how to become a counsellor

If you are a caring and thoughtful individual who would genuinely like to help people, then why not consider becoming a counsellor? Counsellors work with their clients to give them therapy and advice helping them to process and overcome their problems. Often, you will work in a team with other professionals to give a package of assistance and to deliver a care plan to people in need. Sometimes, you will simply need to listen and prompt other times you will need to actively encourage or coach people to find a way through. There are lots of pathways to becoming a counsellor. Not to mention, the job is suitable for a wide range of people who can bring their life experience and wisdom to the role.

Would you like to help people overcome the challenges they are facing? Are you caring, compassionate, a fantastic listener? Then, why not consider becoming a counsellor? Keep reading to find out the steps you can take to make this meaningful career a reality for you. 

Step one: Consider a specialisation

You do not need to take formal qualifications to become a counsellor. Yet, if you would like to progress your career over time. Then, considering the direction you might want to go before you do anything is worthwhile. After considering you can then choose a course with a future specialisation in mind. There are very many opportunities open to counsellors, here are three of them.

Drug and Alcohol Counsellor

In this specialisation, you focus your skills towards people who have drug or alcohol dependencies. You usually work as part of a team, but you focus on working with your client directly. Through this work, you aim to help them address their behaviour patterns which lead to dependency. Then, together you come up with strategies to help them cope, make changes, and to resist returning to old habits.


Mediators have a highly skilled job. They work with two parties involved in a dispute and try to help them find a satisfactory resolution without having to resort to legal action. The mediator is the neutral third party who tries to balance the conflicting views and find a pathway to a solution.

Family and Marriage Counsellor

In this specialisation, you focus on helping couples or family groups find solutions to problems they have together. This may involve listening to both sides and encouraging each side to try to understand the other. Or it might involve working through very painful emotions and seeking a way to bring resolution to the cause of those feelings. You use your office as a safe space for these talks to take place and a calming balancing third view.

Step two: Choose a course

Once you have a career pathway in mind you can use this to help you choose the course you would like to take. Formal qualifications are not a requirement for working as a counsellor. However, spending some time to study and learn relevant skills will help you to do a better job once you are working. In addition, if you would like to progress in the future starting with a course will help to set you up for a career specialisation.

Step three: Join a professional counselling association

You are not required to join a professional counselling association to find work as a counsellor. However, having membership in an association can give you an edge over other applicants. Not to mention the benefit of opening up networking opportunities which can lead to work. Have a look at your local association website before choosing your course. Some may require members to have minimum qualifications to qualify for membership. You can find more information via the resources section on this site.

Step four: Look for your first job

The need for counsellors has been rising over the last five years, and experts predict this growth will continue. This means now is a good time to get started in this profession. Once you are ready to look for work don’t forget to tailor your resume and cover letter for each application. Highlight your qualifications, personal strengths, association membership and any relevant experience you may have.

What does a Counsellor Do?

Firstly, you meet with your clients and carry out an assessment of their needs. Then you work with them to talk about and resolve emotional problems they are facing. You may give therapy in a group setting or to individuals. Also, as a part of the care plan you draw up to help them, you may make referrals to other services. For example, to special rehabilitation programs or a program giving help to adults seeking work. You refer them to whatever is appropriate for them. To help them to take steps to improve their circumstances, whether emotionally or practically. When giving therapy you spend time listening, feeding prompts while helping them to re-frame their past experiences.


  • Carrying out client assessments
  • Leading group or individual therapy sessions
  • Devising appropriate approaches to behavioural and emotional issues
  • Making referrals to other services, such as rehabilitation programs
  • Giving support to find employment opportunities
  • Assisting with conflict resolution

Skills for Success

When you work as a counsellor you work directly with people experiencing severe emotional stress. These feelings may come from their past, their circumstances or they could stem from a medical condition You absolutely must have compassion, good listening skills and have an understanding attitude to work with them. Your demeanour and what you say matter. Your attitude is the way you put them at ease, and build trust so the therapy sessions are productive. While caring deeply about your client’s outcomes you need to keep the relationship professional. This means you need to confidently establish boundaries. 

Skills and attributes

  • Excellent listening skills and able to encourage sharing
  • Compassionate and understanding
  • Able to maintain professional objectivity
  • Willing to work collaboratively to achieve the goals of your clients
  • Can maintain a soothing, calm manner

How Much Does a Counsellor Earn in Australia?

In Australia, counsellors earn a median wage of $59,781 per year. This can vary a lot according to the type of counselling you offer and is intended as a reference only, from Payscale 05/’18.

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