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Getting telephone counselling with the RCN

As an RCN member you can get free, confidential support and assistance to help you deal with challenging, emotional issues you may face, whether work related or personal.

Why access RCN counselling? 

You may be facing personal problems such as stress, trauma, depression, anxiety, bereavement, relationship breakdown, domestic violence, or low self-esteem. Work-related difficulties could include issues such as bullying and harassment, managing your workload, dealing with work errors, manager/supervisor relationships and adjusting to new responsibilities.

What to expect

RCN counselling provides Brief Therapy over the phone with experienced, highly qualified and accredited counsellors from diverse backgrounds. Our counsellors are sensitive to the therapeutic needs of cultural minority groups.  

The service will match you up with one of our counsellors, who after the assessment will book all subsequent appointments directly with you.  If the service does not meet your needs, then let us know so that we can rectify any issues you might experience with your referral.

As part of your counselling with the RCN we will invite you to complete a brief, confidential questionnaire. The information you provide will give focus to your sessions, help your counsellor understand how you are at the moment, and help us evaluate and improve our service.

Is RCN counselling right for you?

RCN counselling is suitable for members who want short term, brief therapy on a wide range of issues that may affect them within their personal lives, their professional lives, or both.

When RCN counselling may not be suitable

RCN counselling will not be suitable for those who are already engaging with a counsellor, psychologist or therapist elsewhere. This is because counselling codes of ethics and practice deem that having two therapists at the same time may actually be confusing or even harmful, since different therapists may use conflicting styles, models or approaches.

RCN counselling may not be suitable for those who, following an assessment, are deemed to need longer term counselling or specialist psychological support.

Our Counselling Contract

If you want to read more about the terms, circumstances and conditions in which we offer counselling, a copy of our Counselling contract can be found here.

How to make an appointment

To make an appointment, call RCN Direct on 0345 772 6100, or see our page on how to contact the advice team. They will be able to book an initial appointment for you. 

The counselling service operates over the telephone so you can access counselling at a time that suits you. One of our counsellors will phone you at an agreed time for your appointment.

Appointment waiting times

Due to high demand, our appointment waiting times are longer than usual, with the next available appointment available in around 8 - 10 weeks.

We advise you to contact your GP or Occupational Health service to see if they will be able to offer you mental health support or counselling services sooner.

You may also have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) at work that can offer you counselling services. If you don't, check if your partner, close relative, or someone in your household has an EAP that extends support to relatives.

The RCN counselling service is intended for six sessions of brief therapy over the phone.

The RCN Counselling Service is not suitable if you need emergency mental health support (e.g. suicide) and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice.

If you are in a crisis right now

If you are in crisis (e.g. want to harm yourself or others) please dial 999 so that you can seek immediate professional assistance. If you feel unable to do this yourself, get somebody to help you. 

Remember, it's crucial to prioritise your safety and well-being in times of immediate distress. 

Resources on managing a crisis

See our page Managing a crisis for more information on how to get help and managing a mental health crisis or emergency.

24 hour crisis line

The Samaritans are available 24/7 and can provide immediate support. Additionally, NHS 111, your GP or local mental health services can offer appropriate assistance and guidance during urgent situations. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Below you can find some of the most frequently asked questions we get asked about the service.

You will get up to 6 telephone counselling sessions.

We work with a network of affiliate counsellors that have been recruited by us. As a result, our counsellors are familiar with the types of problems and challenges faced by members working in healthcare.

All of our affiliated counsellors are accredited members of their profession and registered with a professional association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists (e.g. BACP, UKCP, NCPS.)

Unlike long term therapy, brief therapy focusses on addressing specific concerns within a limited number of sessions. As member of the RCN you may have up to 6 telephone counselling sessions.

Instead of spending a longer period of time talking about everything in your life, brief therapy usually focusses on a specific goal that you want to work on, or a particular issue in your life that you need emotional support with.

You and your counsellor will discuss how to achieve your desired outcome of therapy.

The counsellor will provide you with a confidential, non-judgmental and supportive platform where you can speak freely and reflect upon your concerns. Your counsellor will actively listen, and help you explore your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. 

Your counsellor will tailor your sessions to your individual needs, but could include the following:

Emotional support

Brief therapy allows you to express your feelings (e.g. grief, sadness, hurt, loss, confusion, shame, loss of confidence, anger) in a safe and supportive environment. The counsellor will not judge you. Rather they will seek to provide empathy, validation, and understanding.

Coping strategies

You might work collaboratively with your counsellor to develop practical strategies and solutions tailored to your needs. Examples include relaxation techniques, mindfulness exercises, grounding exercises, managing negativity, challenging negative thoughts, journaling, creative outlets, positive affirmations, physical exercise, time management, or self-care activities.

It may also include:

  • Setting and/or working towards personal goals
  • Problem solving
  • Building resilience

Brief therapy may help you to make positive change(s) to something that is troubling you, within a short period of time.

Unlike open ended therapy, you would agree to focus on a specific issue with your counsellor.

It also offers you a safe, non judgmental space to explore your situation and express more difficult feelings and emotions, with the aim of finding a way forward.

We encourage you to discuss this with your counsellor if this was not already addressed.

The counsellor will then discuss your concerns with you and explore your options. This may include signposting you and/or supporting you to access alternative mental health services.

The RCN only offers counselling over the telephone.

Experience has shown us that this benefits most RCN Members as they don’t need to spend time travelling to and from appointments, and counsellors can offer greater flexibility around appointment times; particularly helpful when you do shift work. 

Calls can be taken anywhere as long as you are on your own and can talk in private, e.g. at home, sitting in your car (but not driving), in a meeting room or private office at work.

Having suicidal or self harm thoughts can be incredibly distressing and should be taken seriously.

Please reach out to someone you trust and take action to keep yourself safe.

See our page on managing a crisis for more information on how to manage a crisis, and where to get support.

Remember, if you feel unable to keep yourself safe, it’s a mental health emergency and you should seek emergency help by calling 999 or going straight to A&E. You are not wasting anybody’s time.

We understand you might be struggling without the support you need and feel unable to wait.

Crisis or emergency 

If you feel unable to keep yourself safe, or feel in severe distress, please see our advice on managing a crisis.

Occupational Health and/or workplace counselling

If you’re employed, it may be worth approaching your Occupational Health department or employer's mental health support services/wellbeing hub to see if they can offer you counselling any quicker. Healthcare staff may get fast-tracked.

You may have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) at work that can offer you counselling services. If you don't, check if your partner, close relative, or someone in your household has an EAP that extends support to relatives.

Support from your GP

You can also approach your GP to enquire about mental health support.

Listening services and helplines

There is a huge variety of helplines and listening services listed further below. We encourage you to use these.

Samaritans (UK wide)

The Samaritans is a UK wide helpline for anybody struggling with their mental health. If you prefer to communicate via message, you can text SHOUT on 85258. Both these services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

List of UK wide helplines

For a list of helplines and listening services, including the National Suicide Prevention Helpline, see Mental Health charity Mind’s website page for Helplines and listening services.

Nurse Lifeline (evenings)

Nurse Lifeline is a free listening service for all nurses, midwives, healthcare support workers, students, associates and the friends and family of such staff. All volunteers are nurses or midwives, offering you "space to offload and decompress....with another nurse or midwife who gets it." The line is open from 7pm - 10pm, Monday to Friday.

Switchboard LGBT+

Switchboard LGBT+ provides a one-stop listening service for LGBT+ people on the phone, by email and through Instant Messaging. All their volunteers identity as LGBTQ+ and they're available 10am - 10pm, everyday.


If you’re in Scotland you can contact Breathing Space. Interpreters are available if English is not your first language. The service is open 6pm to 2am on weekdays, and 6pm to 6am on weekends.

The Zero Suicide Alliance website also has some details of other support lines in Scotland.


If you’re in Wales you can contact the C.A.L.L helpline. See the to find out how to speak to someone via phone or via text. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Canopi is not an emergency helpline, but it does offer a free and confidential mental health support service for social and health care staff in Wales.

Northern Ireland

If you’re in Northern Ireland you can also contact the Lifeline freephone helpline. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Channel Islands

See Jersey ( Mental Health Network), Guernsey ( or Alderney (Island Medical centre).

Your therapeutic relationship with your counsellor is crucial for the effectiveness of therapy. It is not uncommon for people to feel that they don’t get on with their counsellor or do not feel comfortable with them.

If this happens, please let us know as soon as possible so that we can try and allocate you to another counsellor. To discuss this further, contact RCN Direct.

Not getting what you want from your sessions

If you are not getting what you want out of your counselling sessions, then please discuss this with your counsellor as soon as possible. This will give them the opportunity to explore this with you and adjust their approach accordingly.

Please don’t feel embarrassed about this. Your counsellor will not be offended and is trained to respond appropriately to this scenario.

If you miss a session without giving at least 24 hours’ notice to your counsellor, we still have to pay the counsellor, so unfortunately this would count as one of your six sessions.

If you miss two sessions then counselling will automatically come to an end.

The counselling contract can be found here.

If you haven’t been allocated a counsellor yet, then you can request to re-arrange your session by contacting us. Simply reply to the confirmation email which was sent to you when you first booked counselling. (Double check your junk/spam folder if you cannot find it.)

If you have been allocated to a counsellor, then please contact your counsellor directly to re-arrange. The counsellor's name and contact telephone number would have been sent to you by email and text message. (Double check your junk/spam folder if you cannot find it.) 

Otherwise contact RCN Direct.

24 hours' notice rule

You must give at least 24 hours' notice to cancel or rearrange your session. If you give less than 24 hours’ notice to your counsellor, we still have to pay the counsellor, so unfortunately this would count as one of your six sessions.

If you miss two sessions then counselling will automatically come to an end.

The counselling contract can be found here.

The counselling service can offer counselling regarding work related issues such as stress at work, bullying, etc.

However our counsellors cannot give practical advice or technical advice on employment matters e.g. employment/legal rights, contract, grievance, sickness absence, pay, maternity, etc.. See the RCN Advice pages in the first instance, and if you need further support and/or representation, you can contact RCN Direct to speak to an adviser.

Counselling is not:

  • an advice giving service
  • an instant solution to your problems
  • making time for a chat; rather it's a therapeutic process that encourages you to address your issues and explore a way forward.

Managing a crisis

If you are in crisis, follow this link for advice on keeping yourself safe and where to get immediate professional assistance. 


Whatever you're going through, The Samaritans can offer emotional support over the phone, any time, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.