Counselling Career Advice
If you are wondering how to become a counsellor, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in counselling, as well as social services job prospects in the UK.
The Job Description
Counsellors provide people with time, attention and a safe environment to help them explore their problems from different perspectives. They work with people in times of crisis or distress, as well as during periods of personal development.
As a counsellor you would:
help people to examine the behaviour or circumstances which have resulted
in their need for counselling
explore options open to them and help to decide which are best for them
use well developed communication skills and techniques
help people bring about positive change or to see things more clearly
accept and respect your clients' values
understand your clients' capacity to find their own solutions.
You might work with a wide variety of clients with a range of issues, or specialise in an area such as relationship difficulties or substance misuse.
Most counsellors will learn the theory behind their work before developing practical skills and methods. The methods of counselling you might use include:
Many practitioners gain experience in areas such as teaching, social work, human resources, nursing and medicine before they move into counselling.
The key personal attributes of good counsellors include:
the ability to establish trusting relationships with clients
the ability to put clients at ease, listen attentively, reflect and clarify their needs
strong communication skills, including active listening, challenging, and goal-setting
patience, tolerance, and sensitivity regarding service users
empathy and a non-judgmental approach
the ability to work with people from a wide variety of backgrounds
an awareness of issues surrounding confidentiality
self-awareness and the ability to examine your own thoughts and values.
How to become a counsellor
The field of counselling is not formally regulated in the UK at present. However, most employers will expect you to be working towards becoming an accredited member of a relevant professional association. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), for example, has an individual professional accreditation scheme and code of ethics and practices, which are highly regarded by employers.
There is a range of counsellor training available. The BACP, for instance recommend that in order to practise as a counsellor you need to complete:
an introductory short course – a counselling 'taster', which outlines
the theory, skills and practice behind counselling (usually studied part-time,
over 10 to 12 weeks)
a certificate in counselling – a solid introduction to counselling theory, the use of counselling skills, self-awareness and the influence of issues, such as gender and ethnicity in the counselling relationship (normally a one-year, part-time course of 75 to 100 hours)
a diploma or advanced diploma in counselling – an in-depth study and supervised practice, which will often meet the training requirement for accreditation with a professional body like the BACP (usually a two- or three-year, part-time course, of around 400 hours).
In preparation for a diploma level course, you may need to find a counselling placement. You need to discuss this with your course provider.
As well as professional bodies, such as the BACP and United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), various awarding bodies have also developed counselling courses. These include the CPCAB, City and Guilds, Edexcel (BTEC) and ABC. You can also study counselling at foundation degree, BTEC HND, degree or Masters level (check with course providers for details of entry requirements).
Due to the range of counselling courses available it is important that you check the value of the award being offered, with the course provider, a professional association or potential employer.
To become a Chartered Counselling Psychologist, you need to complete a British Psychological Society (BPS) approved psychology degree and a BPS approved postgraduate training programme in counselling psychology.
Training and Development
As a counsellor it may help your career to work towards individual accreditation with a professional body such as the BACP, UKCP or British Association for Sexual and Relationship Therapy (BASRT). Contact each individual organisation for details of their eligibility rules.
You can satisfy the BACP's Individual Counsellor Accreditation scheme criteria in three ways. Each is a variation on the following:
you must have completed 450 hours of formal training in counselling (on
a BACP accredited diploma course or other substantial counselling course
– see Entry section for details), and
a minimum of 450 hours' supervised counselling practice with clients, over a period of not less than three years and no more than six years – 150 hours' practice must have been achieved after your diploma level course was completed.
BACP accreditation can also meet the membership requirements of other professional bodies, such as the Counsellors and Psychotherapists in Primary Care (CPC) register, and the United Kingdom Register of Counsellors (UKRC).
As a practising counsellor it is important for you to have ongoing supervision with a trained and registered supervisory counsellor. This protects your clients and ensures your wellbeing as a counsellor.
As a counsellor and member of a professional body, you will need to continue training and developing your skills. You can do this by attending short courses, seminars and workshops, often arranged by the professional body. A range of courses is available in subjects such as:
counsellor training and supervision
counselling and psychotherapy approaches
specialist fields, such as bereavement and relationship issues.
The Pay (a rough guide)
The starting salary for a full-time counsellor with a recognised qualification and experience can be around £19,000 a year.
An experienced counsellor, perhaps with managerial responsibilities, may earn up to £40,000 a year.
Many counsellors work as volunteers, and so receive no pay. Generally, there are no set rates of pay and it will vary according to the type of organisation you work for, your experience, qualifications and area of expertise. You may earn more if you specialise.
As a counsellor, you will find opportunities for part-time, voluntary and full-time work with a range of organisations, for example Alcohol Concern, the Samaritans, RELATE, Cruse, and Mind. Many voluntary organisations have their own counsellor training programmes, and expect volunteers to commit to working with them for a number of years.
You can work in variety of settings including schools, colleges and universities; organisations for people with disabilities; youth work agencies; the Health Service; and bodies connected with specific issues, such as alcohol, drugs or AIDS. Working as a counsellor within the workplace, perhaps in a large company, is also a growing field.
There is strong competition for full-time positions. As a result, many employers prefer to recruit counsellors who are accredited by a professional body.
As an experienced, qualified and well-trained counsellor you could go in to private practice and self-employment.
There is no formal promotion structure within counselling, however, as an experienced counsellor you may be able to move into management, administration, supervision or training.
Useful social services resources:
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
35-37 Albert Street
Tel: 0870 443 5252
This page is for counsellor careers advice and training opportunities.