Counsellors spend time with people and help them talk about their feelings.
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What does a counsellor do?

Counsellors spend time with people in a safe and confidential environment, to help them talk about their feelings to make a positive difference to their lives.

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 is not the role of a counsellor to advise people what to do, rather counsellors would encourage people to look at the choices they have and find their own ways to make positive changes.

This role would normally use one particular style of counselling (known as a theoretical approach to counselling). Counsellors might work with people (known as clients) with a wide range of issues, or specialise in an area such as eating disorders or addiction.

This job 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 and asking questions to 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, this role would counsel clients on their own and face-to-face, but could also work with couples, families or groups, or counsel people over the phone or on the internet.

What do I need to do to become a counsellor?

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, such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), or the National Counselling Society (NCS).

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.

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 but, 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.

Regulation of counselling and psychotherapy

A new system to accredit registers of counselling and psychotherapy practitioners has been developed following government legislation in the health and social-care field. The Accredited Registers Programme is being 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.

Psychotherapeutic counsellor

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.

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. 

Related skills

  • Communication
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Patience

Desirable qualifications

  • A training course accredited by an appropriate awarding body

Where to find out more

Where could I be working?

You could work in various locations, such as 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. 

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