Respecting Client Autonomy in Counselling

Respecting Client Autonomy in Counselling

Client autonomy is allowing and encouraging an individual’s freedom of choice and action. It addresses the responsibility of the counsellor to support clients, when appropriate, to make their own decisions and to act on their values.  

Counselling is mainly voluntary and needs a certain level of engagement from the client for it to work effectively. Success is largely dependent on the clients, their receptiveness to counselling and their motivation to attend their sessions and move through the counselling process. It is also dependent on supporting and validating their sense of autonomy which is crucial to providing clients with the tools for self-governing and decision-making that will support their continued wellbeing.

Supporting a client’s autonomy includes:

  • Understanding the client’s frame of reference
  • Providing unconditional regard for the client’s autonomy
  • Not forcing decisions or directions for the client to take
  • Understanding that choices in life exist and supporting the client’s decision-making process
  • Giving objective explanations if suggestions are made to the client

Before encouraging autonomy, you should first be considering whether clients require help to understand how their decisions and values can impact others. You should also consider whether the client can make sound and rational decisions when left to their own devices. Limitations to client autonomy should apply to clients who are unable to do that, such as children or people with a mental illness that is preventing them from understanding the repercussions of their actions.

The client should also be made aware of their personal abilities and power to continue their journey after counselling. If positive change is to be achieved and maintained, it must come from them. Instead of putting pressure on the client to behave in a certain way, the counsellor should be informing and enhancing the client’s ability to make their own decisions. Your goal is to facilitate the client’s ability to make educated and reflective choices about how to live their lives, and those decisions should be appropriate to their values not yours. You may not agree with those values, however you must accept them, as client autonomy must be respected. A good counsellor will show empathy and respect for their client and their autonomy because they know that will be critical to initiating and maintaining long-lasting change.

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