The Definitive Guide: How To Become A Counsellor

Published on: 7 Jan 2020

What is a Counsellor?

  • Job Description

    As a counsellor you would provide guidance to those who are dealing with issues that may be affecting their mental health or general well being. This could be individuals, families, childcare or other groups. Counsellors help people to identify and understand any emotional issues or problems they may be experiencing using different talking therapies, for example Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

    As a counsellor it is your aim to help your clients by reducing any confusion they may be feeling and advising them on coping mechanisms to help them manage their challenges. You will be creating a ‘safe space’ to deal with (but not limited to), divorce or relationship problems, illness, anxiety or bereavement. It is about making positive changes to their lives. It can be an extremely rewarding vocation.

  • Hours of Work

    Typically you would work 35-40 hours a week but depends on what area you choose to work in. Again if you are working for your own practice, you can dictate your hours. Normal practise is that one counselling session is an hour and typically clients will have 12 sessions, if not on going, depending on their needs. You can also expect some evening and weekend work.

  • Main Responsibilities

    • Working with key groups to improve their mental health and well-being
    • Fundamentally you are there to listen and facilitate/ guide a conversation
    • Building a relationship with your clients of trust and respect
    • Meet with clients to encourage them to discuss their emotions and any issues
    • Adopt strategies to combat and address these issues
    • Explore your clients’ desired outcomes
    • Design and use therapeutic methods
    • Referring your client on to other sources if relevant
    • Maintaining and writing up confidential records

Key Counsellor Qualifications

You do not require a degree to be a counsellor as there are training options available.

You could however help yourself should you have a first degree in any related subject, i.e. nursing, education or psychology or a masters, which will demonstrate a motivation and commitment to your career. This is not a pre-requisite.

First steps to a career as a Counsellor is to work towards a membership of a professional body – for example the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), the National Counselling Society (NCS) or the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).


You will be required to complete training by an accredited body. It is recommended you complete training, which takes 3-5 years (part time) at either diploma or degree level. The starting point will be an Introduction to Counselling. To qualify you will also need to acquire a number of client hours achieved through going on a work placement.

Accredited courses are widely offered through a variety of colleges and training centres.

Vital Counsellor Skills

It may seem quite a simple job; but to facilitate a conversation professionally, ask the right and relevant questions to draw suitable conclusions, hear what needs to be heard and offer the correct guidance and advice does take some particular skills. In particular you must be:

  • An effective listener
  • Able to easily build a rapport
  • Possess strong communication skills
  • Demonstrate empathy and compassion
  • Have the ability to lead the conversation asking the most relevant ‘open ended’ questions
  • Be genuine, open and patient
  • Be professional with integrity and understand the confidential boundaries of the role
  • Have good time management
  • Have a genuine interest for others
  • Preferably a specialism, whether helping people within sports, finance, students or other areas.

What is a Counsellor’s Salary?

Now we’re getting down to the nitty gritty…

Due the to range of work and specialities in Counselling and that many may take this on as a part time role, the salary bracket of earning potentials is quite large. A beginner could look at earning £19k pa whilst a more experienced Counsellor can earn, circa £48k. For those with their own practise, salary depends on the hours worked.


How to become a Youth Worker

  • Ensure you have the right motivation. Becoming a Counsellor takes quite a bit of investment both personally and emotionally
  • Many people take up Counselling as a second or third career. Life experience plays a helping hand within this role
  • Ensure you have passed enhanced background checks in the event you will be working with children and vulnerable adults
  • Work towards a membership of a professional body, for example the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, (BACP) or the Professional Standards Authority
  • Conduct your research where you are able to do your training. To work as a fully qualified Counsellor you should complete training that is accredited by an awarding body. Training will take 3-5 years.
  • To be a registered Counsellor (and potentially charge more per Counselling session), you must be registered with the BACP.
  • The training can include Introduction to Counselling course, (approx. 12 weeks) and followed with, a certificate in Counselling skills and /or a diploma or advanced diploma in Counselling. Colleges will set their own requirements
  • You will also be required to do a certain number of hours within a work placement
  • Consider doing some volunteering work to build your skill set and experience
  • As you train and learn, consider which area you wish to follow your career in

How To Develop Your Counsellor Career?

Being a counsellor affords you lots of choice in terms of the area you decide to specialise in. These can include, the education sector where you could support students with study and/or any personal issues and guidance on career direction; the healthcare sector or charitable sector, which would see you focus on mental health, domestic violence, adoption, homelessness and rehabilitation and substance abuse. There is also working with couples for marriage and family counselling. So with the vast different specialties available to you, you should consider all these during your training and establish which area best suits you and your skills.

Whilst working as a counsellor you should be mindful that you

  • Learn continuously through relevant articles, courses, conferences or a mentor
  • Keep up to date with any new theory and relevant Counselling bodies
  • Network to gain professional industry contacts

Career Opportunities

  • Once you have built up a lot of experience, it is viable to start your own private practice, which gives you more flexibility with your career. You could side step in to a more operational role, managing agencies that offer Counselling services. There is also clinical supervision, which entails supporting counsellors in monitoring their own work and practise. Counselling is a protected term that requires strict ethics and quality assurances. There are also opportunities to utilise your knowledge within teaching and social work. It is advisable to continue professional development throughout your career as a Counsellor.

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