A counsellor is a highly trained professional, employed in a diverse range of workplaces to support both groups and individuals. They provide clients with a safe and confidential environment in which they can talk without fear of judgement or bias.
They help clients to overcome on-going problems, or more specific problems such as conflict or crisis, by exploring and understanding emotions and feelings, challenging thoughts and behaviours, and empowering clients to make their own choices. They can also assist clients to make positive changes in their lives, and increase their ability to cope with challenges.
Counsellors understand and apply different theoretical approaches, and often use ‘integrative therapy’ which blends together several techniques that can be predominantly
categorised into three categories of psychodynamic, psychoanalytical and behavioural therapies. Not only is it imperative that counsellors listen to their clients, they also look to understand hidden meanings through conversation, and what is not directly communicated.
They often liaise with other professionals and can refer clients when deemed necessary. Although therapy is confidential, counsellors need to uphold the welfare if their clients, and may need to contact other services should they feel that a client is at risk, and that it is in their best interests.
To not personally take on the issues of the client
Patience, sensitivity and empathy
Ability to build a trusting working relationship with clients
Excellent communication and observation skills
A non-judgemental attitude
A good understanding of confidentiality
A willingness and interest to work with different kinds of people
Ability to reflect
Being able to make appropriate responses and questions
Ability to make notes and write reports
Ability to liaise and work with other professionals
There are currently no formal qualifications to become a counsellor, however most employers require membership and accreditation to a professional body, which in itself requires a qualification. It is also favourable to have suitable qualifications when working on a self-employed basis. Some employers may offer the opportunity to complete a qualification if an individual has significant voluntary work in a related field, and life experience is also valued.
The minimum requirement for many employers is a British Association of Counselling approved Diploma in Counselling which takes at least one-year to complete. For such courses, there may be a requirement to first complete a foundation or introductory course in Counselling, but there is no stipulation to follow a UCAS pathway. For a more in-depth understanding, approved Degree and postgraduate courses may be more preferential.
For accreditation with the BACP, it is also necessary to complete 100 hours in a suitable placement. Registration with the UK Council of Psychotherapy (UKCP) and the National Counselling Society (NCS) is also favourable.
Although not with all courses, there may be a requirement for individuals to undergo therapy themselves for both personal development and to gain an appreciation of the client’s viewpoint.
For those not wishing to work in a full-time counselling role but to work in a relevant advisory capacity, an accredited certificate in Counselling could be completed.
Counselling consists of many specialist areas, so it is important to decide on the right pathway prior to commencing any study. There is a Specialist Counsellor Diploma which offers more specialist knowledge working with families, bereavements, depression and aggression, but can lack a solid grounding in counselling as a whole compared with the Diploma in Counselling.
Although there is the Specialist Counsellor Diploma, many counsellors choose to complete an in-depth counselling course prior to specialising, if they choose to do so.
Counsellors can specialise and undertake courses in areas such as:
Sexual health and gender
Counsellors can also progress by choosing to take on more responsibilities as either a trainer or a mentor/supervisor. Mentors provide other practitioners with psychological support and guidance, whilst also assisting with the development of skills.
Pros and cons
Able to build own schedule around own commitments.
The ability to provide help and advice to make a positive impact on the lives of clients
Be able to work in a range of workplaces
Opportunities for self-employment
Can offer good rates of pay
Meeting many different kinds of people
May involve out of hours working/emergency cases
Mental toll and fatigue
Not all clients are ready to accept treatment and may therefore therapy may not provide any benefit
It can take time to study and learn at an in-depth level to become proficient in applying several therapy techniques/work with more specific groups
The typical starting salary for a counsellor can vary significantly depending upon the environment in which they are working, but is typically in the region of £20,000-£26,000.
When working on a self-employed basis, depending on the level of qualification, counsellors can typically command between £30 and £50.
With career progression and development, and further responsibilities, the typical salary can rise to £40,000.
Information from experts on a range of specialist counselling areas –
Resources and course providers for healthcare learning – www.skillsforhealth.org.uk
Tools for professionals including therapist techniques – www.psychologytools.com
Psychotherapy worksheets – www.therapyworksheets.blogspot.co.uk
A guide for self-employed counsellors – www.practiceofthepractice.com
Counselling resources and downloads – www.thespark.org.uk