4 skills for counselling

(Adopted from the student handbook of Devotee Care Course)

It is desirable, wherever feasible, that caregivers in ISKCON are themselves devotees. Nevertheless, caring devotees must exhibit appropriate values and conduct, and be knowledgeable and expert in their respective fields. In many areas, professionalism is absolutely needed. In some cases, a lack of professional knowledge and discretion can have serious negative consequences, and may be illegal

On the other hand, caregivers who are professional and exhibit genuine care and other Vaishnava qualities often have considerable and positive impact on people’s lives, materially and spiritually.

We focus here on giving counsel (as relevant to many areas of care). We explore four main topics/skills:

  1. Respecting confidentiality
  2. Making referrals
  3. Building rapport
  4. Considering ethics

1. Respecting Confidentiality

Personal integrity is most important for a caregiver (as linked to #4). Breaking confidentiality is a serious and culpable breach of trust. However, practicing confidentiality may not be as simple as we initially might suppose. Please note:

  1. Sharing with peers/seniors without the client’s permission is also breaking confidentiality
  2. You are obliged in some places (by law) to break confidentiality when a person/client discloses a desire to:
    1. Self-harm or commit suicide
    2. Harm another person
    3. Break some laws
  3. The care-giver must be aware of the law in their specific country/state/region (this includes statutory requirements for data-protection).

2: Making Referrals

A care-giver must recognise his or her limitations and situations that call for knowledge and skills outside his/her own specific area of expertise. Especially, a caregiver should avoid:

  1. denying the scope of their expertise and their own limitations
  2. being possessive of clients
  3. being swayed by sectarian concerns (e.g. guru cliques)
  4. anything that compromises the well-being of clients.

It is often dangerous, and even illegal, to practice without adequate qualification (for example, in applying alternative or complementary health remedies).

3: Building Rapport

It’s important that clients are not only cared for but palpably feel cared for. Hence the caregiver should:

  1. Be aware of the need for ‘real connection’ and empathy.
  2. Acknowledge without judgment the needs of the client (and significant others).
  3. Be fully present and mindful.
  4. Build appropriate and trusting relationships.

Care-givers should also have a positive relationship with themselves. Understanding one's needs and feelings helps to become aware of thinking patterns, and present situations.

  1. Take care of you own needs and seek the regular support that all caregivers need
  2. Do not enter into an intimate (i.e. sexual) relationship with a client
  3. Do not become attached to being needed or ‘rescuing’ others

4. Considering Ethics

This fourth topic is somewhat different from the previous three in that ethical concerns - and related skills - underpin all caring practices. It is especially important that;

  1. Devotee counsellors demonstrate integrity, both professional and devotional.
  2. ISKCON caregivers be careful not to sacrifice personal integrity in favour of misunderstood or misapplied religious belief/sentiment.
  3. They exercise a degree of self-determination (as a local team or as a wider sanga). 
  4. Care-givers define an agreed ‘code of conduct’ (or ‘code of ethics’), to which they consider themselves accountable, irrespective of status or position.
  5. They regularly participate in CPD (Continuous Professional Development).