As a Counsellor you will help people to explore difficulties, distress or loss of direction in their lives. They usually work on a one-to-one basis with clients, treating their problems in confidence.
People may need counselling to help them cope with issues such as bereavement, anxiety, drug or alcohol dependency, debt or domestic violence.
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The process of counselling can take just a few sessions, or a much longer period of time. Before counselling starts, you and the client agree on the counselling methods to be used, duration, fees and confidentiality. Usually, you and the client will meet once a week.
By listening carefully and patiently, you can begin to understand the difficulties from the client's point of view. You'll skillfully ask questions which are aimed at helping your clients explore various aspects of their life and feelings, encouraging them to talk as freely and openly as possible.
Sometimes clients release intense feelings, such as anger, anxiety and grief, which they may not have shown in front of their family or closest friends. You will be trained in how to deal with these emotional outbursts, without becoming emotionally affected yourself. You must be able to keep your feelings to one side, in order to be able to help your client.
It is important that you establish a trusting relationship with your clients. As the relationship develops, many clients are able to address aspects of their lives that they might not have thought about, or felt able to face before.
It is very important that you do not give advice, make judgements or attempt to impose answers on your clients - that is not your role. Your aim must always be to enable people to identify and talk about their problems, and then to act for themselves in solving them.
The type of problems you help people with depends on where you work. For example:
- some work in hospitals and general practices, helping people to cope with chronic or terminal illnesses, bereavement, and drug or alcohol dependency
- some companies ask you to help them explore and manage the stress experienced by Managers and other employees
- victims of crime or survivors of serious accidents who experience post-traumatic stress disorders may feel they need counselling
- schools, colleges and universities sometimes have Counsellors to help students with personal, social and academic problems
As a Counsellor you might be self-employed, and you are therefore responsible for tasks involved in running the business, such as planning, finance and marketing.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become a Counsellor, you will need:
- an investigative mind
- a strong interest in the way people think and act
- a logical and methodical approach to problem solving
- excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- a calm, professional approach at all times
- strict respect for your clients' confidentiality
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Starting: £22,000
- With experience: £24,000 - £26,500
Counsellors who are paid per session usually charge between £30 - £50 an hour.
Hours of work
Those who work full-time for an organisation may work a 37-hour week, including some evening or weekend work. Counsellors in private practice arrange their hours to suit themselves and their clients.
Many positions are part-time and/or voluntary.
Where could I work?
Opportunities for Counsellors occur throughout the UK.
Employers include the NHS (in hospitals and general practices), schools, colleges and universities; alcohol and drug agencies and advice and community centres. Counsellors may work on telephone helplines, eg, for ChildLine.
Some agencies and charities deal with specific issues; for example, Relate offers relationship counselling, and Cruse helps people cope with bereavement.
Many Counsellors are self-employed and run their own practice, often from home.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised in the following places:
- local/national newspapers
- employers' websites
- Jobcentre Plus
- the Find a Job website
- British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy website
Entry Routes and Training
To become a Counsellor, you would usually need to have some previous work experience. which might include social work, advice and guidance, nursing or probation.
You will also need to have some life experience, which could include dealing with issues such as bereavement, substance misuse, relationship or health issues. It is not essential to have actually experienced any or all of these conditions yourself; but, as a Counsellor, you will need to be able to understand how they affect people.
The Counselling and Psychotherapy Central Awarding Body offers several routes into counselling, including courses from level 2 - 6.
These training courses will include face-to-face training and practical counselling experience.
If you would like some more training, then the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP) offer some courses. On their website, they have some recommended training that you can take to become a Counsellor. It recommends a three stage route which can take up to four years to complete. The three stages are given below.
- stage 1: introduction to counselling. This course gives you the basic skills you might need in this career.
- stage 2: certificate in counselling skills. This certificate will show employers that you have a deeper understanding of counselling theories, ethics and self-awareness.
- stage 3: core practitioner training. This is the biggest stage in the training programme. You will need to be at the minimum level of a diploma in counselling or psychotherapy. This training will need you to complete three areas of learning. These are knowledge based learning, therapeutic competences and research awareness. You will also need to complete a 100-hour placement so you can practice these skills under supervision from an experienced Counsellor.
If you would like some more information on this training programme, check the BACP’s website.
Other courses could be available in your area. Other professional bodies also offer relevant training.
With experience and business skills, employed Counsellors can progress to working on a self-employed basis.
Rehabilitation of Offenders Act
Certain posts in counselling are exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This means that you must supply information to an employer about any spent or unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings, if they ask you to. This is different from other careers, where you only have to reveal information on unspent convictions if you are asked to.
Accredited training courses are available at colleges and training providers across the UK.
Details of courses are on the websites of:
- the National Counselling Society
- the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy
Entry requirements vary. They are likely to include:
- evidence of the ability to study at this level
- some knowledge and experience of counselling or advice work
To prepare for a Diploma level course, some colleges offer introductory courses in counselling skills.
A level 2 or level 3 BTEC qualification in counselling skills could help you to stand out from the crowd.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
There is a range of part-time introductory certificate and diploma courses available, including some on an evening and/or weekend basis.
Open and distance learning courses at various levels are available from a number of centres. Relevant course titles include: Introduction to Counselling Theory, Information, Advice and Guidance, and Counselling and Mediation.
The Open University offers a Foundation degree in Counselling by a mixture of distance leanring and work-based learning at a local college.
The BACP offers bursaries to a limited number of people on low incomes, to help pay for training.
- 59% of people in occupations such as counsellor are self-employed.
- 55% work part-time.
- 18% have flexible hours.
- 14% of employees work on a temporary basis.
Open University (OU)
Tel: 0845 3006090
Institute of Psychoanalysis
Address: Byron House, 112A Shirland Road, London W9 2EQ
Tel: 020 7563 5000
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
Address: BACP House, 15 St John's Business Park, Lutterworth, Leicestershire LE17 4HB
Tel: 01455 883300
Institute of Counselling (IC)
Address: 40 St Enoch Square, Glasgow G1 4DH
Tel: 0141 2042230
Counselling and Psychotherapy in Scotland (COSCA)
Address: 16 Melville Terrace, Stirling FK8 2NE
Tel: 01786 475140