The Detailed Guide on How to Become a Counsellor

Updated 9 August 2023

A counsellor's duty is to provide a non-judgmental ear to people who want to discuss their issues in a confidential setting. Counsellors allow people to reflect on issues and find alternative ways to do things. This job requires dedication and kindness to people and a good listening ear.

When you consider venturing into this business, you can start by identifying a boundary where you can effectively give professional guidance and help the other person realise their path. Most people often start counselling through a connection in other fields.

In this article, we'll discuss how to become a counsellor and the duties you might perform in your role.

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How to Become a Counsellor

If you are considering becoming a counsellor, then you can follow these steps for guidance:

1. Volunteering and experience basis

Most people in the professional counselling field start as volunteers in counselling bodies. Having a volunteer record makes it easy for you to qualify for a course in relevant institutions and gives you practical experience. So, when you venture into a paid job, you will have the necessary training to handle it and perform confidently.

Voluntary work can be paid or unpaid, depending on the institution and type of work you do. However, the benefit of such work is that it gives you experience and exposure that will go further than any money you might make.

Related: How to find volunteer work

2. A college course

  • Stage 1: After a successful voluntary job, you can upgrade your counselling skills by enrolling in counselling introduction courses in a college. Before committing fully, this will provide you with an overview of the training and assist you in acquiring basic counselling skills. These courses can last up to 12 weeks, after which you can extend the training or get into a work environment.

  • Stage 2: Certificate in Counselling. Participating in this training program will enhance your counselling skills and provide you with a better comprehension of counselling theories, ethics, and self-awareness. Moreover, it can be beneficial if you are in a profession that requires assisting or guiding individuals, even if you do not intend to become a therapist. The course is offered part-time for one year at nearby colleges.

  • Stage 3: Core practitioner training. To become a counsellor or psychotherapist, it's important to have the necessary skills, knowledge, and competencies. This can be achieved by completing a core practitioner training program, which typically requires at least a diploma in counselling or psychotherapy, but can also include a bachelor's, master's, or doctorate degree. These courses are usually offered at further or higher education colleges and universities. Your training program should be a reflective, competent, and ethical practice that adheres to internationally recognised standards of quality and competence. It should be a comprehensive professional practitioner training program comprised of the following:

    • knowledge-based learning - for example, psychological theories and their application to practice, philosophy, human development, common medications, ethics and the law, functioning of groups and supervision

    • therapeutic competencies - for example, monitoring and evaluation, relationship building, communications, strategies and interventions, self-awareness, reflective practice and use of supervision

    • research awareness - for example, critical awareness of research findings, methodology and application

The entry requirements for the course will vary based on college demands and target groups. However, you may have to show proof of completion of previous training as a requirement for advancing to the next level. For instance, to advance to a level 4 diploma, you must have proof of completing both the introductory course and level 3 training.

3. University route

Another possible way to start a career in counselling is through a postgraduate or degree course in psychotherapy or counselling. However, in your course, you must ensure that it includes supervised placements and practical skills, including internships as a way of training. Getting into the job through a university course gives you a better chance of getting employed than training with short-term or online courses.

Earning a university degree holds more weight than a diploma. To enrol in a bachelor's degree program, you must have at least two to three A-levels. For postgraduate studies, you need a bachelor's degree in your subject or significant work experience. The more education you receive at university, the better your chances of securing a job at a reputable organisation.

Apart from the listed options, you can also get into counselling if you have a successful career in other fields and wish to switch careers. For instance, if you have been a practising nurse for several years, you can conveniently switch from an active nurse to a counsellor. The two professions are closely related and face similar challenges as they handle patients with diverse needs.

What do counsellors do?

Counsellors provide a safe and confidential environment where people can discuss their feelings and struggles. As a counsellor, you must help clients realise their inner strength in handling issues as they unfold. While in the line of duty as a counsellor, you must deal with many issues, including broken relationships, the death of loved ones, career problems, addiction, and general life rejection.

Some patients are more vulnerable than others with serious problems and need specialised sessions, while others use normal sessions for general issues such as restoring confidence. Your first duty as the counsellor is to identify your client type and develop a strategy to make the client comfortable while sharing their problems with you.

The working hours for counsellors are typically 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., similar to most other professions. However, this will often vary as you sometimes work evenings and weekends to satisfy your client's needs.

Your client might require you to be readily available at their request. Therefore, the working hours are not strict. However, if you are working as a private counsellor, there is always room for arrangements where you set your work schedule and strictly advise your clients to follow therapy.

Mental Health

Mental health is about a person's emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and behave, and shapes our ability to manage stress, relate to others, and make decisions. Prioritising mental health is crucial because it has a significant impact on our overall quality of life. Neglecting mental health can lead to issues such as reduced productivity, strained relationships, and even the onset or worsening of mental illnesses. By focusing on mental health, we can improve our resilience, coping mechanisms, and overall psychological well-being. This helps us lead fulfilling lives, maintain healthy relationships, and navigate the complexities of the modern world. Prioritising mental health also promotes a more compassionate and inclusive society that recognises the importance of mental well-being for all.

Pre-pandemic, in the UK, an estimated 7.5 million people had a diagnosed mental illness, and one in four of us experienced mental health problems annually. Counsellors are essential in promoting and supporting mental health. As trained professionals and allied health professions they have the knowledge and skills to help individuals navigate their emotional and psychological challenges. Counsellors assist clients in exploring their concerns, gaining insight into their emotions, and developing effective coping strategies. They also identify and address underlying mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, or trauma, by providing evidence-based therapies and interventions. Counsellors contribute to destigmatising mental health by creating awareness and understanding within communities. Their expertise and compassionate approach make them invaluable in promoting mental well-being and helping individuals lead healthier and more fulfilling lives.

Different counselling styles

Counsellors use a theory of psychotherapy that acts as a roadmap. The theory helps them understand clients and their problems and to develop solutions. As a counsellor, you will require more than one counselling style to guarantee that you have all clients covered.

Here are the top styles you may look for:

Cognitive therapy

In this therapy type, you'll often focus on what people think rather than what they do. It will help you change how your clients think and what they do rather than look at past events. This style deals with current problems and provides practical solutions to make the client feel better.

Humanistic therapy

Humanistic therapy focuses on an individual. This style encourages clients to think of their feelings and take responsibility for their actions. The primary focus is to help an individual make positive changes from within. There are three types of therapy, including client-centred therapy, gestalt therapy, and existential therapy.

In client-centred therapy, you will help clients by expressing your concern, interest and care. Gestalt therapy emphasises helping your clients understand their responsibilities, while existential therapy helps them use their free will and self-determination and find meaning in life.

Psychodynamic psychotherapy

Psychodynamic therapy is a combination of both cognitive behavioural therapy and humanistic therapy. It uses the psychodynamic approach to provide a quicker solution. The approach focuses on immediate problems and highlights the events that lead to the current situation. With this information, the approach stresses past experience and the subconscious to shape current behaviour, improving general living standards.

Behaviour therapy

Behaviour therapy focuses on helping your clients understand their role in developing good behaviour and bad, abnormal behaviour. Using this type of counselling, you'll rely on disciplines and rewards to develop a particular behaviour in people.

Personal qualities that you need to become a counsellor

Being a counsellor starts long before you get into professional training. You must present specific qualities that will build the right transitional skills to help you in active counselling. These skills involve learning unique qualities that define other people's behaviours and actions.

Some of these qualities include:

  • Excellent, empathetic skills: You should be able to understand the decisions and choices other people make in different circumstances. The ability to show concern will also help you relate well with your clients.

  • Patience: When a client shares their difficulties with you, sometimes it can be overwhelming, especially when their actions are unexpected or harmful.

  • Confidentiality: To build trust with your clients, you must keep their information confidential. This helps them express themselves better without fear of exposure.

  • Keen to listen: You must provide a friendly and listening ear to your clients, paying complete attention as they speak.

  • Readiness to learn: You sometimes work with clients from different backgrounds and professions. You must learn what they go through to be able to provide professional advice.

These qualities give you direct access to the profession, as people already find it convenient to share their issues with you. When you top this with basic training, you now get a professional perspective on responding to specific issues. Therefore, it will be easy for you to offer assistance where possible and better the life of your clients.

Related: Conscientiousness: Signs You Have the Big 5 Personality Trait

What makes a good counsellor?

To be a good counsellor, you need to have the flexibility to work in various settings, from schools, hospitals, prisons and other environments, especially if you are in private practice. Each client's needs will change based on their background and job title. So, you must understand their needs and adjust your responses to their issues without making them feel offended or defensive.

Sometimes you must be readily available at your client's request, especially if your work involves helping people with health-related issues. You can offer the services virtually or one-on-one, depending on your clients or your code of conduct.

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Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions

What to expect as a counsellor

When working as a counsellor, it is important to listen to clients and show empathy attentively. A safe and accepting environment should be created for clients to express their thoughts and emotions without fear of judgment. Counsellors will work together with clients to understand their issues, establish goals, and develop effective solutions for personal development and problem-solving. It is also necessary to be prepared for emotional intensity and diverse client backgrounds, which require ongoing self-reflection and professional growth.

Counsellors find their work to be highly rewarding and fulfilling, as they are motivated by a genuine desire to assist others in improving their mental health and overall well-being. They recognise the privilege of being entrusted with the personal stories of their clients and are dedicated to providing compassionate and ethical care. Counsellors also understand the significance of self-care and professional growth to maintain their emotional resilience and competence in supporting others.

Counsellors find their work to be highly rewarding and fulfilling, as they are motivated by a genuine desire to assist others in improving their mental health and overall well-being. They recognise the privilege of being entrusted with the personal stories of their clients and are dedicated to providing compassionate and ethical care. Counsellors also understand the significance of self-care and professional growth to maintain their emotional resilience and competence in supporting others.

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