How To Become a Counsellor

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Counsellors work in a confidential setting with clients who experience personal difficulties to help them overcome their problems and manage their lives better. Counsellors train in talking therapy, studying the theory behind their techniques to provide the best service. Discovering the path to pursuing this role can help you plan your future career. In this article, we discuss how to become a counsellor, what a counsellor does, the skills they need, the types of counsellors and frequently asked questions.

How to become a counsellor

You can become a counsellor through a couple of different paths. While there are no formal requirements to work as a counsellor, they use in-depth theory and develop skills that qualifications can help them acquire. Completing a qualification, which typically involves undertaking an assigned amount of placement, helps counsellors find jobs and work in the area they're interested in. Once you complete your training, you'll have the opportunity to join an association and decide whether you want to work in private practice or an organisation.

Below we provide a step-by-step guide that outlines how to become a counsellor:

1. Complete a diploma

Budding counsellors can complete a diploma at college or TAFE to learn the basics of counselling and prepare them for further study and training. Various training institutes around the country offer the Diploma of Counselling. It introduces students to the field of counselling to work with clients on a range of personal and psychological issues.

While the Australian Qualification Framework recognises this course, it doesn't require completing placement hours, so it's considered a foundation course and a pathway into further study.

2. Complete a bachelor's degree

Studying and completing an undergraduate degree in counselling provides the qualification to register as a fully qualified counsellor. Many top universities offer a Bachelor of Counselling and include knowledge of the field as well as real-life experience for training counsellors. Placement hours vary from one institution to another, but they typically require around 200 hours of professional placement hours, 40 of which must consist of one-on-one counselling or group counselling work.

These placement hours are essential for counsellors to practise the theory and techniques they've learnt in class. They can build their counselling skills, such as active listening, empathy, body language and communication in these hours while having supervision and tutors providing guidance simultaneously. In addition, they can use these sessions of working with clients to advance their studies by analysing their clients and reporting on their sessions within the course context.

3. Consider specialising with a postgraduate degree

After completing an undergraduate degree in counselling, you may want to specialise in a specific area of counselling that interests you. A Master of Counselling postgraduate degree will teach you the background and essential tools to develop your knowledge in the area.

The course covers major approaches to counselling, requires placement hours, and addresses ethical and professional concerns in counselling. Your placement hours will be within your specialty area to provide a more advanced and focused experience.

4. Become a member of an association

Once you're a practising counsellor, you may wish to become a member of an association to maintain professional standards. The Australian Counselling Association (ACA) or the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) are the two most prominent associations representing counsellors in Australia. These organisations advocate for the advancement of professional counselling and psychotherapy, and support training, research and ensure public accountability of the field.

Members benefit from being tied into a recognised organisation that ensures professionals are working within standards. Counsellors who are a part of an association show their clients that they practice ethically within professional standards.

5. What does a counsellor do?

Counsellors perform talking therapy with clients to help them identify and define their emotional issues and better understand themselves. They help clients with a range of personal and psychological issues and explain their options, set goals, provide therapy and help them to take action. Counsellors focus on developing a safe, caring, non-judgemental, empathetic and objective professional relationship with their clients. The work of a counsellor is optimised when this relationship is healthy because clients feel comfortable opening up, which helps them discover the core of their issues.

Counsellors can specialise in working with a particular group, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, single parents or LGBTQI+ people. Alternatively, they can specialise in a problem area such as drug and alcohol problems, personality disorders, anxiety and depression, abuse issues or grief and loss. They can work within hospitals and clinics, within an organisation such as schools or universities, for a charity or in a private practice setting.

Relevant skills for a counsellor

Counsellors work intimately with their clients to work on personal problems they're facing. Clients can find it challenging to be vulnerable about their challenges and require a counsellor that genuinely cares and is empathetic of their concerns. While counsellors use theory and techniques to support their clients, a lot of their work requires robust soft skills to care for their clients.

Below we list some skills that help a counsellor to work with their clients in the best manner:

Communication skills

Arguably the most critical tool for a counsellor is communication skills because communicating is the centre point of their work. They have to be able to express their ideas and thoughts to various clients from different backgrounds. A crucial part of a counsellor's role is to help clients understand themselves better. This means they take what a client is saying and word it in different ways to help clients understand it with a new perspective. They're also responsible for assisting clients in making sense of their emotional states, which is often confusing and takes strong communication skills to convey the complexities in their psychology. Communication skills also refer to body language and eye contact, which help clients feel understood and safe to discuss their problems.

You can develop communication skills by actively practising them with people in your personal life. Pay attention to how you communicate your ideas and thoughts regularly and ask others if they understand. You can also ask them for constructive feedback on improving your communication skills, as they have the first-hand experience of communicating with you.

Active listening skills

Active listening refers to the ability to give someone your full attention when they're speaking, with no distractions. This is an essential skill for counsellors as they need to be fully attentive to their clients so they feel supported, important and understood. Active listening is also crucial in building a therapeutic relationship with a client, which is ideal for efficient counselling work. To listen actively, counsellors must pay attention to the client's body language, listen to pauses and silences, be conscious of voice changes and maintain eye contact while the client is communicating.

You can develop your active listening skills by practising anything that requires you to pay attention. This can include spending more time reading, where you are immersed in a book and paying attention for an extended period. You can also practise your active listening skills when conversing with people in your life. Try to give them your full attention for more extended periods, and you should soon experience an improvement in your active listening skills.

Resilience and patience

Supporting clients through emotional issues on a daily basis can be challenging. Counsellors benefit from being resilient to the stress and emotional issues they're exposed to, as well as patience when it seems like progress is slow. Therapy work is complex and can unfold in unpredictable patterns, so counsellors can resiliently continue their work with emotional stamina and capacity for self-care.

You can improve resilience and patience skills by developing habits for self-care that prevent burnout and stress build-up. Your self-care may be unique to you but can include spending time on hobbies, exercising, meditation and mental rest and spending time with family or friends.

Types of counsellors

Counsellors work in every area where people face emotional and psychological challenges. Common types of counsellors are listed below:

  • Marriage, family and couples counsellors

  • Guidance and career counsellors

  • Rehabilitation counselling

  • Mental health counselling

  • Substance abuse counselling

  • Education counselling

Within these counselling areas, counsellors can focus on a specific modality of counselling. Common modalities are listed below:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) counsellors

  • Gestalt counsellors

  • Person-centred counsellor

  • Psychodynamic counsellor

  • Psychoanalysis

Frequently asked questions of budding counsellors

Below we list some of the questions that are frequently asked by people wondering how to become a counsellor:

What qualifications do you need to become a counsellor?

No formal qualifications are needed to become a counsellor. However, counselling is a process based on theoretical knowledge, techniques and practice. Therefore, counsellors who complete a qualification learn the necessary knowledge before entering the field and are in a great position to advance their career.

Can I be a counsellor without a degree?

Yes, you can become a counsellor without a degree. You may be suited to working within organisations and charities in an entry-level position without a degree. However, many counsellors choose to complete a degree because it can help them work in the area they wish to work in and advance their career.

Can anyone become a counsellor?

While some people may already have relevant skills and personality traits that can help them become counsellors, anyone can develop these skills by working on them. Counselling is a great and rewarding career for those that like helping people and are interested in psychology.

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