If you enjoy helping people with their problems and want to make a positive difference to their lives, this could be the perfect job for you. As a counsellor, you would spend time with people and help them talk about their feelings.
You will need some training to be a counsellor and most employers prefer you to have accreditation with a professional body. Counselling is often a second or third career, and life experience is highly valued.
To become a counsellor you will need to able to build trust and make people feel relaxed. You will need patience and sensitivity. You will be non-judgemental and be able to work with people from all backgrounds.
As a counsellor, you would spend time with people in a safe and confidential environment, where you would help them talk about their feelings.
People want counselling for many reasons, including because of relationship difficulties, the death of a loved one, or to improve the way they deal with everyday life. It would not be your job to advise people what to do. Your role would be to encourage them to look at the choices they have and find their own ways to make positive changes.
You would normally use one particular style of counselling (known as a theoretical approach to counselling). You might work with people (know as clients) with a wide range of issues, or specialise in an area such as eating disorders or addiction.
Your work would involve:
- building a relationship of trust and respect with clients
- agreeing with clients what will be covered in sessions
- encouraging clients to talk about their feelings
- listening carefully, asking questions and checking that you understand a client's situation
- empathising with the client’s issues, but challenging them when necessary
- helping clients to see things more clearly or in a different way
- referring clients to other sources of help if suitable
- going to regular meetings with your counselling supervisor
- keeping confidential records.
In most cases you would counsel clients on their own and face-to-face, but you could also work with couples, families or groups, or counsel people over the phone or on the internet.
In many full-time jobs you would work standard office hours Monday to Friday, and would see clients for around 20 hours a week. Part-time work is also very common. You might see clients in the evenings and at weekends as well as during office hours.
You could work in various locations like schools, colleges, GP surgeries, hospitals or advice centres. If you work for yourself (private practice), you could work from your own home or an office.
Starting salaries for full-time work are generally between £19,000 and £26,000 a year. With supervisory responsibilities, earnings can reach £30,000 to £40,000 a year.
Counsellors in private practice typically charge £30 to £50 an hour. Many counsellors are volunteers, so unpaid work is also common.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
People move into counselling from many different backgrounds. Counselling is often a second or third career, and life experience is highly valued.
There is currently no statutory regulation in this area but you can improve your prospects by working towards membership of a professional body like the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).
The BACP recommends that in order to work as a fully qualified counsellor, you should complete training that is accredited by an awarding body and includes the following stages:
- an introductory course – a part-time, 10- or 12-week course on the basic ideas and skills in counselling
- a certificate in counselling skills – a one year, part-time course introducing counselling theories and ethics, practical counselling skills and self-awareness (this course is also useful if you do not plan to become a fully trained counsellor but you work in a job where you advise or help people)
- a diploma or advanced diploma in counselling – a detailed study of counselling theory and ethics, plus a supervised work placement. The course involves a minimum of 400 hours of study and is normally completed over two to three years.
Accredited courses are widely available through local colleges and training centres, so check with them for exact details. Universities also offer a range of counselling courses from foundation degree to postgraduate level.
You can find university courses through the UCAS website.
Depending on the course, you may be required to do some further study or placement work if you wish to gain membership of one of the professional bodies above. They will be able to give you more details about this.
There are many counselling courses offered by distance learning and while these can be useful at an introductory level, courses at certificate and diploma level should include face-to-face contact/placements in order to develop your counselling skills and practice.
You could gain some experience of counselling work by volunteering with a charity. Some charities will offer initial training related to their particular client group but you will still need to undertake training up to diploma level to fully qualify and gain membership of a professional body.
You can contact charities in your local area for details about volunteering and also check the Do-it website for further opportunities.
Regulation of Counselling and Psychotherapy
A new system to accredit registers of counselling and psychotherapy practitioners is being developed following government legislation in the health and social care field. The system will be overseen by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care. Statutory regulation is not planned at the moment but this will be kept under review.
For the latest information, see the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care and BACP websites.
- Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care
- British Association of Counselling & Psychotherapy
To become a registered psychotherapeutic counsellor, you will need to complete training recognised by the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). Most courses last around four years, part-time. See the UKCP website for details.
Chartered Counselling Psychologist
To become a Chartered Counselling Psychologist, you will need a psychology degree approved by the British Psychological Society (BPS), followed by a BPS-approved postgraduate training programme in counselling psychology.
You may need to have background checks by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) if you work with people under 18 years old or with vulnerable adults. See the DBS website for more information.
- Disclosure and Barring Service (Home Office website)
Training and development
You can develop your career by gaining accreditation through one of the counselling professional bodies. You can also apply for membership of one or more of the bodies which would give you access to continuing professional development activities, networking opportunities and research resources.
You will have to meet strict rules on training, practice and ethics to gain professional accreditation. For example, for the BACP's Individual Counsellor Accreditation scheme you would need to have completed at least:
- 450 hours of formal training (on a BACP-accredited diploma or other substantial counselling course) and
- 450 hours of supervised practice with clients (150 hours of this must be after completing your diploma).
Contact individual professional bodies for full details of their accreditation and membership rules.
It is also important for you to have ongoing supervision by a registered counselling supervisor. This protects your clients and your own wellbeing.
As a practising counsellor, you should continue to develop your skills throughout your career. You can do this by taking courses and workshops in different counselling approaches, or on particular issues or client groups. With experience, you could also choose to train as a counselling supervisor or trainer.
Skills, interests and qualities
To become a counsellor you would need to have:
- the ability to build trust and make people feel relaxed
- strong communication skills, including listening
- the ability to challenge clients in a positive way
- patience, tolerance, and sensitivity
- empathy and a non-judgmental attitude
- the ability to work with people from all backgrounds
- an awareness of confidentiality issues
- self-awareness and the ability to examine your own thoughts and values
- a good sense of personal integrity and ethics.
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
15 St John's Business Park
Tel: 01455 883300
United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
2nd Floor Edward House
2 Wakley Street
Tel: 020 7014 9955
Skills for Health
Tel: 0117 922 1155
Health Learning and Skills Advice Line
Tel: 08000 150850
Confederation of Scottish Counselling Agencies (COSCA)
18 Viewfield Street
Tel: 01786 475140
You can find voluntary, part-time and full-time opportunities in a wide range of places, for example the NHS, education, youth services and charities. Opportunities are also growing for counselling services in the workplace. You could also see clients in private practice.
Competition for full-time paid work is strong, and many counsellors do a mixture of part-time, voluntary and private work.
With experience, you may be able to move into management, administration, supervision or training. You could also do further training as a psychological wellbeing practitioner. This is part of an NHS initiative to improve access to psychological therapies. Visit the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies website for more information.
Related industry information
The health sector is represented by Skills for Health Sector Skills Council, which comprises three sub‐sectors:
- National Health Service (NHS)
- Independent Healthcare Sector (such as private and charitable healthcare providers)
- Third Sector (healthcare) (such as small local community and voluntary groups, registered charities, foundations, trusts, social enterprises and co‐operatives)
The health sector is made up of hospitals, doctors’ surgeries, dental practices, the ambulance service, nursing homes, residential care homes, complementary medicine and a huge range of other health related activities, from sight tests in opticians to research in medical laboratories. Most people in the health sector work in the publicly funded National Health Service (NHS), which includes:
- primary care (organisations which the public goes to first) – Doctors/General Practitioners (GPs), NHS Walk in Centres, NHS Direct, Out of Hours Emergency Care
- secondary care (organisations which the public are referred onto) – Ambulance Trusts, NHS Trusts/hospitals, NHS Foundation Trusts/hospitals, Mental Health Trusts, Care Trusts (provide joint health and social care activities)
NHS policy in England is directed from the centre by the Department of Health. Local organisations, known as Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), are in charge of providing and commissioning services, controlling the majority of the budget. PCTs are overseen by 10 regional organisations called Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs).
The independent sector includes companies and charities that offer hospital and specialist services usually after referral from a doctor. Operations and other work are carried out in private hospitals, independent treatment centres, mental health units and hospices.
- The health sector is the largest employer in the UK, representing 5.5% of the working age population of the UK and 7.3% of the working age population that are currently in employment.
- It is estimated that the sector employs over 2 million people, including:
- over 1.5 million people in the NHS (72%)
- over 0.5 million people in the Independent Healthcare sector (26%)
- almost 40,000 in the voluntary sector (2%)
- 56% of the workforce has a higher education qualification (or equivalent).
- The age profile for the sector shows an older than average workforce, which is due in part to the fact that it takes some professions a long time to train and can mean that people enter the sector later.
There is a varied list of jobs in the sector ranging from a diverse number of clinical roles, to support and infrastructure staff, for instance: Allied Health Professionals (AHPs); Ambulance Staff; Dental Staff; Doctors/Medical staff; Nursing staff; Midwifery Staff; Healthcare Scientists; Health Informatics Staff; Management; Wider Healthcare Team; Complementary Therapists.
- Skills for Health
- NHS Careers
- Careers in healthcare ‐ A guide to working in voluntary organisations
- NHS Employers
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