All Professional Bodies, National Associations (e.g. Mental Health, School, Guidance, Addiction, Faith-based etc.) and Accrediting Organisations.
Universities and Other Education and Training Institutes
Academie voor Coaching en Counselling
- Programme Types: Counselling Professional
- Education: Four Year Therapy Training in Interactional Design
Counselling Agencies, Services, Group Practices, Counselling Centres
Background & Context
Since the 20th century, clinical psychology, psychotherapy, and counselling have been a part of the Belgian health care system. Counselling and psychotherapy evolved from inpatient psychiatric care by progressive-minded psychiatrists such as Dr. Joseph Guislain. The early 20th century also saw the establishment of the first outpatient centers for ‘mental hygiene’ (Van Broeck, Stinckens, Lietaer 2013, p. 262). The care of the ‘mentally ill’ was transferred from the authority of the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Health in 1948. Mental health care became increasingly important between 1945 and 1975, as indicated by the development of psychiatric services in general hospitals. “In the 1980s and 1990s the government decided to change the policy from investment in residential care in psychiatric hospital beds toward more resources from ambulatory mental health services for a larger amount of clients with various psychological problems” (Van Broeck, Stinckens, Lietaer 2013, p. 262). This shift puts focus on the importance of mental health care workers such as psychologists, psychotherapists, and counsellors. Likewise, the formation of several professional associations of psychotherapy and counselling encourages the growth of these professions.
In the early 1990s, initiatives were taken to achieve a legal framework for regulating the practice of these “non-medical mental healthcare practitioners” (ibid. p. 262). In order to protect the title of psychologist, a law was passed in 1993. This title is issued by the ‘Ministry of Independent Professions’, which is only bound to the criteria of basic training (cf. Van Broeck, Lietaer 2008, p. 55). “The authorization to carry the title of psychologist not associated with a regulation of the practice, control of quality, or respect of deontological rules. Subsequent law proposals in the last decade to extend the legal framework to the practice psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors have remained without success” (Van Broeck, Stinckens, Lietaer 2013, p. 262).
Current Regulatory Status / Level of Recognition:
In Belgium, training programs for counsellors are usually organized by private training institutes. Postgraduate programs for counselling are offered by some universities, but there is still no uniform academic training. There are hardly any prerequisites to participate in these programs. Only a bachelor’s degree in human sciences is sufficient to enroll in a master’s program in counselling (cf. Van Broeck, Stinckens, Lietaer 2013, p. 262).
Counsellor education programs vary in length and scope of training. There are training programs that last 3 to 4 years to provide comprehensive counselling skills. On the other hand, there are also more specific training programs that require 3 to 6 months of training. This involves specializing in a particular counselling setting, such as secondary school, palliative services, or family work (see Van Broeck, Stinckens, Lietaer 2013, p. 263). Furthermore, one can also focus on stress symptoms, burnout, grief, addiction, and types of counselling work such as psychoeducation, crisis intervention, or group dynamics.
Counsellors, after adding ‘Counselling’ to the title in 2004, could be accepted as members by the “Flemish Association for Client-Centered and Experienential Psychotherapy and Counselling (VVCEPC)” (Ibid. p. 263). This association conducts quality control through its own certification processes. Counsellors must complete a postgraduate program that includes at least three years of part-time training. This includes at least 160 hours of theory, about 120 hours of supervision and about 120 hours of personal counselling experience.
“Since there is no legislation yet in Belgium for obtaining certification as a counsellor, graduation from a program is not a general requirement, it is only a prerequisite for obtaining a counsellor membership in the VVCEPC. Because the professional activities of […] counsellors in the domain of healthcare are not legally regulated in Belgium, there is no system of licensing that authorizes the practice of these professionals, and no register of authorized professionals. Further there is no official accreditation process of training programs or training institutes, or a regulatory body that handles professional matters, complaints and malpractice” (Van Broeck, Stinckens, Lietaer 2013, p. 264).
Efforts have been made in recent years to achieve regulatory frameworks for the health professions. Progress has been made in defining training requirements, so that the Belgian Chamber of Deputies passed a law on psychotherapists, which came into force in 2018 (see Psychotherapist 2020). However, no law was passed for the activity of counselling.l
Most professionals providing clinical psychological, psychotherapeutic, and counselling services work predominantly with the following approaches: the psychodynamic perspective, the client-centered approach, the cognitive-behavioral approach, and the systemic approach. More and more practitioners describe their working methods as integrative and combine elements of different theoretical models (cf. Van Broeck, Stinckens, Lietaer 2013, p. 264). In the north of Belgium the combination of cognitive and systemic approaches is very popular, whereas in the southern part psychodynamic and systemic approaches are used more often.
Clinical psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors are finding more and more affiliation in the Belgian health care system. Increasingly, psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors are employed in hospitals in various medical specialties such as oncology, cardiology, nephrology, pneumology, gynecology, pediatrics, as well as reproductive medicine, in order to offer support to somatically ill patients with their accompanying psychological symptoms (cf. Van Broeck, Stinckens, Lietaer 2013, p. 264).
Mental health problems such as stress, depression, anxiety, as well as relationship problems, fears about the future or dissatisfaction in the job are reasons to seek professional help from a psychotherapist or counsellor. Topics such as psycho-education, prevention, grief or addiction are also relevant issues (cf. Van Broeck, Stinckens, Lietaer 2013, p. 268).
Challenges & Trends
A major difficulty is the lack of legal regulations for the counselling profession. Quality control and control of ethical responsibility is not possible when professionals work without licensing and registration. Likewise, the lack of a legal definition is a hurdle for integration into the health care system (cf. Van Broeck, Stinckens, Lietaer 2013, p. 266).
A challenge for the coming years is to achieve legal frameworks for the practice and training of the counselling profession in Belgium.
“This framework should be explicit about the content of graduate and postgraduate training and impose ethical and deontological standards of practice. Once this is achieved, eﬀorts have to be made to integrate the new professions in the healthcare system at diﬀerent levels in order to enhance the quality and the availability of these services for the clients and patients that need them. It will be a real challenge to enhance the accessibility and the quality of mental healthcare for the patients and at the same time avoid the negative side eﬀects of a complex and overregulated set of rules (Van Broeck, Stinckens, Lietaer 2013, p. 267).
Projects that promote mental health development and target large groups through interventions and Internet-based programs are trending. Through social networks (e.g., Facebook and Twitter), target groups such as children and adolescents are reached and can contribute to the prevention of mental illness through the development and dissemination of programs such as serious games (cf. Van Broeck, Stinckens, Lietaer 2013, p. 267).
Additional Information & References
For a more in-depth examination of the counselling profession in Belgium, interested readers are advised to read the following articles as well as books:
- Ministerium der Deutschsprachigen Gemeinschaft Belgiens (2020). Psychotherapeut. Abgerufen von http://www.ostbelgienlive.be/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-6199/10665_read-58142/
- Van Broeck, N., Stinckens, N., Lietaer, G. (2013). Counseling and Psychotherapy in Belgium. In: Moodley, R., Gielen, U. P., & Wu, R. (Eds.). Handbook of counseling and psychotherapy in an international context, S. 261-270. Routledge.
- Van Broeck, N., & Lietaer, G. (2008). Psychology and psychotherapy in health care: A review of legal regulations in 17 European countries. European Psychologist, 13(1), 53-63.