Counsellors help people discuss their problems and feelings in a confidential environment.

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?

You can get into this job through:

  • a university course
  • a college course
  • volunteering
  • training with a counselling organisation


You could do a degree or postgraduate course in counselling or psychotherapy.

You should look for a course that includes practical skills training and supervised placements. You can search for courses through the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Entry requirements

You'll usually need:

  • 2 to 3 A levels for a degree
  • a degree in any subject for a postgraduate course

More information


You can start by doing an introduction to counselling course, which can last up to 12 weeks. After that, you can extend your training by completing courses like:

  • Level 3 Certificate in Counselling
  • Level 4 Diploma in Counselling Skills
  • Level 5 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling

Colleges will set their own entry requirements but most will expect you to have completed the introductory and Level 3 counselling courses to go further.

Entry requirements

Entry requirements for these courses vary.

More information

Volunteering and experience

Paid or unpaid experience is essential for course and job applications. Many counselling bodies offer volunteering opportunities and you can find these on Do-it.

Other routes

Some counselling organisations, like Relate and Cruse offer training, which may lead into paid work.

Restrictions and requirements

You'll need to:

Related skills

  • Attention to detail
  • Communication
  • Customer service
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Patience
  • Problem solving

Academic route

  • 2 to 3 A levels for a degree
  • a degree in any subject for a postgraduate course

Vocational route

  • Level 3 Certificate in Counselling
  • Level 4 Diploma in Counselling Skills
  • Level 5 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling

Desirable qualifications

  • A training course accredited by an appropriate awarding body

Where to find out more

Career tips

Counselling is often a second or third career, and life experience is highly valued.

Professional and industry bodies

Becoming a member of a body on the Professional Standards Authority's counselling register can improve your chances of getting a job.

Further information

You can find out more about careers in counselling from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the UK Council for Psychotherapy.

Alternatively, refer to the below list of organisations for more information:

Where could I be working?

You could work in a therapy clinic, at a GP practice, at a school, at a college or from home.

Your working environment may be emotionally demanding.

Career opportunities

Competition for full-time paid work is strong and many counsellors do a mixture of part-time, voluntary and private work.

With experience, you could set up your own practice.

You could choose to train as a counsellor supervisor or trainer. You could also move into a management or administration role.

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