Counsellors listen to, empathise with, encourage and help to empower individuals. The nature of problems encountered varies according to the setting and could include, for example, depression, anxiety, the need to manage harmful emotions and behaviours, or difficulties with coping with traumatic experience and events. Counsellors may work with clients with mild to moderate mental health problems or drug-related problems, or with people who need support because of genetic disorders or diseases such as cancer.
Counsellors do not advise their clients, but seek to help them to understand themselves better and find their own ways to cope or to resolve problems. Referral and liaison with other agencies is a feature of the work.
Counselling typically involves a series of formal sessions at a regular time and place in a private place, where the counsellor and the client can talk about the client's issues and feelings.
Typical responsibilities include:
- Providing counselling face to face, over the telephone, or online
- Working with individuals, families or groups
- Keeping confidential records
- Building a relationship of trust and respect with clients
- Listening to clients' concerns, empathising with them, and helping them to see things more clearly or in a different way
Vacancies arise within dedicated counselling services, the NHS (including hospitals and GP surgeries), schools, colleges, universities, charities, addiction agencies, disability support groups and larger companies. Promotion is normally into managerial roles, but opportunities are limited as most counselling departments are very small.
Vacancies are advertised in a variety of publications including The Guardian, Community Care and Nursing Times. They are also listed on the websites of relevant professional bodies such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).
Some counsellors are successfully self-employed, although this is only possible if you have a good network of contacts for referrals.
Counselling is not normally a first career choice, and many people enter the profession later in life. Experience can be gained through direct approaches to employers, voluntary work, job shadowing and networking.
That said, you can become a counsellor both with or without a degree. For graduates, it’s possible to enter the profession with a degree in any subject. A mature attitude and relevant experience is considered to be as important as degree subject you studied, although a psychology or social science degree can be advantageous.
Although there are no set requirements for practising as a counsellor, most employers would expect you to belong to one of the voluntary registers for counsellors maintained by relevant professional bodies listed by the Professional Standards Authority. These professional bodies include the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).
Student membership of BACP is open to those studying on a BACP-accredited course or other counselling course at diploma, undergraduate or postgraduate level. Registration is open to those who have completed BACP-accredited training or who meet BACP's registration requirements in other ways. A list of accredited courses is available from the BACP website.
- Listening skills
- Sensitivity and empathy
- Patience and a calm manner
- Ability to cope with emotional situations
- Ability to relate to a wide range of people