How to become a counsellor

Counselling is a rewarding, interesting and fulfilling career that requires a broad range of skills and attributes.

If you are considering a career change and are thinking about becoming a counsellor, you’ve certainly landed in the right place. Here’s our guide to everything you need to know about how to become a counsellor and what the role entails.

What does a counsellor do?

One of the main roles of a counsellor is to help people to identify and overcome problems, issues and barriers in their lives, helping them to alter their thoughts, whilst encouraging them to make positive changes.

With this in mind, you will spend time listening to your clients talk about their issues and concerns, so it’s vital that you have good listening skills and the ability to be patient, show empathy and offer support and resolutions to a whole host of problems.

Common issues that counsellors help people to address include relationship difficulties, bereavement, anxiety, job uncertainty and unemployment.

Each session needs to be approached with an open mind and without judgement. This means putting to one side your own personal morals and beliefs, and instead remaining impartial.

It’s also important that you reassure your client that anything they tell you will remain confidential. And remember, it’s not your job to give advice on what they need to do to solve their problems. Instead, you should work with your client to support them and get to the root cause of their issues. This involves looking closely at behaviour patterns and choices.

What are the working hours?

Working hours differ depending on the practice you work for, your role and experience. The vast majority of counsellors typically work 9am-5pm, but don’t be shocked if the post you’re applying for involves evening and weekend work as well.

If you’re considering working on a voluntary basis, these posts are mostly part time and can be adapted to suit your circumstances.

Where will you be working?

Again, this depends on the post you are applying for, as there are counselling roles that come up at schools, universities, GP surgeries and charities. So, whether you are based in-house or have to travel to different locations throughout your working day, you could be working in a variety of different locations.

Most counsellors are office based, although some work from home. If you work for a private practise, you might be expected to visit the home of your client to carry out your session.

Another option is to set up your own counselling business and choose the hours you would prefer to work. Whilst studying most training providers will provide guidance and support on how to go about setting up your own business.

Key skills of great counsellors

All great counsellors possess the ability to listen and, as the majority of counselling sessions take place over the course of 6 to 12 months and even longer in some cases, it’s vital that you are able to establish a relationship built on trust and respect with your client.

You must also be able to encourage your clients to open up, making them feel comfortable to share their concerns and thoughts that they may find difficult to share with anyone else.

Here’s a closer look at the key responsibilities of a counsellor:

  • The ability to encourage clients to talk about problems that they are reluctant to share with close family and friends.
  • Never judge, it’s your job to listen and emphasise regardless of your morals and beliefs.
  • Always listen without bias.
  • Work with your client to help them to understand their issues and concerns.
  • It’s not always a quick fix. Be patient and help your client to reach a better mind set, regardless of how long it takes.
  • If your client needs further support that you cannot provide, you should direct your client to the relevant body.
  • Liaise with other agencies if required such as GPs, mental health teams or other community agencies.

A great counsellor must be non-judgemental, a people person, understand the importance of confidentiality, have good verbal and written skills, an understanding of equality and diversity issues and be able to think clearly under pressure.

How much can counsellors earn?

Like many other professional careers, the salary of a counsellor differs dependant on the skillset required, experience, location and whether you work for a private or publicly funded practice.

However, as a general rule of thumb, starting salaries range from £20,000 to £26,000, while experienced counsellors can expect to earn between £30,000 and £40,0000. Those working in specialist fields or private practices can expect to take home salaries as much as £50,000 plus.

There are also a number of counsellors that work on a voluntary basis for charity helplines. This is a great opportunity for aspiring counsellors to gain experience and an insight into the profession as a whole.

Do you need a degree to become a counsellor?

There is no compulsory qualification or training requirement to become a counsellor. However, the vast majority of employers expect their employees to have undertaken professional training with a professional training company who are fully accredited.

This will not only help you to understand more about the roles, responsibilities and key skills that come hand in hand with being a counsellor, it also ensures that all counsellors meet standards and abide by a code of ethics as set out by the accrediting body.

Finding a training course

There are lots of counselling training courses available including an introduction to counselling, core practitioner, as well as courses that provide a certificate in counselling skills.

All aim to provide the basic skills that you need to become a counsellor, as well as an in-depth understanding of the role. The duration of the course you choose will depend on the route you plan to take as a counsellor and how quickly you wish to progress within the industry.

Courses range from eight to 12 weeks to one, two or 3 + years.

Developing within the industry

Once you’ve completed your accredited training course, there are lots of opportunities to progress within the industry, depending on what route you decide to take.

The main professional bodies that you should be aware of are the UKCP, NCS and BACP and you will be expected to meet all of their membership requirements.