course involves one full day and one evening a week, plus a counselling placement in the second and third years. In addition trainees are expected to engage in private study for at least ten hours per week. They provide their own arrangements for personal therapy, which is in no way linked with the assessment procedure.  Supervision involves two hours per week at Goldsmiths’ College and it is expected that there will be additional placement super-vision. A range of theoretical courses are provided, a counselling skills group, an unstructured ‘counselling forum’ where trainees can raise issues pertaining to the course with the course tutor, and a personal development group. Trainees begin to see clients at the start of their second year. The broad-based approach of the course is  matched  by  a  broad-based  approach  to  assessment,  which  is ongoing. In addition to the formal assessment procedures described below the trainees receive informal feedback and assessment from the course tutor, the skills group and supervisors throughout the course.

At the end of the first year:

1    Each trainee writes a self-assessment, in preparation for which journals are kept and discussions may take place with the course tutor.

2    Each trainee provides a tape of a counselling interview to demonstrate his or her counselling ability. These counselling tapes will be produced in the course of supervision, and will be reported on by the trainee’s supervisor.

3 The skills-group tutor will report on each trainee.

4    There is an examination which focuses on aspects of counselling theory which are most important for seeing clients. All questions must be answered.

5    Two essays are required of 5,000 words each. Titles are suggested, but can be   

      modified to suit trainees’ own special interests.

The assessment at the end of the first year is designed partly to ensure as far as possible that trainees will be sufficiently competent to begin their placement work in the second year.  At the end of the second year there will again be a written self-assessment, a supervision report, a skills-group report and an examination. An essay of 7,500 words is required consisting of a review of the research literature in a special area.  At the end of the third year there will be the self-assessment, supervision report and an examination. In addition, trainees will undertake a piece of independent research on some aspect of counselling, or a dissertation of up to 15,000 words on a topic agreed with the course tutor. Finally, they will be required to write up an account of a psychological educational programme which they have run, for example, a day workshop.

All assessed work will be marked by the two course organizers, and samples of best/worst/average work will be sent to an external examiner. The M.Sc. degree is awarded on the basis of this assessed work.

The psychosynthesis course

The course programme involves one or two evenings a week, one weekend a month, plus a minimum of 24 individual therapy sessions per year. The monthly weekend programmes are devoted to a wide range of theoretical and experiential themes, which reflect the world-view of psychosynthesis. For instance, in addition to more standard courses on the history of psychology and theories of human nature, there are courses on Transpersonal Psychosynthesis in Daily Life, and Transpersonal Realization and Psychosynthesis Typology. The weekly sessions in the first year are for group psychotherapy; in the second and third year they are devoted to supervision in small groups. Group therapy is continued in the second and third years on a quarterly basis.

Each year a group of 25 trainees is enrolled, and they are assigned a Training Adviser, whose general function is to oversee each student’s training, provide them with information and guidance and advise the Training Board of their progress. The Training Adviser meets several times a year with the group, and at least once a year with each trainee and another staff trainer to assess the trainee’s progress. Trainees can consult their Training Adviser at any time, and conversely any concern the training staff may have with a student’s progress will be communicated to the student through the Adviser.

Assessment is ongoing throughout the course; it involves self-, peer and staff assessment. Specific criteria of assessment are invoked, but it is an important aspect of the assessment procedure that ‘the assessment process calls upon the intuitive perception of staff members, which will be utilized in all assessment procedures’.

 Staff and self-assessment.  At the end of each term the trainee’s supervisor fills out a form on the trainee’s progress, and the trainee fills out  a  similar  form.  The  trainee  reads  the  supervisor’s  form before it is filed. At the end of each year assessment forms are collected from all the trainers who have had contact with the student during the year, and the trainers’ assessments are collated. The trainee then meets with his or her supervisor and another staff member. The trainee is invited to give a self-assessment for the year, and the trainers’ evaluations are then discussed and compared with the trainee’s self-assessment. In practice a large measure of agreement is usually experienced; where there are divergences both the content and the process of the disagreement are explored.  Self-assessment is also conducted through the maintenance of a training workbook in which trainees record and monitor their personal and professional development. This workbook (apart from the personal section) is brought to the yearly assessment interview. During the course students also write four substantial papers. The paper at the end of the first year is autobiographical, and explores how the training experience to date relates to the trainee’s biogra-phy. The second-year paper is a case-study of a practice client. In the third year there is a 4,000-word theoretical paper and a 5,000-word case history. The theoretical paper is read by the teacher of the relevant theoretical course, the case history by the trainee’s supervisor and another staff member. Feedback is given by the staff on each paper.

Trainees are asked to request from their personal therapists some assessment of their development and competence, but the content of this assessment remains confidential to the trainee.

Peer assessment.  This is informal. At the end of each year the trainees meet as a group and each trainee invites the others to share

(a)  what they especially appreciate about his or her skills and (b) what they feel this person would be served by developing. A staff member is present at this meeting, but the material is not recorded or filed. Peer assessment also takes place in an ongoing way through the working of the supervision groups.


At the end of the third year all the staff trainers meet. An external moderator observes and gives feedback on the meeting.  Each student is discussed and assessed in the light of the agreed criteria, special emphasis being placed on counselling skills. The assessments made are recorded and this information is taken to the final assessment interview, which is conducted in the same way as in previous years. The Diploma is awarded on the basis of this final assessment, provided that the trainee has also fulfilled other requirements such as the completion of the required number of client-contact hours. A trainee who does not fulfill all the requirements may attend a further assessment interview when they are ready to do so.


It seems evident from this survey that there are important parallels between the different courses in their approaches to selection and assessment; there are also significant differences of emphasis.  Among the parallels are: the concern to achieve a balance between assessing theoretical and experiential learning, the use of a range of assessment procedures involving forms of self-, peer and staff assessment, the discouragement of applicants under the age of about 28, the scepticism about the value of references, the sharp separation of personal therapy from the assessment procedures, and the concern to make the approach to assessment consistent with the general approach to counselling which is being employed.

The differences of emphasis are rather harder to characterize precisely, but they seem to reflect closely the philosophies lying behind the different approaches. In speaking of the person-centred approach of the FDI course, Brian Thorne emphasized the import-ance of power-sharing: that just as in the person-centred approach counsellors do not set themselves up as experts on their clients’ problems, so counsellor trainers should see themselves essentially as ‘resource persons’ rather than as teachers. The emphasis in the course is very much on trainees taking responsibility for their own learning, and ultimately for assessing their own competence.  This attitude is also prominent in the psychosynthesis course, but there it is embedded in a further dimension of ‘openness to the transpersonal’. Although the Psychosynthesis and Education Trust has moved increasingly towards the structuring and professionalisation of its course, Diana Whitmore emphasized that the spirit of psychosynthesis, with its emphasis on intuition and the trans-personal, remains the ultimate determining factor for how the course is structured and run. She feels that the course has in fact benefited from the changes which were required in connection with BAC recognition, but the course staff were clear that had there been any serious incompatibility between ‘professionalism’ and the spirit informing their work, it would have been the spirit which had priority.

The M.Sc. course is the one which remains closest to traditional academic procedures; Windy Dryden remarked that examinations are a much-maligned form of assessment. This attitude goes against the tide of much contemporary thinking in the counselling world, but just for that reason it seems important to give it serious consideration. The academic world has its own values of commitment to truth, objectivity and disinterested concern, something of which comes through, I think, in the eclecticism of the M.Sc.  course: of all the courses it is perhaps the one which involves least in the way of an initiation into a ‘world-view’ or a ‘way of being’.  (I say ‘perhaps’, because the values of academia themselves could be said to embody a world-view and a way of being. However a discussion of that would take us well beyond the limits of this chapter.)

The WPF course has a distinctive emphasis deriving from its roots in psychodynamic theory. One aspect of this is a greater emphasis on pathology than is found in the other courses. There is correspondingly a greater concern with pathological aspects of the trainee’s personality and the potential these could have for harming clients. The intensive selection and assessment procedures reflect, I think, this profound concern or anxiety. The psychodynamic world-view could be said to be less optimistic (some would say more realistic) than those which inform psychosynthesis or the person-centred approach, and this quite properly has its implications for selection and assessment.

In conclusion I would like to link the four different approaches with the fundamental question of why selection and assessment are needed at all. The answer to the question, I believe, is that trainers have a professional responsibility to their trainees’ clients, and that there is, therefore, an appropriate concern or anxiety that this responsibility should be discharged properly. What I suggest differentiates the approaches of the different courses to assessment is the kind of fear or concern which predominates. Iris Murdoch has remarked3 that ‘it is always a significant question to ask about any philosopher: what is he afraid of?’, and the same applies to counselling philosophies. (A further aspect of this is the extent to which the fears and concerns of the originators of the different counselling approaches come through in the different approaches to assessment. I had a strong impression that something distinctive of Freud, Rogers and Assagioli lives on in the WPF, FDI and psychosynthesis courses respectively.)

In the case of the person-centred approach, what is most feared, I think, is abuse of power, and this is reflected in the emphasis placed in the FDI course on student self-responsibility and self-assessment. In the M.Sc. course I think the fear is that of bias, of drawing trainees into one particular mode of counselling, of initiating them into a closed cultish society where a disinterested point of view is impossible. Hence the maintenance of academic standards and values which have evolved precisely to guard against such dangers. In the psychosynthesis course I think the fear is that of a betrayal of the spirit, a sacrificing of intuitive perception and the spiritual to the requirements of ‘professionalism’. Hence, although there is a formal structure of assessment, it is designed to give great scope in practice to the intuitive perceptions of the staff and trainees. Finally, in the WPF course, my guess is that the dominant fear is of unconscious pathology, the fear that apparently benign therapists may harbour pathological needs that will find expression in their work with clients: hence the very intensive selection and assessment process which works with unconscious as well as conscious aspects of the trainee’s development.


1 In March 1991 FDI changed its name to Person Centred Therapy (Britain).

2 Joel Kovel, A Complete Guide to Therapy, Penguin, Harmondsworth (1978), p. 79.

3 Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good, Routledge, London (1970), p. 72.

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