Writing Clinical Will as a Counsellor

Putting off writing a clinical will

Writing Clinical will as a counsellorCreating and writing a clinical will has been something I’ve always intended to write but never got round to doing it.  Every week, I’m guilty of always transferring ‘writing my clinical will’ onto my weekly ‘to do’ list. However, a colleague, Roslyn Byfield, has been actively encouraging all counsellors to consider writing clinical wills. This started me thinking about writing my own clinical will.

Death can happen

Recently, I’ve acquired my late Father’s books (over 1000 of them!). In every book he had a sticker with his name and birth date and a space left for his death date. I remember, as a teenager, sticking this in every book, and joking with my Dad about who would put that date in once he was gone. At the time we did not know he would be gone a few years later. Seeing them 25 years on has been a stark reminder of how sudden death can happen. It was time to put my item of writing a clinical will into action!

Impact on client

It does not take a lot to imagine the impact on clients when a counsellor dies. It is much worse if no-one has access to where to find the diary or contact the clients (remembering our ethical regard to confidentiality) or no-one to sort out our business. In our professional capacities we commit to offering clients, students and supervisees ‘as much care as reasonably possible’. It is only reasonable that this extends to a clinical will.

What is a clinical will?

A clinical will consists of detailed arrangements to be carried out in the event of your death, and aims to leave as little mess as possible, with as little damage for clients and colleagues as can be managed.

Sudden death of a counsellor could create panic and paralysis for the client. We need to think who will manage that process for us? If there is an absence of information, the client may be left hanging. It may raise different feelings disappointment and rage or evoke other losses for the client.

Questions raised on the death of a counsellor?

Who will have the power to make decisions on behalf of the business? Who will notify clients and have access to diaries? Who will hold clinical responsibility?  Who will inform colleagues/professional membership bodies/insurance companies? Who will maintain appropriate contact with clients? These are some of the questions we as counsellors need to ask ourselves. We cannot assume that partners/colleagues/supervisors will pick up the mess. We need to have an advance plan.

Who do you ask?

As a counsellor who practices privately, I feel I needed to put some thought to this. Implementing the clinical plan requires a willing, available, confidential and competent helper to carry out the various tasks, some of them delicate, others weighty and perhaps time consuming. I feel it was not appropriate or sensible to ask a relative. It seemed more appropriate to ask my supervisor (if they are willing and geographically well placed) or a trusted colleague.  Whoever you chose, it needs discussion!

Reading Roslyn Byfield’s article has helped me draw up my plan beyond just informing my clients. My clinical executor in the event of my sudden death or sudden illness will take care of the following professional tasks:

  • Contact my clients and supervisees
  • Discuss with clients and supervisees appropriate onward arrangement
  • Shred and dispose of all remaining case records (This section may be amended once BACP publishes their Good Action in Resources).
  • Notify EAPs I’m registered with

In order for the clinical executor to do the above tasks, with their permission:

  • I have given their contact details to my next of kin (and a copy of the clinical will).
  • Shown the above person where I keep all my records including current supervisees and private clients.
  • I commit to keeping my records up to date and reviewing the arrangement every year on my birthday.

In addition to the above, I have instructed my next of kin to deal with the closure of my professional insurance, BACP membership, advertising accounts, Website and social media log in details. And to take care of my direct debits and any rent owed. They have all the necessary details including my passwords.


I have to admit, whilst writing my clinical will I did struggle preparing for an event which is unknown yet can’t be avoided. It felt morbid and part of me was scared. Will I tempt fate? Silly isn’t it? I had to focus on my wish to prepare for a perfect ending, as well as acknowledge my feelings and accept my own mortality (to help with the latter point, I read Staring into the Sky by Irwin Yalam). However, just as I prepare my clients for endings of our sessions together, it only seems right that I prepare clients for an ending that I cannot attend.

2 thoughts on “Writing Clinical Will as a Counsellor”

  1. Thank you for writing this it’s been most helpful. I am currently putting together my own counselling will. I hope you don’t mind me asking a question so here goes; have you worded something into your contract to inform clients that on your death their client log can be transferred ( by your ‘trusted’ person to another counsellor (if they wish to continue counselling)) or that they can have access to their client log once your trusted person contacts them? I’m unsure how to go about this so would be grateful of any help.

  2. Hi Kay, I’ve said that the client can choose whether to keep the notes themselves or give their permission to my executor to shred them. The notes I keep are are my process notes only. My official record of notes is attendance and risk only. I hope that helps. Any other questions, feel free to contact me directly.

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