How to Become a Counsellor

Counsellor advising

If you want to help others overcome their troubles and tribulations, then a career as a counsellor could be ideal for you!

Although it’s a profession that requires plenty of study, the satisfaction that you get from helping people overcome their issues is next to none. Depending on your interests, you can specialise in different areas: mental health, marriage and family counselling, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

So, if you really want to make a positive impact on other people’s lives, continue reading the guide below to find out all there is to know about becoming a counsellor.

1. Research the Profession

Before you dive headfirst into a profession, it’s important to understand what the work entails, what salary you can expect and what your working conditions will be like. To point you in the right direction, we’ve prepared a brief overview below.

Job Description

Contrary to popular belief, counsellors don’t give advice but rather help clients to make their own choices. They do so by listening to their thoughts and feelings and guiding them along the way to explore their troubles in a positive and constructive manner.

One of their primary duties is building a trustworthy relationship, so the client can feel comfortable when sharing their most personal feelings. As a counsellor, you will spend most of the session listening to your client and encouraging them to see their thoughts from a different perspective. Your time in between clients will be spent arranging paperwork and doing any necessary research to help you with specific visits.

Essential Skills and Qualities

It takes a person with unique characteristics to be able to work well with different personalities on a daily basis. And while patience and good attention to detail and time management skills are a given, there are many other skills that make an exceptional counsellor. These include:

  • Communication and interpersonal skills. As counsellors deal with a lot of different people, they need to communicate effectively and translate their clients’ feelings into manageable thoughts, helping them discover alternatives that they wouldn’t have previously considered.
  • Problem-solving skills. Whether it’s helping a married couple work through their differences or a young teen overcome an eating disorder, a counsellor’s main duty is to help their clients solve their problems.
  • Self-reflection. To better others, counsellors need to be able to portray themselves in the most positive nature. For this reason, self-reflection is essential. The way you think can have a significant impact on the quality of your communication and care.
  • Listening. A good counsellor should have the ability to listen beyond words and understand the deeper meaning of what their clients are saying.
  • Confidentiality and trustworthiness. Any practising doctor should maintain secrecy. If you can’t keep your cases to yourself, then you’re not going to get far in your career or gain credibility as a counsellor.
  • Good judge of character. Every counsellor should have good instincts when it comes to different personality types. As you see more clients, you’ll identify common behaviours and characteristics among people that suffer from similar issues.

Working Hours and Conditions

Working hours can vary depending on your place of work. If you own your own practice, your working hours are much more flexible, and you can open your practice on the weekend and late in the evening to cater to office workers. However, if you work for national healthcare, you will usually have a 9-to-5 work schedule.

As the demand grows for online therapy sessions, many counsellors decide to go freelance and work from the comfort of their own home. They also do house visits, which they arrange around times that work for both themselves and their clients.

When counsellors choose to work in the latter pattern, they have the opportunity to enjoy a greater work-life balance than other healthcare professionals. And while specific scenarios can be stressful, it’s generally manageable as, over time, you learn what to expect.

Salary Prospects

A career as a counsellor might not be as rewarding in monetary values as that of a psychologist, but as you advance and gain valuable experience, you can expect your salary to also rise.

Generally speaking, however, you can expect to receive an average salary of $48,790 in the USA, according to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, and £33,000 in the UK, according to the National Careers Service.

Job Outlook

With more people seeking mental health guidance, the growth rate for counsellors is on the rise. Indeed, according to the BLS, employment of behavioural and family counsellors has a projected growth rate of 23% from 2016 to 2026, which is much faster than most occupations.

By throwing social acceptance for therapy and technology into the mix, the demand and need for counsellors are going to grow faster than expected.

2. Get the Qualifications

To become a certified counsellor in the USA, you must obtain a master’s or doctoral degree before applying for your counselling licence. To do so, you’ll need to complete a set number of clinical training hours (which are usually covered throughout your studies and internships). These can vary by state but typically include 6,000 supervised hours and 900 personal contact hours.

Once you’ve passed all relevant exams and obtained professional endorsements, you can then apply for your licence, though it’s worth mentioning that the specific requirements vary by state. In addition, you can also look into gaining certification which is recognised across a larger number of geographical areas.

However, to maintain your licence, you will need to complete a number of continuing education hours over the course of your career.

In the UK, education requirements vary to those of the USA. There’s no statutory regulation to follow in terms of becoming a counsellor. Instead, to enter counselling, you are encouraged to begin with an introductory course (Level 2) which provides you with basic counselling skills. Following that, you can then obtain a certificate, before moving on to Level 4, which is your counselling diploma. Unlike the US, a minimum of 100 supervised hours is required, and you aren’t legally required to obtain your membership.

However, if you want to be highly recognised, it’s advised to become a member of a professional body. The main three in the UK are:

  • British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
  • UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
  • National Counselling Society (NCS)

If you want to take examinations through other boards, though, you can search through the Professional Standards Authority and Counselling Directory websites.

If you wish to do so, you can then obtain your Level 5 diploma in psychotherapeutic counselling.

3. Land Your First Job

Once you’ve qualified, there are many different organisations you can work for, ranging from a GP practice to a university or a hospital to even your own private clinic. That said, it’s advisable to gain some experience before you decide to go solo.

To help you get started, here are some great US-based job boards:

In the UK, you might find a position through:

4. Develop Your Career

If you want to develop your knowledge further, you can obtain additional qualifications in the field. This can include studies for those who are suffering from bereavement, financial issues and other specific cases.

If you want to share your knowledge with others, you can also consider teaching in colleges or universities, or even attending career fairs to give advice to others that are considering the same career path.

Whatever you choose to do, there’s always room for growth and development within the field of counselling – the key is to find the balance and area that works best for you.

Becoming a counsellor takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but once you qualify, you can enjoy a lucrative career.

Are you considering the career of a counsellor? Let us know your pros and cons by leaving a comment below.