How to Become a Counselling Psychologist (Including Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 October 2022

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.

A counselling psychologist works in the mental health field, applying therapeutic techniques and evidence-based practices to treat their patients. They use their behavioural knowledge and counselling skills to help individuals manage mental health challenges they may experience, including stress, anxiety and behavioural issues. Understanding the requirements for becoming a counselling psychologist can help you determine if it's a career you might like to pursue. In this article, we define what a counselling psychologist is, discuss how to become one and share some skills these professionals often have to help them perform in their roles.

What is a counselling psychologist?

A counselling psychologist is a mental health professional who works with individuals, couples and families to help them overcome mental health concerns and live a better life. Their primary responsibilities include evaluating, diagnosing and treating a range of mental health disorders and emotional challenges. These professionals can work in a variety of environments, such as mental health clinics, hospitals, nursing homes and educational facilities. Some counselling psychologists spend a lot of their time in patient sessions. Others may take an academic role, teaching students or undertaking research.

Many counselling psychologists also choose to specialise, for example, in community psychology, clinical psychology or forensic psychology. Their specialisation may determine the exact duties they undertake as part of their role. Below, you can find some typical counselling psychologist duties:

  • Scheduling patient sessions

  • Conducting intake assessments with new patients

  • Identifying patient stressors or challenges by engaging in discussion

  • Using therapeutic techniques to assist patients in overcoming stress and anxiety

  • Assisting patients with setting long- and short-term goals

  • Conducting psychometric tests

  • Diagnosing mental health conditions

  • Creating and delivering personalised treatment plans

  • Educating clients on mental health illness

  • Maintaining and updating client records

  • Evaluating patient progress

  • Collaborating with medical professionals

  • Undertaking research and staying up-to-date with industry best practices

Related: How Much Do Counselling Psychologists Make? (With Duties)

How to become a counselling psychologist

When considering how to become a counselling psychologist, it can be important to understand that there are various pathways and requirements for becoming fully qualified in this field. Below, you can find some general steps to take when pursuing a position as a counselling psychologist:

1. Obtain a high school certificate

Finishing high school is an essential first step to becoming a counselling psychologist. As there are tertiary education requirements for budding counselling psychologists, it's important to obtain a Senior Secondary Certificate of Education (SSCE), which is an entry requirement for universities. It's typically beneficial to undertake related subjects in year 11 and year 12, such as psychology or sociology. Doing this can help you develop key foundational knowledge. Having these subjects on your high school certificate when applying to universities can also demonstrate your interest in the field.

2. Undertake a bachelor's degree

Undertaking a bachelor's degree in counselling, psychology or a closely related field is the next step in completing the educational requirements for becoming a counselling psychologist. When considering universities to apply to, it can be a good idea to choose those with a strong psychology program and accreditation by the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council (APAC). You can expect a bachelor's degree in this field to comprise core subjects, such as science and mathematics, along with those required for your major, which might include cognitive psychology, experimental psychology and developmental psychology.

3. Attain a master's degree or combined doctorate

To gain the registration required to work as a counselling psychologist, there's typically a requirement to attain a master's degree or combined doctorate upon completion of your undergraduate studies. You may decide on an area to specialise in at this point, such as clinical psychology, sport and exercise psychology or clinical neuropsychology. During this stage of your education, you can expect to gain expert knowledge in psychology and develop your clinical and research skills to help you excel in your career. A master's degree or combined doctorate can take two to four years to complete after completing your bachelor's degree.

4. Complete an internship and supervised clinical experience

Before applying for registration, there's usually a requirement to complete an internship or a registrar program for an area of practice endorsement upon completion of your postgraduate studies. The number of supervised hours required for becoming a registered counselling psychologist can depend on the level of postgraduate study you complete. It commonly takes new counselling psychologists one or two years to achieve the required hours of supervised clinical experience. This stage of your qualification process can help you develop on-the-job skills and experience as you work under the observation of a registered counselling psychologist, conducting individual and group therapy sessions.

Related: What's Industry Experience and When Do You Require It?

5. Obtain registration

Once you meet the educational requirements and complete your supervised clinical experience, you can apply to the Psychology Board of Australia (PsyBA) for registration. You can maintain your registration as a counselling psychologist by meeting various continuing education requirements. Once you receive your registration, you become fully qualified and can begin searching for jobs as a counselling psychologist.

6. Apply for jobs

The last step in becoming a counselling psychologist is to apply for jobs. By now, you're likely to have a network of industry professionals. It can be a good idea to let them know you're seeking employment as a counselling psychologist in case they know of or hear of any opportunities that might be suitable for you. Online job boards may be another great place to find counselling psychologist jobs to apply for. Before submitting any job applications, it can be a great idea to write a strong resume and powerful cover letter to enhance the competitiveness of your candidacy.

Related: How to Apply For A Job in 6 Steps

Beneficial skills for a counselling psychologist

Counselling psychologists typically use a combination of hard skills and soft skills to help them undertake their roles successfully. Hard skills refer to the technical skills required to perform their duties, whereas soft skills refer to their personal attributes and qualities that allow them to flourish in their work environment. Below, you can find some skills that can be beneficial to develop when pursuing a career as a counselling psychologist:

Communication

When working as a counselling psychologist, it's critical that you're an effective communicator. Equipped with excellent communication skills, you can know when to talk and when to listen during patient sessions and can have the ability to conduct engaging discussions with confidence. A great way to develop your communication skills can be to practise talking with as many people as possible in a range of varying scenarios.

Related: Understanding and Overcoming Common Communication Barriers With Examples

Active listening

When working in this field, a large part of your role is to be an adept listener. Active listening skills can help you get important information from your patients while making them feel respected and heard. You can improve your active listening skills by reducing distractions, maintaining eye contact and also by being aware of non-verbal queues.

Related: Active Listening Skills: Definition and Examples

Interpersonal

Working in psychology requires interacting with people on a frequent basis. If you have great interpersonal skills, you're likely to find it easier to develop good relationships with your patients, colleagues and medical professionals. A useful way to improve your interpersonal skills can be to cultivate positivity, manage your emotions and learn from successful interactions.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

Empathy

During your role as a counselling psychologist, it's likely that you may often work with patients who are experiencing emotional or mental challenges. Equipped with empathy, you can find it easier to understand their perspectives and provide encouragement in the most suitable way. It's common for empathy to be a natural personality attribute, but you can develop it by cultivating curiosity, being open to differences in opinions and asking for feedback on ways in which you can show more empathy.

Related: What Are Empathic Skills? (With Benefits and Steps)

Organisation

Working in this field often involves a heavy caseload of patients, all with various session timetables and unique requirements. Organisation skills can help you schedule your appointments and conduct your other duties efficiently. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance, prioritising tasks and making to-do lists can be a few good ways to develop your organisational abilities.

Problem-solving

Though your role as a counselling psychologist isn't to solve your patients' problems, your role involves helping them to identify suitable solutions. Well-developed problem-solving skills can help you do this successfully by clearly identifying and defining problems. Thereafter, you can devise various solutions and help patients choose and implement the most suitable one.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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