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Career insights: Become a Counsellor


How To Become a Counsellor


If you are looking for information on how to become a counsellor, this guide will explain everything you need to know. From first steps through to specific training courses, professional development and salary expectations, covers all of the information you need to get started. As a basic overview, this article includes details of what this career involves and how individuals can go about completing their training. It also discusses how to find work, professional development and the skills and qualities required to be successful in this industry.

What Does a Counsellor Do?

A counsellor's main role is to provide a safe and non-judgmental environment for those who feel they may need to explore and challenge any emotional difficulties they may be facing. The treatment counsellors provide is widely known as “talking therapy” and it has become more popular in recent years, especially among those who suffer from mental health conditions or emotional and behavioural difficulties. Contrary to popular belief, counsellors do not generally offer advice and guidance, their role is to act as a facilitator who can allow people to explore their feelings in a way that is constructive, positive and overall, beneficial to their emotional and general well being.

There are many types of talking therapy but generally, each counselling session involves the counsellor asking questions that will allow the client to explore their feelings in more depth than they may ordinarily do on an everyday basis. They may also suggest exercises such as role play, visualisation and memory focused processes that allow the client to explore difficult feelings from their past in a safe environment. Outside of the session itself, counsellors will often record confidential information about their clients in order to help them direct the treatment in an effective way. In some cases, counsellors will communicate with doctors and other health professionals, particularly if their clients are using medication in conjunction with talking therapy.

Like many jobs, there is also a certain level of administration and record-keeping involved in counselling. As counsellors generally deal with sensitive information, they will often adhere to a confidentiality agreement that protects both the client and the professional. This means that anything discussed within the session will not be shared with anybody else unless the counsellor thinks that their client may be at risk of harming themselves or others. This type of work requires patience, resilience, excellent administration and organisational skills as well as great attention to detail. As many counsellors will have a caseload of several clients, they often keep store records electronically and use programs such as Microsoft Excel, word and outlook on a daily basis.

What Skills Does a Counsellor Need?

The ability to listen is probably one of the most important skills for a counsellor to have, though they must also be able to show empathy and compassion when speaking to people about their problems. It is also important to be pragmatic and comfortable when talking about potentially sensitive subjects such as abuse, self harm or suicide. The ability to make clients feel comfortable and relaxed enough to open up about their issues is also essential. As counsellors often need to write up notes on their clients, good organisational skills, administration skills and the ability to use basic computer software such as emails, spreadsheets and word processing packages is also required.

Another critical skill for all counsellors is remaining patient and calm under pressure. Having a persuasive and empathetic nature is important but being able to listen to key pieces of information and allow clients to work at a pace which is comfortable for them is a key element of the role. In addition to these qualities, all counsellors must have a good understanding of their own attitudes and value systems as this allows them to be objective when talking to clients. In order to provide effective support, all counsellors must have confidence in themselves as well as their client's ability to change or overcome the difficulties they are experiencing. The relationship between a counsellor and a client is built on trust and mutual respect, so being able to remain both professional and empathetic at all times is essential.

What Are The Working Hours?

The working hours for counsellors varies and though many professionals choose to work full time, some people who work in this industry do so on a part time basis as well. In general, counsellors will see clients for around 20 hours per week, though this can vary, depending on individual case loads and where they are working. When not spending time in sessions with clients, counsellors will make up the rest of their working week with preparation and administration. In order to properly understand their clients, counsellors may need to spend time researching, writing notes or reflecting on what was been discussed in the sessions themselves, so working hours are split between “contact time” and work outside of the therapy room itself.

Now that online and telephone counselling is available, some counsellors work from home on a freelance basis and may pick up clients outside of standard working hours. Many people who work during the day prefer to see counsellors in the evening or at weekends, which means that for many professionals in this industry, their hours can be irregular when compared to other jobs in the healthcare sector.

What Qualifications Does A Counsellor Require?

Although some counsellors have a degree, this is not essential. There are now a range of specific counselling qualifications available at a variety of levels. Though students can potentially move straight on to a higher level qualification if they have a relevant degree or other certifications, it is highly recommended that everybody follows the traditional route, starting with an introductory level 3 or 4 course. NCC offer both level 3 and level 4 online counselling courses that can be completed online from home and also includes ongoing support from professionals tutors.

The starting point for most people is an “Introduction to Counselling Course” which is a level 3 qualification. (This is the equivalent to A levels in the UK) This course provides a broad and accessible overview of what the profession involves and usually lasts between 8 and 12 weeks. This level of qualification is designed to allow those who have an interest in this career to understand what it involves and how they can develop their skills to a professional standard. Rather than going in to specific detail about counselling techniques and psychology, these general courses provide a broad overview of the subject and act as a starting point for anybody who may be considering working in this kind of role.

The next stage is a certificate in counselling which typically lasts around one year. This is a more detailed course that covers some of the fundamental principles of psychology, counselling and the numerous different techniques and disciplines that can be used within this field. Typically offered by Further Education colleges, universities or online learning providers and delivered over several modules, the counselling certificate allows practitioners to explore and understand the subject in depth, while also providing a solid foundation of knowledge that can be used to progress to the next stage of training. During this time, many counsellors will be expected to undergo some therapy themselves as this can help to develop a better sense of personal awareness and understanding. Courses are generally studied on a part time basis and are a level 4 diploma, meaning it can be used to access further training and professional development.

Once they have completed their initial training, all counsellors are required to complete a diploma that includes supervised contact time with clients The minimum number of supervised hours for this course is 100, though in some cases it can be as high as 450. This can vary depending on the training provider. Costs will also vary considerably, depending on whether the course is full or part time and also the level of qualification it provides. Potential students can also attend full or part time taught courses at universities, further education colleges and private training providers. This is the minimum level of qualification required to practice counselling professionally in the UK, though it is possible to complete higher level courses and further professional development.

Though it is not mandatory, prior to enrolling on to a level 4 course, students are encouraged to complete at least one prior level 3 qualification in counselling or a related subject. This is essentially to help candidates gain the depth of knowledge required to complete the qualification successfully. At this level, students will be working with a range of counselling techniques and will be required to take in a lot of complex information. Funding for this kind of course is generally provided by the learners themselves, however some bursaries or loans or career development loans may be available from local authorities or other providers. Many level 4 courses are offered on a part time basis, so it is possible to work part time while studying for this kind of qualification.

Where Does a Counsellor Work?

Counsellors work in a variety of settings including hospitals, specifically designated therapy centres and in some cases their own homes. Depending on the type of counselling on offer, professionals in this field can work in a fixed location for a large organisation such as the NHS or alternatively, travel around to different locations to see their clients. In general, counselling sessions take place in a small room where just the client and their counsellor are present, though in some cases such as group therapy, larger venues may be used.

In the UK, each local authority will have a designated, NHS funded organisation that offers low cost or free counselling to those in need. In some cases there specific buildings where a number of counsellors will work with a large number of clients who have been referred by their GP. Due to the nature of the work, minimal equipment is required and as long as there is a private space where no disturbances or interruptions will take place, counsellors can work from practically anywhere.

How Much Does a Counsellor Earn?

The salary for counsellors can vary quite significantly. A fully qualified psychologist or psychotherapist with a Phd level qualification and doctor status will earn significantly more than a counsellor with a level 4 or 5 qualification though experience also counts for a lot in this industry. Those who are just starting out can expect to earn around £19000 for full time work, though it is also possible to work part time or on a voluntary basis. Many counsellors with lower level qualifications work on a voluntary basis or for a variable hourly rate as this allows them to develop essential experience of interacting with clients, it can also be helpful for those who need to demonstrate they have completed enough supervised hours to progress on to the next stage of their training. In private practice, rates are generally higher, however, this is not always the case and the difference in average salary can be quite pronounced.

Average UK Starting Salary (Full time)

£19000 to £28000

Experienced counsellor


Highly Experienced Counsellor


Hourly rates

£30-£60 (This can be more for experienced counsellors)

See courses related to this career

Step by Step Guide On How To Become a Counsellor

  1. Research


    There are a wide range of courses available for those interested in a career in counselling, so the first step is to research the most relevant qualification for you. Those with a degree in psychology or a related subject may be able to move on to a higher level qualification immediately, whereas those with no prior knowledge or experience may need to take an introductory course initially.

  2. Introductory course


    For the majority of people, a level 3 qualification such as the introduction to counselling is the first qualification they will need. This is generally self funded, however, in some cases, students on low incomes or without employment may be able to apply for bursaries or additional financial support.

  3. Certificate


    After completing an introductory online counselling course, those who think a career in counselling is for them will need to complete a more in depth qualification such as the certificate in counselling. This type of qualification will often involved some elements of practice as well as theory in order to allow students to develop a better understanding of how to interact with others in a professional, non judgmental and empathetic way. It is possible to complete a certificate in counselling via online learning, which is a flexible and cost effective option for those who are interested in moving in to this area of work.

  4. Diploma


    The diploma in counselling is the next stage and is viewed as one of the most essential qualifications in this industry. As one of the higher level courses, students can expect to go in to a significant amount of detail in terms of learning different theories, best practice and other essential skills. All trainee counsellors will need to spend time speaking to clients while under the supervision of an instructor or mentor. Doing so allows them to use the skills and experience they have gained during the training process in a practical environment while still being supported by a trained and experienced professional. Students are generally assessed through a combination of written work and performance related feedback based on their interaction with the clients. As this role is heavily focused on interacting with people in a compassionate and effective way, the way in which students connect with their clients is also monitored.

  5. Self-employment


    At this point, counsellors are free to set up as private service providers or apply for staff roles in larger organizations such as the NHS or BUPA. If working on a self employed basis, as many counsellors do, registration with HMRC is essential. This takes a matter of minutes and can be carried out online.

  6. Full-time employment


    Finding full time, consistent work as a counsellor can be extremely competitive, however there is a demand for qualified professionals in this kind of role. Applying for jobs in the NHS or other mental health care service providers could be an option at this stage. There is also the potential to join an existing private practice or work on a freelance basis. Some counsellors work on a part time or ad hoc basis while working in other jobs while they build up a client base or get themselves established.

Career Advancement Options


It is possible to do further qualifications to develop a better understanding of particular conditions such as those caused by bereavement, debt problems and other specific causes. These are generally offered by established counselling training providers, many of whom provide online courses that can be completed while working. Those with a degree level qualification may wish to pursue a masters or PhD level course in psychology or counselling skills if they plan to move to a higher, more complex level of mental health care. Professional psychologists who work for the NHS occasionally come from a counselling background, though some also have medical training.

After working as a counsellor for a number of years, it may also be possible to provide training and instructions to others who are interested in the career. Many experienced counsellors also work as trainers or teachers while still taking on their own caseload of clients. Supervising student counsellors who are training or trying to complete their designated number of professional development hours is often something that counsellors who work for established mental health care providers do on a regular basis. There is also the option to move in to managerial positions for large or small organisations that provide counselling and therapy services.

Having experience of delivering counselling sessions on a one to one or group basis can provide individuals with the knowledge and skills they need to guide others within an organisation. This type of work can be quite different from face to face counselling itself, however, it can also be quite well paid and provides opportunities for development in other areas. Summary Working as a counsellor can be one of the most rewarding and satisfying jobs a person can do, but it is also quite demanding. Those who are emotionally resilient, compassionate and organised may like to consider a career in this industry as it provides numerous opportunities for personal growth and a genuine sense that they are helping others. Unlike some other jobs, this type of role can be quite flexible meaning that practitioners can work as much or as little as they choose to once they are qualified. Though competition for regular work is extremely intense in some areas of the industry, as mental health develops a parity with physical health, there is an increasing demand for compassionate, caring people who have the skills and qualifications to provide

Getting qualified as a counsellor is now easier than ever and providers like NCC Home Learning offer cost effective, professionally delivered courses that will provide students with everything they need to get started on the road to becoming qualified. If you don't have a degree level qualification in psychology or a related subject, it is highly recommended that you start with an introductory, level 3 course that explains the basic principals of what counselling is all about. This means you will find any further qualifications easier to understand and you will also get the most out of the overall learning experience. Finding a placement that will allow you to complete the minimum 100 hours of training is also important and though training providers can help you to do this, you may need to try and source this yourself. Once you have decided that a career in this industry is for you, building up a trustworthy reputation through delivering quality sessions is the best way to advance. The most successful counsellors are those who consistently provide a service their clients feel is genuinely beneficial to them.