In a follow-up to our previous post on helping parents not pressure, I (Jo) introduced some ideas from the field of counseling and psychotherapy, and anticipated a common question I sometimes hear from supervisees, “This sounds a lot like therapy – isn’t it a little outside my scope of practice?” So let’s tackle this question. Read on if you can relate…

The very fact that you’re voicing this concern shows that you have an awareness of boundaries. Feeding is an emotive topic, and whatever your profession, you will be dealing with potentially painful material if you work with parents. There are lots of great resources on counseling skills and active listening, as well as online and in-person courses.

Aside from developing your skill set, here are a few things to consider:

  • Be sure that the topics your client is broaching pertain to why they are seeing you (feeding!).
  • Be sure that you are able to signpost/refer if you feel more specialist support is needed.
  • Be sure that the issues being discussed can be contained in the context of the time you have with your client. For example, if a client begins to share about a history of ED in the last five minutes of a session, you may want to let them know that this sounds really important but you’d like to return to it at the beginning of the next session because you want to have time to listen properly.
  • Let the client lead – if you are driving a conversation about a traumatic or difficult topic, at best, it may well not be what they want or need, at worst it can be retraumatizing.
  • Trust your intuition! If you feel like you’re getting out of your depth, you probably are. It’s fine to say that certain topics are outside your expertise –  This is part of being an ethical practitioner.

There is a big difference between using counseling skills and ‘doing therapy.’ Let me explain. If you are in a helping role, you can use active listening and counseling skills in order to benefit your client by really listening to them and validating their experience, as well as benefiting you because you get a deeper sense of the presenting issues. In a therapeutic encounter though, the therapist may employ some of those skills but that isn’t the whole of what is going on.

The details here vary according to what modality (approach) the therapist is using. Often though, the therapist is using their relationship with the client (and their emotional responses to the client) to bring about healing. In a helping relationship, the focus is the challenge the client is seeking help for, not the relationship you form with them. In other words, therapists use counseling skills, but using counseling skills is not the same as doing therapy.

The helping relationship

The notion of the helping relationship is really useful. This quote (Nelson Jones, 2016, p.17) describes a helping relationship as being carried out by:

“those who use counselling skills as part of other primary roles”


According to ASHA **:

“Counseling is an integral part of clinical work, and counseling skills are used intentionally or spontaneously in every clinical encounter.”

If you recognize yourself as being in a helping relationship with your client, this can give you clarity about how you can support without ‘therapizing.’

The point in the ASHA quote about spontaneity is key. You are likely already using counseling skills in your work, perhaps without even knowing it! To bring more confidence to your practice, it’s great to both deepen your understanding of counseling skills and be as conscious as you can about boundaries. The pointers listed above should help with this.

In the next post in this series, we’ll be looking at working with resistance to change.

There is an opportunity to deepen your psychology skills this March 28th with the LIVE webinar on the ‘Hot Cross Bun’, a simple but powerful tool that helps parents untangle what they are feeling, what they are thinking, and how they interact with their kids around food.


Click here if you’d like to join the wait list for Jo’s EAF3 (Counseling skills for feeding professionals) course.
Click here if you’d like to receive information about upcoming webinars including working with parents (this will add you to our mailing list – it is easy to unsubscribe).


* Westergaard, J. (2016). An Introduction to Helping Skills: Counselling, Coaching and Mentoring. Sage

** ASHA Practice Portal Professional Issues / Counseling For Professional Service Delivery accessed 6th Feb, 2023