How to Become a Counsellor

Counselling is a form of talking therapy that profoundly impacts the lives of individuals as well as families and communities, as it helps people cope with many different problems faced in life. Whether they’re dealing with a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, or coping with traumatic experiences, events, or harmful emotions and behaviours, people seek counselling for both the psychological and physical benefits. An estimated one in six adults have experienced a ‘common mental disorder’ like depression or anxiety in the past week, but two-thirds of people experience improvement after psychological therapy.

What is a counsellor?

A counsellor is a trained and qualified therapist working to improve clients’ mental and emotional health and wellbeing. Through different therapy techniques, counsellors help people to talk about their feelings and think about their goals; they coach people in developing the mental tools to make positive changes in their lives. A counsellor will usually work with clients in several formal sessions at a regular time in a private place.

Two women sitting on sofas talk seriously

A successful counsellor will build trust with their client, supporting them to be open and honest about their feelings and experiences. Then, they’ll often encourage their clients to challenge their own thoughts and be open to change. But most importantly, counsellors value and respect every individual they work with, valuing diversity and promoting inclusiveness and acceptance. It’s a counsellor’s responsibility to make sure every client feels safe whilst maintaining a duty to report crime or threat of harm.

What does a counsellor do?

A counsellor will have allocated therapy sessions throughout each day, with time in between to write notes, follow up with calls or emails, and work on plans for future sessions. Depending on their client’s needs and their own specialist areas of expertise, they may work with couples, families, or groups as well as single individuals, in either a face-to-face setting, online, or via a phone conversation. These sessions are usually 30 or 60 minutes in length, so a counsellor could conduct eight sessions in a day.

As there is such a variety of people that counsellors can work with, their workplace setting varies greatly too; a counsellor could be based in a GP surgery or hospital, or in community settings such as schools and universities, alongside private mental health and wellbeing practices. They might have multiple roles, doubling as a teacher for example, or simply using their free time to volunteer for a helpline.

Typically, therapy sessions will follow a similar structure or pattern, regardless of the difference between clients’ needs. This usually begins with an introduction meeting, whereby the counsellor can get to know the client and find out their reasons for wanting therapy. Next, they’ll assess the desired outcome for each individual, setting an agenda based on their goals. Together both the counsellor and client can then agree on a plan to make progress towards those goals.
There are many different types of talking therapies, from humanistic counselling based on self-development, to behavioural therapies used to change specific patterns for a better outcome and quality of life. Counsellors can specialise in specific types of therapy, with the most common being:

  • Art therapy
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Family/relationship therapy
  • Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP)
  • Psychoanalysis.

However, regardless of the type of therapy, all counsellors will spend their days listening and empathising with their clients, whilst also challenging them with questions and tasks to help them make progress towards overcoming their difficulties.

How to become a counsellor

Becoming a counsellor takes a lot of hard work, training and dedication. In this section, we run through the qualifications and accreditations you’ll need to become a fully-licensed counsellor in the UK.

What qualifications do you need to become a counsellor?

First things first, you need to do a course that will get you qualified. That can be at a local college, university, or online through distance learning, and it’s recommended that you begin with an introductory course, just to make sure it’s the right career for you.

To become a counsellor, your core training must be, at the minimum, a Level 3 diploma in counselling or psychotherapy, but it could be a bachelor’s degree, master’s or doctorate if you’ve reached those levels. When choosing your course, make sure that it’s regulated and accredited to ensure the standards of quality reflect the best practices of the industry.

Two women having a conversation

When choosing a course, you need to make sure it covers a few key areas. Firstly, check whether you can gain membership with a counselling association once qualified (more on this in the section below). Then, check out the course specification, as you’ll need to complete knowledge-based learning to understand the psychological theories, laws, and ethics that underpin counselling practices, as well as the health conditions and medications that your clients may have.
Secondly, your course should evaluate your therapeutic competence in some way, monitoring your relationship-building skills, reflective strategies, and application of therapy. Once you’ve achieved your qualification, you can start gaining more practical experience in counselling. When you’re ready to progress to the Advanced Counselling Level 4 Diploma, you’ll need to partake in voluntary counselling experience alongside your learning.

Counselling accreditation and licensing

You’ll need to register with a counselling association in order to attain a license to practice. There are many counselling associations, so ensure that the one you choose is a recognised professional body, like the ACCPH (Accredited Counsellors, Coaches, Psychotherapists or Hypnotherapists). Our Level 2 and Level 3 counselling courses have professional endorsement by the ACCPH, meaning you will be able to gain membership with them.

There are other associations, like BACP and the NCS, but you need to first check that they accept your qualification.
Having membership with a counselling association can give you access to further resources, knowledge and networks within the industry, benefiting your development and future career paths. It will also improve your employability chances as it gives you professional credibility. Counselling organisations exist to raise the ethical standards of the profession.

What makes a great counsellor?

A great counsellor is impartial but understanding, trustworthy, and patient. Because they work with people from all backgrounds, counsellors must be non-judgmental and open to all, with a warm and friendly approach that makes people feel comfortable in their presence. To become a great counsellor, you need to be resilient, with self-awareness and the ability to recognise your own limitations and process your thoughts and feelings appropriately.

Experienced counsellors will also feel confident in setting and maintaining professional boundaries in order to protect both themselves and their clients. Life experience is not essential, but it’s valued in the industry. That’s because experiencing your own struggles and understanding how you coped improves your ability to connect with your clients. But of course, you can never fully understand how it feels to be in another’s shoes, and you shouldn’t try to either.

What are the benefits of becoming a counsellor?

There’s no better feeling than the kind you get from helping someone for no other reason than to see them happy. Human beings are naturally inclined to be empathetic, supportive, and community-focused, it’s instinctive to help another in need. And whilst this is a selfless act, there’s no denying that caring for others has its benefits.

Many counsellors find their job hugely rewarding, as they know they’ve helped people by giving them a safe space to explore their feelings and develop the mental tools needed to overcome challenges. It’s about offering value to other people’s lives, with the privilege of being trusted with others’ struggles as you help them to grow in confidence and happiness.

By becoming a counsellor, you’ll be planting the seeds for healthy coping mechanisms and skills that will impact many generations to come! You’ll get to learn something different every day, making new connections and experiencing new levels of insight with every client you work with. What’s more, there’s great opportunity for career development within the counselling industry, allowing you to hone your skills in a variety of specialist areas and progress to higher levels of care.

A professional looking woman making notes in a pad

How much do counsellors earn?

Working as a counsellor, you’re under an ethical obligation to pursue continued professional development. Why? Counsellors need to uphold the highest standard of practice, and to do so, they need to be regularly learning, researching, and evolving with new methods and approaches to therapy.

This is a commitment that concerns your duty of care to your clients, and that’s a good thing! It means that there is ample opportunity for career progression, especially if you choose to specialise in a specific area of counselling. Specialising in areas such as addiction, CBT, or counselling for children will require additional training, but it adds value to your services, enabling you to address the specific needs of your clients.

And of course, earning varies depending on the level you are working at and where you are employed. On average, a full-time counsellor working for the NHS earns between £20k – £26k annually. However, a part-time counsellor might earn the same working in a private clinic or running their own counselling business, as they can set their own hourly rates. Experienced counsellors in specialist roles can earn between £30k – £40k a year.

Am I ready to begin counselling training?

Are you naturally caring, ambitious, and mentally strong? Do friends and family turn to you for comfort because you have a high level of empathy? Then there’s a strong possibility that counselling would suit you. After all, the job you do should reflect your values and sense of identity; it should be a role you can be proud of. And it’s not easy; working as a counsellor will consume your time and can be emotionally challenging, but the reward far outweighs this.
If you can commit to studying and practical placement hours, you can begin counselling training right away. However, you should first assess your own wellbeing and think about whether you have the mental tools to manage any aspect of counselling that may be negatively triggering for you. You need to be prepared to manage difficult clients, emotional stress, and long working days.

If you’d like to take the first step towards a career as a counsellor, Oxbridge can help you secure the qualifications you need. For more information, head over to our homepage or give our experienced course advisers a call on 0121 630 3000.

How much does a counsellor earn?


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