Becoming a Counsellor

See also: What is Counselling?

Counselling could be the perfect job if you enjoy helping people with their problems and want to have a positive impact on their lives.

Your job as a counsellor would involve spending time with people, helping them talk about their feelings and looking at alternative ways of looking at their issues.

To be a successful counsellor, you’ll need to be able to make people feel relaxed in your presence as well as having the ability to build a trusting relationship with them. In order to establish this relationship you need to be sensitive, patient and non-judgemental.

Working Conditions

People turn to counsellors for a number of different reasons including relationship difficulties, the death of a loved one, abuse or just to improve the way they handle everyday life events.

Your job is not to advise them on their best option, but to talk to them about the choices available to them and encourage them to find ways to make positive changes in their lives.

Usually, counsellors will adopt a single style of counselling (a theoretical approach) and will either decide to specialise in a certain area of counselling, for example addiction or eating disorders, or they'll opt for more of a variety and work with clients with a number of issues.

What Does Counselling Involve?

As a counsellor, no two days are the same and your workload, and the way that you work, will depend entirely on the clients that you’ll be meeting that day.

However, generally your day will always involve the following:

  • Building a trusting and respectful relationship with clients
  • Encouraging your clients to discuss their feelings easily and openly
  • Agreeing with them exactly what you’ll be covering in the sessions
  • You must be able to empathise with their problems but also challenge them when necessary
  • You need to ensure you understand the situation, so listen carefully and ask questions regularly
  • Being able to see things in an alternative light is essential because you need to help your clients see things clearly and in different ways
  • If necessary, you must be able to refer your clients on to other sources of help
  • You need to be able to keep confidential records
  • You should also commit to regular meetings with your counselling supervisor
  • As well as working with individuals, you should also be willing to work with couples and families and with people over the phone and the internet

Qualities of the Counsellor

Counselling isn’t a career for everyone and there are certain characteristics and qualities you’ll need if you’re going to be successful in such a role.

  • Strong communication skills
  • Patience
  • Sensitivity
  • High tolerance levels
  • Awareness of confidentiality
  • Ability to challenge views in a positive way
  • Ability to work with people from all backgrounds

Hours and Location

In the majority of full-time positions you will work the standard Monday – Friday office hours, seeing clients for around 20 hours a week and updating all necessary documentation during the remaining hours.

It is not uncommon for counsellors to work part time or out of office hours, during the evenings and weekends. If you’re setting up your own practice then you can dictate your own working times and hours, otherwise they’re likely to be set by the school, college, hospital, GP surgery or advice centre that you work in.


Although this is merely a guideline intended to give you an idea of your potential earnings, it’s something that’s useful to know.

If you plan to work full time as a counsellor in the UK then you can expect to earn between £20,000 and £27,000 as a starting salary. As you progress, you may take on the responsibility of supervisor, in which case your earnings could reach between £30,000 and £40,000 a year.

In a private practise most counsellors will charge between £30 and £50 an hour.

Remember that many counsellors work as volunteers and therefore go unpaid.


Usually counselling is not a first career choice, in fact people move into this field from all manner of different backgrounds and it is often their second or even third career.

In this field there are no formal entry requirements and it is life experience that’s valued more than anything. However, working towards becoming a member of a professional body could seriously improve your prospects. The most notable professional bodies in this field in the UK are the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), the National Counselling Society (NCS), or the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).

According to the BACP, if you wish to work as a fully qualified counsellor you should complete the following training that is accredited by an awarding body that offers the following stages.

  • An introduction –usually a part-time 10-12 week course that covers the basic skills and ideas of counselling
  • A certificate in counselling skills – a part-time course introducing the theories and practices of counselling, along with the ethics and practical skills involved
  • A diploma or advanced diploma in counselling – studying, in detail, the ethics and theory of the practice and this will include a supervised work placement. This course is normally completed over two to three years

If university is not really your thing then there are plenty of accredited courses, available full-time and part-time, with local colleges, training centres and even online learning providers.

If you’re looking to attend a full or part-time university course then you should follow the standard procedure and apply via UCAS.

Training and Development

Although accreditation from a professional body is not essential, it will help to develop your career if it’s something you’re looking to do full-time.

Membership of a professional body will also provide you with access to a continual supply of networking opportunities, research resources and activities aimed at professional development.

For information on membership rules you should contact the professional bodies individually before deciding on the best one for your career. You should make sure that you’re supervised regularly by a registered supervisor and also take part in workshops and courses, covering different counselling theories, to continually develop your skills throughout your career.

NCC Home Learning are a national provider of home learning courses, created for those with busy lives and already established careers but who are looking to tackle a new qualification or add to their existing skills set.

About the Author

Owen Smith is the business manager of NCC Resources LTD, a Home Learning and Commercial training provider based in St Helens, UK. He is responsible for overseeing the growth of both business sectors NCC Home Learning and NCC Training Resources.