Three Powerful Tips to Spotting Overseas Online Counselling Services

Confused, Muddled, Illogical Steve Buissinne

6 Aug, 2021Blog

A Quick Test to Begin…

Firstly, consider the following example advertisement* :-

» John Smith, LPC – Portsmouth Counseling.

…do you think this advert is promoting:-

(ℹ) Click the circle next to the answer you think is correct ✔

*This advert is based on several dozen advertisements with similar – or the same – wording and intent that are appearing on British-targeted Social Media and Search Engines (August 2021). In this example the therapist’s name is changed but all the other information is exactly as it appears in Google Ads advertisements.

How Non-British Online Counselling Services from Abroad are Targeting Britons…

So, most of us know that Video Counselling takes place over the Internet. You may be sat in front of your computer in Brighton and your therapist could be in Gibraltar.

Video counselling is a specialised service. It is specialised because the majority of counsellor-qualifying training courses do not cover the video medium; few counsellors know how to provide it immediately upon graduation (though they may seek post-graduate training, of course). Video counselling is supported by free apps (e.g. Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, WhatsApp) or other applications that may have been developed specifically for a bespoke, commercial service.

Because the Internet is global in nature, a counselling service can be based anywhere in the world. The service may not just deliver counselling to its home country. Sometimes services target their marketing to potential customers from abroad.

At the time of writing, some Internet-based online counselling services (centred abroad), are actively marketing their services toward British clients.

Targeting custom from abroad is just fine in my opinion. However, some of the advertisements being presented to British consumers aren’t being very clear about the following:-

(a) where the service is based (in the UK or somewhere abroad),

(b) what are your rights (e.g., filing a complaint if harmed by a counselor (sic) based abroad),

(c) who would actually be delivering your therapy (hint: from the wording, you’re not being recommended a British, Registered Counsellor).

Read on for more surprising  information…

Background to How Countries License Counsellors

Some parts of the world require that a counsellor has been licensed to practice.

Let’s take America, for example. All 50 States in the USA require their counselors (sic) to be licensed in order to practice. Licensure in America is state-specific: a Californian-licensed counsellor can work with residents only in California, they cannot work with residents of New York unless they are separately licensed by New York. Each counsellor must be licensed by each state in which they wish to practice.

This is important for you to know. Adhering to these laws means that, as an example, as a British, registered & accredited counsellor, but unlicensed by America, Dean Richardson MNCPS (Accred/Reg) does not work with any resident of the USA over Internet Video.

This sounds sensible and it protects people.

But what many British consumers don’t know is that Great Britain does not have a licensure scheme. We have no licensing in Britain to practice counselling. We have no laws in the UK that regulate a counsellor’s suitability to practise. We have nothing to prevent a counsellor from abroad marketing their service to British consumers.

So, a section of this therapy market – happening right now – appears to be taking advantage of this British loophole. Their advertisements are targeting British consumers and they are not transparent about who would be delivering their counselling service to the British client.. hint: it’s not British registered/accredited counsellors! 😲

Britain does not Regulate Counsellors Based Abroad

Because Britain doesn’t have the kind of Counsellors’ Licensure Scheme as in the USA, non-British counselling services and organisations – such as those based in America – can target their marketing directly at British consumers through use of Social Media, Online Advertising, Podcast Advert Messages etc.

If you’ve ever heard an advert on a podcast refer to “a licensed therapist” you will immediately know that they cannot be (accurately) referring to British therapists; we don’t license our counsellors! This is all fine except that when you do see such adverts on social media you’ll notice that they do not explicitly disclose that the (so called “licensed”) counsellor who would be delivering your therapy is not based in Britain.

Again: Britain does not license counsellors; that is an American expression.

Yes, I agree with you – there is nothing in British law that prevents such misleading advertising without knowledgeable consumers reporting the inaccuracy to the ASA. If a British consumer is making an informed decision to place their counselling needs into the hands of someone who is regulated abroad, great! I fully support the right to make such an informed decision.

But when advertisements are not being being transparent (see below) the consumer is denied making an informed decision.

British Professional Membership Organisations for Counsellors & Psychotherapists have no power to influence nor prevent such marketing from abroad.

  • One could argue that it is the responsibility of a service to inform the consumer explicitly that the therapists they hire are not based in the United Kingdom.
  • One could also argue that it is the consumer’s responsibility to inform themselves of the details of any service being considered for purchase.

Just in case you’re living in Britain, and you’re not looking for an American counsellor (“counselor” (sic)), the following tips will be helpful before you part with your credit card details…

Three Powerful Tips for Identifying Overseas Counselling Services

It should be easy, shouldn’t it, to tell if an online counselling service is based abroad.

Unfortunately, a handful of services are not being transparent about who the counsellors are who would be providing your therapy… (hint: they’re not British, registered / accredited counsellors).

These THREE SIMPLE BUT POWERFUL TIPS will allow you to identify when an online counselling service advertisement is not promoting British therapists:-

✅ Look for foreign phrases or misspelled words.

Clue #1: the word: “Counsellor” is spelled with two “l”s in the UK. Some other countries (America, for example) spell the word with one “l” as in: “Counselor”.

✅ Look for attributions that aren’t a British requirement.

Clue #2: notice use of designations such as: “licensed counselor” (sic). While some countries operate a licensing scheme, the UK does not.

✅ Look for post-nominal classifications that aren’t used in Britain.

Clue #3: a little more complicated, but watch out for post-nominal and designation letters (e.g. letters after a person’s name) such as: LCSW, LCPC/LPC or MFT.

Some Helpful Definitions & Background information…

LPC or LCPC stands for Licensed (Clinical) Professional Counselor (note the non-British spelling of “Counselor”). In the US, licensed professional counsellors provide mental health and substance abuse care. See:

stands for Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
LMHC stands for Licensed Mental Health Counselor (sic).
LMSW stands for Licensed Master Social Worker.
These are American licenses offered by the American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work (more specifically the state in which the clinician is resident will have its own licensing board). People who have gone on to obtain their master’s in social work (MSW) and complete the requirements in their state to obtain their professional license may be awarded LCSW. See: Licenses such as these classifications do not come from Britain.


MFT stands for Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs). See:

The advertisements you’re seeing on Google, Facebook, and other sites that use these classifications are promoting American therapists, not British therapists, as you might have assumed. 


Examples of Overseas Advertisement Copy

Now that you’re more prepared to spot Online Counselling Services from abroad, let’s give you a little test. Can you see ~ from these headlines ~ if the counsellor/service is not based in Britain:-

We’ll put you in touch with one of our professional counselors…

🤓 What to Notice: notice that the spelling of “counselor” is not British.

John Smith, LPC – Portsmouth Counselling…

🤓 What to Notice: notice the post-nominal letters: LPC (a Licensed Professional Counselor); this counsellor would not be regulated by any British organisation.

Meet with a Licensed Professional Therapist Online…

🤓 What to Notice: notice the term “Licensed” – a majority of qualified, British counsellors are registered and/or accredited. Britain does not operate a licensure scheme.

Well done! You’re now capable of spotting the clues about Online Counselling Services from abroad that will help you in making your own informed decisions 👀🎉.

Why Transparent Marketing is Important

As a British consumer do you think the Google advertisement: “John Smith, LCSW – Make an Appointment Today” sufficiently identifies this counsellor as being a non-UK therapist? Do you think it makes things clear that the therapist would be regulated abroad (not from within Britain)?

It might be deliberate obfuscation on behalf of the advertiser, it might be simple negligence, but I think the wording doesn’t clearly communicate matters at all.

The Keywords that identifies a British Counsellor

In Britain, qualified counsellors are referred to as being “registered” or “accredited” (as well as “qualified”). British counsellors & psychotherapists (generally) when qualified join a professional membership organisation. We then make our registration via a register that is recognised by the  UK Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care.

So, important keywords that identify a British counsellor include:-

  • Registered.
  • Accredited.
  • Member of a British Professional Organisation (such as the National Counselling Society, The British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy, and others)..
  • British or UK.

* A handy list of British membership organisations may be found on the NHS page here: Counselling Roles within the NHS.

It’s also worth noting that accreditation obtained from one Professional Membership Organisation (PMO) is not to be seen as evaluating “a better quality of counsellor” than accreditation awarded by other PMOs. For example, Dean was originally accredited by one PMO 15 years ago before he chose to resign from the PMO (6 years ago for behaviour from the PMO non-commensurate with good practice and supportive of membership) and transferred his registration & accreditation to another PMO. HIs practice standards didn’t change, nor did his skills & abilities change during this transition!

Raising a Complaint against a Counsellor

Sometimes things go wrong in therapy. Sometimes (hopefully very occasionally) a counsellor is insufficiently competent to work with the subjects you’re working through.

If something went wrong with your counsellor, how might you expect to raise a complaint? Would you complain to the counsellor? Would you expect to complain to the organisation that regulated the counsellor? What if the counsellor was based in America, would you know how to go about raising therapeutic-harm that you had experienced?

Raising a Complaint Abroad

If things go badly wrong with your therapist from abroad, you might expect to raise a complaint with the Licensing Board who awarded the therapist their qualification(s), their designation and/or who regulated their practice.

  Taking America for example: at time of writing – consulting with a number of colleagues online – we understand that American Licensing Boards do not entertain complaints made upon their members from British clients.  As a client who worked with an American therapist you may be left having to sue the therapist from abroad, or try to have your complaint recognised by the company that put you in touch with the therapist in the first place.

Even if the Licensing Board accepted your complaint, you could be managing the complaint from several thousand miles away; you may only be able to communicate with the Board via email, and should the Board even get as far to hold a Sanctions-Decision Meeting, would the Licensing Board have facilities for you to attend the meeting remotely (via a video link), or might you be expected to take a flight?

Raising a Complaint in Britain

If you have a complaint about a counsellor in Britain, the following procedure is usually followed:-

  1. You’d first take up your complaint with the counsellor themselves. They may be able to address your complaint (and rescue the therapeutic relationship at the same time).
  2. If you are not satisfied with the first step, the counsellor’s registration organisation (eg a Professional Membership Organisation) would have a documented complaints procedure. You’d next take up the complaint with the membership organisation (which would be based in Britain).


So, I’d ask you: having seen a tempting advert for a therapy service abroad, has the service made you aware of how you would raise a complaint if your counsellor’s complaints-handling organisation is based abroad?

Don’t give away your Personal Details for free…

Be aware also that some websites of foreign therapy services ask you to complete a form (“for free!”) the moment you arrive.

The form starts simply: promising to put you in contact with their best counselor (sic), and asking you for more and more details about yourself and your situation.

As you progress through the form you find you’re giving more and more personal details and perhaps feel assured that this is helping the system put you in contact with a matching counsellor.

Several pages later the website invites you to give your credit card details and the process halts.

  • You weren’t matched with a counsellor.
  • Your information was not used to provide you with a list of counsellors from which to choose.
  • It appears that you were giving free marketing information to the organisation.
  • The website presented you with no GDPR Policy (the European initiate that puts the right to decide what happens to your data back into your hands). You have no idea about how your personal information is going to be used.

Choose a British Registered Counsellor

Britons… be informed about your online therapy life!

Use knowledge to make a good decision about your individual choice for counselling.

How to Check a (British) Counsellor’s Registration

If you wish to check a British Counsellor’s registration, you can do so as follows:-

Use the (free) Professional Standards Authority website to check a British counsellor’s registration details.

  1. Go to the website:
  2. Choose: I want to check a counsellor / click Go
  3. From the list of registers*  find the counsellor’s Membership Organisation.  Usually the counsellor will state on their website or promotional material of what membership organisation they are a member. Or you could ask them.  Click [Search for Practitioners].
  4. You’re now at the website of the register you want to search. Use this to search for the counsellor’s name, location etc.

If you find the website difficult to use, raise a complaint with (a) the Professional Standards Authority and (b) the website operator.

*Each membership organisation has its own register that is independent from the others.

How to Check Dean Richardson’s Registration

To check the registration of the counsellor who operates LGBT Couple Counselling go to and then follow these instructions:-

  • Counsellor
  • National Counselling & Psychotherapy Society
  • change the search for Location to Name
  • Put in: Dean Richardson.

See also my notes: “Are you a Licensed Counselor? (sic)”

Dean Richardson MNCPS (Accred/Reg) is a fully qualified counsellor, accredited & registered (#NCS15-02454) with the Professional Standards Authority through the National Counselling & Psychotherapy Society… and operates his service from the South of England (Great Britain) over Zoom & Skype – click to learn more about Dean…

Answer to the Quiz

Please respond to the quiz at the top of the page to see the answer!

You answered: “American”Correct! 🎉🍾 – however only 7% of Quiz Responders got this question right, the others believing this was an advertisement for a British counsellor.“British”sorry, incorrect! 😥👎🏻 – but don’t despair because only 7% of Quiz Responders got this question right, the others also believing this was an advertisement for a British counsellor.“Unsure”okay – thanks for trying anyway. You might be interested to learn that only 7% of Quiz Responders got this question right, the others believing this was an advertisement for a British counsellor. 🤷🏻‍♂️This advert is promoting an American therapist because of (a) the post-nominal letters “LPC” and (b) because of the spelling of “counselor” (sic).

☝🏻 click to return to the top of this article…

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