Bhutan is known to the outside world as the country of Gross National Happiness (GNH) emanating from the wisdom of the monarchs of the country. GNH is Bhutan’s development philosophy, combining the philosophy of human values with economic development toward achieving equitable and sustainable development goals.
Although Bhutan is trying to achieve GNH in the most simplistic way of living and sharing love, care, and compassion, it is challenged by the advent of modernization and survival. In the age of globalization, Bhutanese society continues to undergo substantial changes in terms of social, economic, political, and technological structures. These forces and trends are creating substantial challenges for our children and other individuals in the society today. A few examples of these challenges include a rapidly changing world of work, competition for jobs, a desire to maintain tradition and culture, domestic violence, divorce, suicide, substance abuse, unintended teenage pregnancy, conflicts in values and attitudes, child protection, trafficking, prostitution, and an increase in numbers of unprepared, disenfranchised youth. These challenges are real, and they have a substantial impact on the social, economic, spiritual, and career aspirations and achievement of our people across all the ages. Therefore, there is a need to establish holistic and systematic prevention and intervention strategies to cater to the needs of the changing Bhutanese society. Having specific prevention and intervention strategies can empower people to make meaningful choices in their lives.
The development of counseling as a profession in Bhutan began in 1996 with a Royal Decree issued by His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck to establish a systematic Youth Guidance and Counseling Program to address the increasing youth issues in the country. Following the Royal Decree, the Youth Guidance and Counseling Section (YGCS) was established under the Ministry of Health and Education. Later the YGCS was upgraded to a division called the Youth Guidance and Counseling Division (YGCD) under the same Ministry.
In 2003, the Ministry of Health and Education became two separate Ministries—the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Ministry of Health (MoH). Thus, YGCD was upgraded to the Department of Youth and Sports (DYS) under MoE. Under the DYS, the Career Education and Counseling Division (CECD) was established to institutionalize guidance and counseling programs in the schools.
In 1998, MoE under the Royal Government of Bhutan sent Ms. Tshering Dolkar to pursue graduate study in counseling at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. She returned in 2000 to implement the institutionalization of guidance and counseling in the secondary schools in Bhutan.
Since 1996, MoE has actively promoted the development of counseling programs and counselors in the schools by training teachers as guidance counselors. Some key figures, including Dasho Pema Thinlay, the Ex-Vice Chancellor of the Royal University of Bhutan, who was then the Secretary of MoE; Mr. Kinlay Dorji, Director of DYS; Mr. Tshewang Tandin, Director General, Department of Adult and Higher Education; Aum Sangay Zam, Secretary of MoE; Mr. Chencho Dorji, Director General of DYS; Ms. Tashi Pelzom, Chief of CECD; and Ms. Naina Kala Gurung, Specialist, have tirelessly worked towards the development of counseling in Bhutan.
Recently, the Royal Civil Service Commission also approved the position of counselors in the government and approved the placement of full-time counselors in the schools.
Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck, who is the founder and president of RENEW, which was established in 2004, has also continuously reiterated the importance of counseling in the community to promote positive mental health and to improve the well-being of the Bhutanese people in order to promote GNH. Her Majesty has specifically commanded that counseling services be professionalized and recognized as an alternative means of support and treatment.
Her Majesty has personally taken initiatives toward supporting professionalizing counseling and has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Royal University of Bhutan, the Royal Civil Service Commission, the National Commission for Women and Children, the Royal Bhutan Police, Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA), Gross National Happiness Commission, MoH, MoE, the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources, and RENEW. These stakeholders signed the memorandum of understanding on August 9, 2013, to support the establishment of a Bhutan Board for Certified Counselors (BBCC) to enable the professionalizing of the counseling profession in Bhutan.
Her Majesty has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Board for Certified Counselors, Inc. and Affiliates (NBCC) in the United States to help Bhutan develop a board for certifying counselors. To date, NBCC has helped MoE, MoH, Youth Development Foundation, Chithuen Phendhey, BNCA, Royal University of Bhutan, and RENEW through volunteer placement and training counselors in mental health.
There is strong support for professionalizing counseling among these stakeholders, and initiatives have been taken towards development of counseling in the country, especially to address the increasing mental health issues caused by child abuse, domestic violence, cross-border trafficking, exploitation, prostitution, HIV, trauma, crises, emergencies, natural disasters, suicide, rape, substance abuse, etc.
Bhutanese society is becoming increasingly complex, and the effects are directly evident in the mental health and well-being of the community, families and individuals. One of the most vulnerable groups includes women and children, who require immediate help and support. A structured counseling service is needed to help people reach optimum achievement and adequate adjustment in varied life situations, such as in educational, professional, vocational, moral, health, personal, and marital areas. The efforts of all stakeholders are required to prevent these problems, which can have a serious impact on the mental health of our people. Along with prevention services, the establishment of appropriate remedial and developmental services is necessary to make an informed decision. The above approaches to helping people require competent professionals across all levels of our society.
Today, counseling is a designated profession in Western countries. It requires training in clinical psychology, supervision, human development, vocational guidance, and knowledge of other human services occupations; yet counseling has its own identity. Within the Bhutanese context, there is a dire need for psychologists, counseling professionals (both in the schools and communities), mental health workers, and other frontline helpers to mitigate societal issues, such as child protection, trafficking of women and children, suicide, sexual abuse, and domestic violence. Having a pool of mental health professionals will allow for effective consultation, collaboration, and networking. Therefore, the development of an expanded infrastructure is crucial for the sustainability and identity of the counseling profession.
Counseling, as an emergent, evolving, and dynamic profession, is experiencing rapid growth, and there is an increased demand for clinical and non-clinical services in diverse areas. Therefore, it is important that we work toward upholding the profession with dignity and respect, because it also spans across cultures, areas, and organizations.
Organizations, such as MoE, RENEW, Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority, the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources, MoH, the Royal Bhutan Police, and the Colleges of Education at Paro and Samtse, have been offering remedial, preventive, and developmental services to individuals in their own workplaces. There is an urgent need for these stakeholders to create a professional identity and synergy among them. This will allow the stakeholders to facilitate discussions on what is working well, work on the areas that need to be improved, and facilitate actions that would address issues of concern in the society. Creating an effective means of communication for people involved in areas of the counseling profession in different institutions and ministries and developing systems in the society that involve different stakeholders is important.
Currently, MoE, MoH, Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority, the National Commission for Women and Children, RENEW, and various other organizations provide guidance and counseling services in the country. Their counselors and counseling paraprofessionals represent various schools of thought and have completed their education from various universities.
Therefore, BBCC was established as a certification body. BBCC will bring counseling professionals under one umbrella to develop professionalism and provide quality services, which will protect the clients as well as the profession. BBCC will provide an excellent opportunity to validate and orient all the counselors and counseling paraprofessionals working in Bhutan into the national standards of counseling in all areas clinical and non-clinical.
In recognition of the importance of the role to be played by BBCC, the establishment of BBCC has been endorsed by the government for the registration, certification and training of counselors in Bhutan. Thus, BBCC will contribute to the mental well-being and professional conduct of all concerned counseling professionals. The following policies specify the need for qualified, competent professionals providing counseling services:
BBCC will function as the central certification, registration, and training institute and will create standards to professionalize counseling services to benefit the clients and counseling professionals in Bhutan. Every professional who provides counseling services must abide by the rules and regulations formulated by BBCC as per the BMHCA.
Principles of counseling are based on the philosophy of the Eightfold Path of Buddha’s teaching:
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