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PROFESSIONALISM IN COUNSELING GENERATE HUMAN WELL-BEING

Last Updated Tuesday, 29 September 2009 15:43

By: Prof Dato Dr. Haji Mohd Mansor Abdullah - 154 Vol.25 No. 2 Dec. 2003

Abstract

This paper is a discussion on counseling services in Malaysia since it was first introduce in 1963 until today, when it has gained acceptance as a fairly stable profession.

The early part of the discussion will touch on issues such as changes in priority from career guidance to actual counseling and guidance services, the non-uniformity of counseling training at institutions of higher learning, the chaotic differences between practicing counselors in school and the freedom of practicing counselors (fake counselor), the establishment of PERKAMA (Malaysia Counselor Association) in 1982 with the objective of uniting trained counselors while increasing the profile of counseling which had been slow to gain acceptance as a profession in this country.

The author will also discuss the importance of Counselor Act 1998 (Act 580) to trained counselors, to establish counseling as a profession, and the guarantee on the professionalism of the counselors in the effort to generate the well-being of human being.

Therefore, the author will stress the importance of registering with the Board of Counselors for counselors who wishes to practice. At the end of this paper, the author would suggest that all trained counselors unite, cooperate and work hard to uphold the counseling profession in

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Malaysia.

Introduction

Since counseling services was introduce in 1963, when a formal certificate-level course was initiated at the Maktab Perguruan Ilmu Khas (MPIK) Cheras, Kuala Lumpur and subsequently at first degree level by Agricultural University of Malaysia in 1981 while Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia began to offer a course in psychology (counseling) at diploma level in 1980, it has been developed rapidly.

In the beginning the Education Ministry organized training and seminars for career guidance teachers in the form of vocational training. Guidance Services in School published by DBP in 1966 became the guidebook for career guidance teachers in schools. Only in 1984 when Declaration 79 (Education Policy) was enforced did the training pattern was revised with the implementation of counseling and guidance with the help of the book Panduan Perlaksanaan Khidmat Bimbingan dan Kaunseling for counseling teachers and school administrators.

Only at the end of the twentieth century did universities begin to train counseling teachers for schools and counselors that served in other sectors. The main objective of counselor education is to prepare future professional counselors that may be supplied and beneficial to not only educational institutions, but also to other sectors. Nowadays almost all universities in the country offer courses in guidance and counseling, from first degree to doctorate.

It is thus proven that demand for counseling programs at institutions of higher learning is increasing, a sign that requirement for counseling services is also increasing. The demand is accentuated by demand from the Education Ministry of Malaysia for trained guidance and counseling teachers at every primary and secondary schools in Malaysia.

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Chaos in Counseling Practice in the Country As counseling is a process to help an individual recovers his well-being, the service is beginning to gain a place in and the confidence of the public. In a counseling relationship, a counselor will try to help the client to see his problem and together seek a way until the client is able to see his real self and recover his well-being. According to Gilbert (1981;270) Counseling is a helpline that concentrate on the improvement, individual development, self-adjustment and the need for a solution and making the decision to become comfortable by finding his previous well-being. Instead, what happened in Malaysia, amidst the public passion towards this supporting profession, there are those who professed to be counselors when they were never trained in the profession, thus offering counseling services according to their whims and fancies. Unfortunately, society has been duped by their glib and there are individuals who became rich profiting from being a top-notch counselor. The unethical practice is widespread. This has raised the concern of the genuine counselors and the authorities about the practices of the bogus counselors. The rise in the popularity of counseling services attracted all kind; in fact anyone can be a practitioner even without any formal training. The bogus counselors have never faced any objection and prohibition by any party. Whereas the process of counseling involves emotion and feeling that require proper handling by a trained and professional counselor. If an untrained counselor is handling the problem of a client, it is feared that it will aggravate the problem and adversely affecting the emotion and feeling of the client. Institutions of higher learning which offer counseling programs has yet to standardized the training methods. Each institution prepares its counseling training module according to its own methodology or model depending on the inclination of the lecturers. Abdul Halim Othman and Sharifah Bee Aboo Bakar (1993) proposes that counseling in Malaysia should has its own identity by creating a model that fit with local values, with the objective of simpler, complete and standard evaluation and accreditation. Furthermore, practicum training for future counselors has yet to be standardized. There are views that strong academic foundations are not required. For example, those who are experienced and knowledgeable in social services such as education and social welfare are considered to be more than adequate (Committee on Technical Training and Counselor Education, 2000). Whereas, Muhd Mansur Abdullah & Siti Nordinar Tamin (1996) instead stated that practicum training provides technical knowledge and basic strategy to be utilized when facing real problems when the prospective counselor graduated as a counselor later.

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PERKAMA the Struggle for the Counselor Profession In the effort to strengthen the counseling services, an association known as Malaysia Counseling Association (PERKAMA) was established in 1982. The main objective of PERKAMA is to unite all trained counselors through out Malaysia and promote the profession among the counselors. Unfortunately, there is little interest in the association even two decades after its establishment. According to its updated register of members, there are 120 active fee-paying Ordinary Members while there are 166 Life Members. Active and fee paying Student Members numbered 159. However, based on all time membership since establishment, there are 1,000 members whose membership lapses due to non payment of fees. Meanwhile there are more than 2,000 counselors in schools alone. If all the trained counselor teachers cooperate and unified, all kind of efforts can be mounted and mobilized to enhance their own counseling profession. It is this refusal that causes the slow acceptance of the service as a profession in this country.

Counselors in secondary schools are specially trained to meet the needs of the school. Towards the end of 1970's counseling teachers were also required to teach certain subjects, in fact there were cases where counseling teachers were not given the opportunities to practice and instead directed to teach as other teachers due to shortages of teachers.

Since 1980, the Education Ministry has put more emphasis on full time guidance and counseling teachers, whereby schools counseling and guidance programs are required to cover 22 types of tasks. Simultaneously, Guidance and Counseling Units were established in secondary schools to replace Student Career Guidance Units. (Committee on Technical Training and Counselor Education, 2000). Thus, the Guide for the Implementation of Guidance and Counseling Services (Panduan Pelaksanaan Khidmat Bimbingan dan Kaunseling) was published as a guide for counseling teachers in schools.

Due to the excessive workload many of the counseling teachers, who were trained at institutions of higher learning, were forced to withdraw from the service. The teachers felt unduely burdened by the workload. As a result the teachers opted to return to normal teaching which is far easier and with a lighter workload. Consequently, the Ministrys intention to equip all

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secondary schools in Malaysia with full time counseling teacher was not achieved, and the guidance and counseling services was neglected for a time.

The Profession and the Counselor Act 1998

The uncontrolled practice in counseling by individuals not only worsened the image of support services but degrade the counseling service from being accepted as a profession. Nugent (1981) had outlined a guide to turn the counseling service into a professional service, that is counseling must be clear and not mixed with other fields. More meaningful, those who are without qualification in the field of counseling should not be allowed to present themselves as counselor. Boy and Pine (1982) stated that if the counseling service was to be validated as a profession; it needs to be a specialist service to society whereby counselors possessed specific expertise and skill. Moreover there must be a body that control and supervise in a duly manner the practice of counseling, and the counselors must be bound by a code of ethic that control the conduct of its members in practicing counseling and possessed sufficient professional autonomy. Whereas Muhd Mansur Abdullah & Siti Nordinar Tamin (2003) insisted that a counselor is a person who possesses a specific characteristic and expertise and be in continuous practice for the benefit of the public. In other words, the expertise and specific characteristic based on scientific knowledge and professionalism would be beneficial to society. Therefore, to enable a counselor to conduct a counseling session effectively, his knowledge of the field must be obtained through professional preparation, meaning by attending specific courses offered by learning institutions at degree level coupled with working experience in their respective fields which mostly involve dealing with the public at large. Otherwise, counseling service must obtained prior accreditation, but before the accreditation could be obtained, it must be accepted as a profession. Davies (1981) also outlined several characteristics that could lead to counseling being accepted as a profession. Among which is the existing of an association that could provide services to the public. However, in Malaysia, an association in the form of PERKAMA has been in existence for two decades.

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Counseling service must be unique whereby it can only be offered by trained counselors and the service is urgently required by the public. There are also the requirements for standards and the process of counseling must be in accordance with certain ethics. After two decades of practice, it appears that there is acceptance by the public. Through PERKAMA, a code of ethics has been formulated and adopted by all practicing counselors. Finally, Davies (1981) stated that there must be legal recognition for the training of counselors in determining a valid quality required for licensing of a counselor. For the purpose of and meeting the requirements stated above, members of PERKAMA with the assistance of practitioners in other support services, had forwarded a proposed guidelines through the Counselor Board, members of which are appointed by the Minister of National Unity and Community Development. In 1998, Cabinet approved the Counselor Act 1998 (Act 580) to be the basis for PERKAMA to enforce the unity and professionalism of its members. To upgrade the status of PERKAMA as a professional body, it has to be in line with the provision of the Counselor Act 1998. Thus, PERKAMA proposes to amend its constitutions by including conditions for membership. Therefore, it is timely for PERKAMA to review its register of members and be more selective in accepting future members. Among others is to give priority to registered counselors with certificate of practice from the Counselor Board.

Counselor Board

Counselor Act 1998 states that a body incorporated be established to be known as Counselor Board. Members of the Board are to be appointed by the Minister of National Unity and Community Development. They shall comprise a President appointed from among registered counselor, a representative each from the Department of Social Welfare, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Department of Islamic Development, Public Service Department and Ministry of Internal Affairs, three representatives from institutions of higher learning and six registered counselors.

The Counselor Board functions is to supervise and evaluate counseling services, oversee counselors training and determined the type and level of counseling, determined the minimum qualification for registration of a counselor, fixed the standard for training program, make suggestion to the government on standards for counseling services, registration of qualified

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counselors, oversee the fees that can be charged by a counselor for his services, appoint its members to any other board, committee or a body established for any purpose related to counseling, oversee the conduct of the counseling profession including formulating a code of ethics and undertaking whatsoever activity that enable it to function more effectively. The Counselor Board must submit an annual report detailing its assets and activities and a financial report to the Minister. The Board may also appoint advocate and solicitor to initiate and conduct whatever civil proceeding on its behalf. Public Authority Protection Act 1948 is applicable to the Board or its members in whatever action, legal, prosecution or proceeding against the Board or its members.

Registration of Counselor

Under part IV, Section 22 (1) Counselor Act 1998 the registration of counselors is enforced. Therefore any person who wishes to practice counseling must be registered with the Counselor Board. If the Counselor Board is satisfied that the person is a Malaysia citizen or a permanent resident of Malaysia of not less than twenty-one years old, and hold one of the of the qualifications listed under the Second Schedule, is qualified and suitable to be registered as a counselor.

However, the Act strongly prohibits an unqualified person from presenting himself as a counselor or refused to register with the Counselor Board. Among others, a person is not allowed to practice or conduct or handle, practice as a counselor, work as a counselor; use the term registered counselor or other terms that in any language can appropriately be defined as the person being a registered counselor; or use or display any sign, board, card or other forms that portray or show the person is a registered counselor unless the person is registered under the Counselor Act 1998. If there was any infringement of any of the sub-sections in the Act, it is considered to be an offence under the law. Upon conviction, the individual may be fined not more than RM 30,000 or jailed for a period of not more than three years or both. These provisions are for the purpose of controlling those who are not qualified from practicing counseling.

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Certificate of Practice

Even if a counselor has been registered as a counselor, the person is still not allowed to practice as a counselor unless the person possesses a certificate of practice issued by the Counselor Board under the Counselor Act 1998. Section 28(1) Counselor Act 1998 stated that a counselor registered under Section 26 who wishes to practice as a counselor must make an application, using the prescribed form, within one month from the date of issue of the acceptance of the registration under Section 26(4), for a biannual certificate of practice. Every application for the certificate of practice must be enclosed with the prescribed fee and stating the main address, and of any other places, where the registered counselor wishes to practice as a counselor. A biannual certificate of practice that is expiring may be renewed by filling and submitting a form enclosing the prescribed fee to the Counselor Board not later than thirty days before the expiry of the certificate of practice.

Every registered counselor who practices as a counselor must display his certificate of practice at a prominent place in the premise of practice. If the registered counselor wishes to practice at more than one premise, he must make copies of the certificate of practice and display it at prominent place at each of the premises. Any counselor who infringe Sub-section (1) or who display a certificate of practice at any time, may be accused of an offence. If found guilty, he may be brought to face a disciplinary proceeding under Part VI and not entitled to any fee, charge or remuneration for his counseling services at any court. From observing the provisions under the Act, it is obvious that it was formulated solely for the purpose of protecting the rights of a trained and registered counselor or professional counselor from being infringed by fake counselors who are unethical and irresponsible. However, to the dismay of the Ministry and the Minister, the trained counselors in Malaysia prefer inaction.

Schedule 1: Numbers of Registered Counselor who Holds Certificate of Practice

New application of registered counselors

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(January - May 2003)

48

New application of registered counselors (2002)

79

Keep in view

60

Approve certificate of practice

71

Approved as Registered

Temporary registration for foreigner

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There appears to be a reluctance to register. Schedule 1 above shows that a very small numbers of trained counselors had registered and had registered and obtained a certificate of practice since the Counselor Act 1998 was enforced despite widespread publicity through nationwide announcements and seminars.

Conclusion

It is a fact that the Counselor Act 1998 (Act 580) is unique to our country. Malaysia is the only country that enacted such legislation. The legislation differs from the counseling code of ethics that are normally affected by counselors associations through out the world. Act 580 specifically prohibits the abuse of counseling services by fake counselors or untrained counselors that can cause harms to the public as their clients. Those who abuse the authority of a counselor can be charged in a court under Act 580.

Thus, it was stated clearly under Part III, Section 22(1) Act 580 that no person can carry out, conduct or practice counseling activities, professed to be a counselor, or whatever name that may be construed that the person is acting as a counselor, put up a signboard or name card that introduce the person as a counselor, unless the person is registered under the Act. Therefore whoever wishes to conduct a counseling session must first be registered as a counselor, and then obtained a certificate of practice. Only then the person is legalized from the view of the law. The provisions of Act 580 above are not intended to prevent or threaten a person who wishes to conduct a counseling session. On the contrary, for the sake of valuing and recognizing the professionalism of a registered counselor, the existence of Act 580 was much awaited. Thus, our society, specifically users of counseling services can seek the services without the risk of

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being served by a fake counselor. However, after five years of Act 580 existence, there is still confusion among counseling teachers in schools. They are fully trained in the field of counseling, but simply refused to register with the Counselor Board. The same can be said of counselors from the Public Service Department who are not inclined to register as they feel they are not undertaking counseling work but instead just providing guidance and advice. Whereas, Part III, Section 22(1) Act 580 clearly stated, if any person who present himself under whatever term that make the person appear to be practicing counseling, it is an offence under the law. Would it not be better if they registered and obtained a valid and professional certificate of practice? They would be free to move and can comfortably practice as a true counselor. A disappointment to some of the counselors is the attitude of the other counselors who refused to be united under and refused to joint PERKAMA which is putting a struggle for the future of the profession. Whereas, if they were united under one roof and move actively together, all demands and views will received due attentions especially from the government. Furthermore, the ignorant lot among the counselors have forgotten or not aware of the existence since two decades ago of PERKAMA as a legitimate NGO. Unfortunately not many of the trained counselors have come forward to become members compared with the numbers of graduates of both local and overseas institutions of higher learning. PERKAMA convened its general meeting annually besides organizing its annual convention. Its objective is solely to invite all trained counselors in Malaysia to unite under a strong and stable association. The annual meetings and conventions are the arenas for members to voice out grouses, demands and suggestions for the sake of reinforcing the service. In reality, certain members of PERKAMA or individual counselors who refused to be members, loudly and boldly criticizes and condemn the association due to personal grievances. Such conduct is not only harming the efforts to raise the profile of counselors or the counseling services but is detrimental to and worsened the development of the counseling profession. Looking at the rapid development of counseling programs in institutions of higher learning, secondary schools and also in both public and private sectors, there is no reason why counseling could not be forwarded or enhanced its status. It is up to the counselors to colour the image of counselors and counseling services in this country. Therefore, during the upcoming PERKAMA 11th Annual General Meeting and Convention to be held on 25th - 27th June, it would be appropriate for the counseling community in Malaysia, who have been educated to be trained counselor, who possessed first degrees, masters and doctorates, to come together to

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enhance our professionalism. There will be no others who are prepare and willing to struggle for the counseling profession but we fellow counselors. Currently, the Ministry of National Unity and Community Development is truly the pioneer and the patron of counseling services. Rightfully, the most qualified and relevant body is the Ministry of Education (MoE). MoE should be at the forefront of the counselors struggle as MoE employed the largest number of counselors in schools, teachers training colleges and universities. Therefore, I call on all counseling teachers in all schools that it is not too late to come forward to lead our professional association. Take it not only as a road cleared of all barriers but has been covered with asphalt by the Ministry of National Unity and Community Development. It is time for us from the MoE to continue with the struggle and upgrade the road to a highway. Nothing is impossible in a struggle, as said by the proverbs; paddle is in our hand, continue paddling until we successfully reach the island of hope.

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