Staff Counselling Service Protocol

Staff Counselling Service Protocol

Staff Counselling Service Protocol


1.0Introduction 3

2.0Confidentiality 3/4

3.0Record keeping and written reports 4

4.0Referral routes 4/5

5.0Expectations about contact with Staff Counselling 5

6.0Number and frequency of counselling appointments 5/6

7.0Referral out of counselling 5/6

8.0Links 6

Appendix 1 7


The University recognises that a safe and healthy working environment contributes to the health and wellbeing, motivation, job satisfaction and performance of our employees. We are committed to promoting and maintaining an optimum state of physical and psychological wellbeing by managing risks at work and providing proactive health strategies.

Staff Counselling isdelivered in-house by the counselling service of the University of Sunderland. It is available to all current employees, full-time or part-time and there is no charge. The staff counselling service is intended to augment, not replace, therapeutic services available within the NHS. Employees with serious mental health diagnoses should be under medical supervision while accessing the staff counselling service

The in-house staff counselling service draws on the expertise of the counselling team and provides a degree of flexibility and control in the way that the service can be accessed, managed and funded. Staff Counselling is delivered only by qualified counselling practitioners who are experienced both in higher education counselling and workplace counselling.Personal (domestic issues) usually form a proportion of what is addressed.

Staff Counselling offers counselling throughout the year. Most counselling contact is face-to-face. Telephone, e-mail and text is also availableto existing clients. Most counselling takes place in the counselling suite located on Level 1 of the Edinburgh Building, City Campus. The counselling suite is accessible by wheelchair users and by people with limited mobility. Alternative accommodation within the University is occasionally used if a member of staff is unable to access Level 1 of the Edinburgh Building.


Counselling is effective only in the context of a high degree of confidentiality. Even greater attention must be given to confidentiality in workplace counselling:unlike in the relatively anonymous setting of a GP practice, counselling in the workplace, where many people know each other and are in frequent contact, requires extraordinary care to avoid compromising confidentiality. As a rule, neither attendance for counselling, nor what is disclosed during counselling, is disclosed to anyone beyond the Counselling team. With client consent, Staff Counselling may disclose whether a client is currently in receipt of staff counselling. Astaff counsellor will not communicate about a counselling client with any other member of University staff, with University Faculties, or with University Services. In order to monitor the staff counselling service, Staff Counselling supplies Human Resources with the following service information on an annual basis.

  • Number of staff who have attended the staff counselling service
  • Total number of sessions of staff counselling delivered by the staff counselling service
  • Total number of hours of staff counselling delivered by the staff counselling service
  • A broad breakdown of the kinds of issues addressed in counselling (e.g. depression, anxiety, stress, mental health problems, suicidal ideation, workplace issues, domestic issues).
  • The proportion of staff attending counselling who are on sick leave
  • Number of sessions per person (anonymised)
  • A breakdown of figures on staff referral routes (anonymised)

Other than in exceptional circumstances, a counsellor will not communicate with anyone outside the University.The exceptional circumstances include the following:

  • Client reports an intended act of treason, or terrorism (Terrorism Act 2000);
  • Client reports ongoing abuse of, or danger to, a child (Children Act 1989);
  • Client reports that they are or have been involved in money laundering the proceeds of drug trafficking (Drug Trafficking Act, 1994)
  • Client expresses unambiguously an intent imminently to cause significant physical harm to another adult (but not simply expressing vague threats);
  • Client expresses unambiguously an immediate suicidal intent (but not simply expressing suicidal thoughts);
  • Client is experiencing a psychotic breakdown / appears to have lost the ability to act rationally in taking care of themselves;
  • Counsellor is required by a court of law, or an officer of the law, to give evidence.

Confidentiality will be maintained in most circumstances of client disclosure regarding past or anticipated crime (such as personal use of drugs).

As a safeguard for clients, counsellors are ethically required to discuss their counselling in case discussion and/or counselling supervision, with one or more experienced counsellors, and this would usually include a senior member of the counselling team. Personal details about clients are usually carefully anonymised. Counsellors are also ethically required to engage in professional development, at which anonymised case material may be discussed.

In order to feel completely confident about the boundaries of confidentiality on offer, a client is welcome to seek clarification from the counsellor.

3.0Record keeping and written reports

The consent of a counselling client is required for the compilation, in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998, of confidential records in relation to counselling. Records are held securely and are accessible only by members of the counselling team. A client has a legal right to see records held about them in order to check their accuracy.

Staff Counselling will resist all requests for the production of written reports / documentation. Only in the most exceptional of cases will Staff Counselling acquiesce to a client’s request for a written report about the client. Exceptional cases might include support regarding a psychiatric report, or evidence demanded by a court of inquest or a court of criminal (but not civil) law, but does not include Criminal Injuries Compensation, civil legal actions or insurance claims.

4.0Referral routes

There are four routes into Staff Counselling:

  • Referral by Human Resources Manager
  • Referral by Occupational Health Adviser
  • Referral by manager
  • Self-referral

Each referral route is equally valid, and differs only in the mechanism by which the referral takes place.

When a referral to Staff Counselling is made by a Human Resources Manager, or by an Occupational Health Adviser, the preferred mechanism is the completion and submission of a form entitled Staff Referral to Counselling(see Appendix 1). This form should only be completed with the consent of the staff member to be referred, and preferably in their presence. Information should not be written on the form that the staff member wishes to be withheld. The completed form should then be mailed or e-mailed to Staff Counselling. Alternatively, with the consent of the staff member, the Manager or Adviser may either telephone or e-mail Staff Counselling, giving the name, and a contact number for the staff member, requesting that the staff member be contacted in order to set up an appointment for counselling.

In order to self-refer, the staff member should telephone or e-mail Staff Counselling, asking for an appointment. Self-referral is permitted even if the staff member has been denied other referral routes.

5.0Expectations about contact with Staff Counselling

A staff member can ordinarily expect to be contacted within two working days of a referral to Staff Counselling having been made. If the preferred means of contact is by telephone, and the staff member is not available to take the call, Staff Counselling will continue to make contact until contact is achieved.

However, this timescale may be impacted by sickness,holidays and the vagaries of e-mail and the postal service. Should the staff member have had no attempted contact from Staff Counselling within five working days, it would be reasonable to repeat the request, preferably offering an e-mail address.

After contact has beenmade, an appointment for counselling can usually be offered within five working days. Should the staff member have only limited availability, this timescale may be extended. However, every effort will be made to book an appointment for as soon as practicable.

6.0Number and frequencyof counselling appointments

A counselling relationship is a therapeutic, highly individual form of intervention.There are too many variables to determine in advance how long a counselling relationship will last. For counselling to be therapeutic, several factors must come together.These factors include:

  • a relationship must be created, maintained and sustained;
  • the counselling client must be willing and able to take responsibility for the issues requiring resolution;
  • the issues may appear to be relatively less complex(e.g. managing stress; managing depression; anxiety about a forthcoming presentation) or of deeper complexity (e.g. bereavement, sexual assault; suicidal ideation);
  • the counselling client may initially experience counselling as challenging to their sense of who they are as a person.

The average length of a counselling relationship is between six and eight sessions. Some counselling clients require only one or two sessions, whereas some clients will require longer intervention.

Counselling clients are given frequent opportunities to comment on their perception of the worth of the counselling. Those counselling clients who are unhappy with their counselling, or consider it to be of little worth to them, quickly end counselling.

Counselling appointments usually take place on a weekly basis. The reason for this is not administrative. More frequent appointments usually feel too intense, and tend to be of value only to counselling clients in crisis. Less frequent appointments are usually insufficient to build a relationship, and tend to be of value only when the relationship is matured and/or moving towards ending.

A counsellor led review of effectiveness will be undertaken after a set number of appointments – between 8 and 10 - after which a referral back to Occupational Health could be made or /and additional appropriate signposting considered to support the client.

7.0Referral out of counselling

There are many reasons why a counselling client may seek referral out of counselling. For example:

  • the counselling may expose an underlying medical condition that requires medical treatment;
  • a counselling client with a relatively less complex issuemay find counselling too intrusive and prefer other forms of help that may be personally less demanding;
  • the counselling may signpost a client with organisational issues to a formal route via Human Resources such as mediation or grievance.

In accordance with its policy on confidentiality, Staff Counselling does not make formal referrals. However, should a formal referral be made at the client’s request by the Occupational Health Adviser to NHS psychiatric services, Staff Counselling will, with the client’s consent, participate in writing the referral.


For more information about Counselling at the University, visit

Appendix 1

Confidential - Staff Referral to Counselling

today’s date / -day / date / name of month year


name of referee / job title of referee
faculty / service / telephone (work)

Domestic details of staff member

first / use name / family name
term-time address / street / date of birth / date / name of month / year
area / gender / female / male
town / disability status / disabled / not disabled
county / type of disability
postcode / telephone (fixed line) / 01-
e-mail / telephone (cellphone) / 07-

Work details of staff member

faculty / service / department
job title / place of work
full-time / part-time / at work /
sick leave / at work / sick leave
e-mail / / telephone (work)

Counselling history of staff member

has the client ever attended counselling before? / yes / no / when (approx.)?
has the client attended counselling here before? / yes / no / when (approx.)?

please continue on the reverse of this form …/…

Reasons for the referral

Please forward this form to:

Peter Hughes, Head of Counselling


Level 1, Edinburgh Building

City Campus

University of Sunderland

Sunderland SR1 3SD

or e-mail it to:

Version: / 1
Date of Issue: / November 2012
Date of Last Approval: / November 2012
Approved by (e.g. Committee, Director, etc): / Director of Human Resources
Next review date: / November 2015
Author/owner: / Counselling/HS&E
Faculty/Service: / Human Resources

This Policy can be obtained from the Human Resources website, Docushare or by contacting Human Resources.

If you would like this Policy in larger print please contact Human Resources.


Staff Counselling Service Protocol

Version 1