Right of Reply: Sarah Bowler

The chief executive of the charity Relate answers Virginia Ironside's sceptical article about analysts and counsellors
COUNSELLING AND personal therapy are relatively new ways of trying to handle personal distress and reach some sort of understanding of why and how a certain situation has arisen.

Counselling and therapy are related activities operating at different levels, using a multitude of approaches and theories. Relate is a counselling agency focusing on inter-personal relationships with an expressed aim to help people to build better relationships. Quality control and quality assurance are the hallmarks of Relate's services to the general public.

But, as Virginia Ironside states, unfortunately anyone can call themselves a counsellor. This does little to promote a positive image of the profession, and neither do the stereotypes of counselling in popular culture, whether that is in Woody Allen films or The Simpsons (especially the counsellor's electric shock machine), or, indeed, in The Independent.

Relate is not working to fulfil Virginia Ironside's stereotypes. Our aim is to help. This does include giving an explanation of the service and does not involve "saying very little". We work to specific codes of ethics. Relate does not view its role as telling people what is right or wrong for their relationship, although consumer feedback is that many would like that. It does not involve "dependency". The average number of sessions at Relate is six, and in response to public feedback Relate has been introducing a one-session service as well.

On the whole, the feedback we get is that people say they find our service to be of help and value to them. It is true that we cannot prove what would have happened had they not had counselling. My dentist cannot prove what would have happened had I not had my teeth checked, but most people don't find that a problem or conclude that dentists are a waste. There are studies that show a positive benefit to counselling. Proof that it's bad to talk is harder to come by.

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