Becoming a Counsellor
Becoming a Counsellor
Am I suited to a career in counselling?
Many people assume that they are, because they enjoy helping friends with personal problems, or because people often confide in them, or because they like talking to others about feelings. The most effective counsellors, however, may not be the best talkers. Rather, they tend to be excellent listeners, people who are willing and able to put their own opinions and needs aside in order to learn more about what another person is thinking.
How can I become a counsellor?
To practice as a counsellor, you can complete a program of study in that field. In some countries, including Australia and the U.K., there are no government requirements for length or level of study. No doubt, this will change. Meanwhile, most counselling bodies and prospective employers will not recognise any counselling qualifications below a Diploma, so that is what you should aim at. You might, however, begin your studies with a lower level course, such as a Certificate in Counselling, and later upgrade to a diploma.
Students who enrol in counselling courses include people who offer counselling in other areas of work (such as community workers, social workers, health practitioners, care workers or clergy), practicing counsellors who want to upgrade their qualification and knowledge, psychologists whose study lacked or was low in counselling training, and others who want to begin, or change to, a career in counselling. If you already possess a qualification in psychology, education, health care, natural therapies, social work or community work, solid training in counselling can extend your career possibilities, and increase your ability to be of service to others.
Some universities may grant graduates of counselling courses credit towards a degree in counselling, psychology, or social work. The decision of whether or not to grant credit can only be made by each university, but it is certainly worth investigating this pathway into a relevant degree.
How do I choose a counselling course?
Choose a course that will give you enough information, practical activities, and time to develop a good understanding of the basic principles and methods of counselling and practical skills, and time to reflect on your learning. If you already have some counselling experience behind you, or want a course to meet a particular, specific need, a short, specialist course (such as anger management, grief counselling, or better parenting) can be sufficient, but if you intend to become a counsellor, you should prepare yourself to counsel in a wide range of areas. A person might come to you with a certain issue, but beneath and related to that may be other issues that need to be resolved as well.
A good course should acquaint you with different theories and approaches to counselling, as different counsellors may work better with different methods. It should also have a strong focus on practical skills. A course that only teaches you to be a sounding board, to give pep talks, or engage in positive thinking will not give you the understanding or skills to help clients achieve realistic, measurable, and practical changes in their lives.
A good course will also be tutored by someone with extensive counselling experience, and should allow you opportunities to engage with your tutor when you feel in more need of assistance or clarification. Counselling is fundamentally aimed at increasing an individual's awareness, and a good course will also encourage you to become more aware of your own feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and expectations. These may emerge during your interactions with the course and your tutor.
Another thing to look for is a student-focused course. A course that is student-focused is manageable, well-organized, and with clear aims. It will include a range of learning methods, such as course notes, assignments, practical tasks, problem-solving, and some research. The student is not seen as an empty vessel to be filled with information. Rather, the student is seen as a responsible and active collaborator in their learning, and given scope for learning in ways best suited to their nature.
Choose a school that is willing to talk to you, to answer your questions, and that quickly responds to enquiries with an answer, not just a 'we'll get back to you'. Ask the school for a detailed course outline, and how the course is run. Some schools will not provide information until you have given your personal details, or sometimes, until you've talked to one of their salespersons. A school that puts students first, on the other hand, understands that potential students want to 'shop around', and provides the kind of information that helps them make informed decisions.
What opportunities exist for counsellors?
Some employers will only take on counsellors with counselling degrees. However, many opportunities exist for skilled and caring counsellors, and this seems to be a field in which the demand for good practitioners is growing, especially in rural areas, and in countries beset by ongoing strife and distress. Counsellors can find work in community and social support organisations, in schools, in natural therapies practices, in sports training and fitness or health facilities, in business organisations … in fact, in a wide range of areas.
Or if you are more enterprising, you can set up your own counselling practice, offering either support in one specific area, such as nutritional or financial counselling, or broader general counselling services.
If you have set your star on a counselling career, be willing to work your way up, perhaps to test and prove yourself by helping friends, and acquaintances, and colleagues, taking small counselling-related tasks, and developing a client base. A good counsellor will often grow a business from word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied clients.
And learn to network….really network …. Don’t just to think of how contacts might benefit you, but how you might benefit each other. Many students of the ACS Distance Education counselling diploma have found that the contacts they have made whilst studying their course and interviewing professional counsellors resulted in counselling jobs. If you are sincere, committed, willing to learn, have a genuinely caring, warm attitude towards others, and are able to listen to others without imposing your ideas or opinions, then opportunities for employment may find you.
For related information, see article 'Counselling Work'.
For information on ACS counselling and psychology courses, follow this link.