Counsellors help people to talk about and explore aspects of their lives that may be causing them difficulty. You might work with people with a wide range of issues, or specialise in an area such as eating disorders or addiction.
Counsellors do not give clients advice but support them in making changes that could improve their lives.
You could be:
- creating a safe atmosphere for clients and assuring confidentiality
- setting up a relationship of trust with clients, who could be adults or children
- listening carefully as clients talk about their problems, either face to face or on the phone
- helping clients to explore their feelings, perhaps using art or drama as a means of communicating
- helping clients make their own decisions, not directing them
- running group or family therapy sessions
- referring clients to other agencies if necessary
- keeping records and writing reports
- specialising in client groups, such as victims of abuse or people with alcohol or drug problems.
Counsellors differ from counselling psychologists, as counsellors do not normally have training in psychology.
The figures below are only a guide. Actual pay rates may vary, depending on:
- where you work
- the size of the company or organisation you work for
- the demand for the job.
Starting salaries for counsellors are in the range £19,000 to £27,000 a year. Experienced counsellors can earn up to £30,000 a year and managers of agencies or projects can earn £40,000 or more.
If you are self-employed, you charge a fee for each session with a client, which can be between £35 to £70 an hour. You may not have a regular income.
Counsellors working for the NHS are on the Agenda for Change salary grades and start at Band 5, £24,670 to £30,742 a year. Experienced counsellors may be on Band 6, £30,401 to £38,046 a year.
- You will probably work normal office hours, Monday to Friday, but this may include some evening and weekend work.
- If you are self-employed, you usually work flexible hours from home, often seeing clients in the evening or at weekends.
- Many counsellors work part time.
- Sometimes you might have to work in a voluntary unpaid capacity for a while before being offered a paid job.
- For many people, counselling is a second career, and may be on a voluntary basis.
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You do not always need formal entry qualifications but most employers will prefer you to have or be working towards a recognised counselling qualification, such as those accredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and Counselling and Psychotherapy in Scotland (COSCA).
- It is recommended that this is done in three stages. You would normally begin by doing an Introduction to Counselling at a local college that outlines the basic ideas and skills behind counselling. You would usually undergo some counselling yourself with other students.
- If after doing an introductory course you still think this is the right career for you, you would move on to a certificate level course such as the Certificate in Counselling Skills validated by COSCA. You can get a list of accredited courses from the COSCA website (see Contacts section below).
- The third stage would be to complete a Diploma in Counselling course accredited by BACP or COSCA. These courses can usually be studied full time or part time. For entry you would need 100 hours recognised counselling training such as the Certificate in Counselling Skills course.
- Alternatively if you already have a degree you can study on a COSCA or BACP accredited postgraduate course.
- In Scotland, Abertay University offers a BACP accredited Postgraduate Masters (MSc) in Counselling. This is three years part time.
- The University of Aberdeen offers a PgDip in Person Centred Counselling, which is BACP and COSCA accredited, and the University of Edinburgh offers a PgDip in Counselling, which is COSCA accredited.
- For entry to these postgraduate diploma courses you require a degree in any discipline and an interest in or experience in a related job such as nursing or social work, depending on the course.
- For accreditation as a counsellor with COSCA you need 450 hours of counselling practice over three years, a COSCA validated diploma in counselling/psychotherapy and two years' post qualifying experience.
- You will require a satisfactory criminal record check from Disclosure Scotland to show that you are suitable for this type of work. Contact Disclosure Scotland for details on the type you would need.
You could work in advice centres, schools and colleges, counselling organisations, charities, GP practices and hospitals. You can also work on some telephone helplines. Jobs are advertised in the press, through Jobcentres and on the COSCA and BACP websites.
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What Does it Take?
You need to be:
- interested in people
- a good listener
- patient and tolerant
- supportive and responsive
- able to switch off from your client’s problems
- able to respect confidentiality
- able to use your initiative.
You need to have:
- an insight into your own attitudes and reactions
- a belief that your clients can make positive changes in their lives.
- At certain levels of membership with COSCA, you must complete a specified amount of continued professional development (CPD).
- You can train while working as a volunteer for a voluntary counselling agency, such as Relate or Cruse, which provides courses for its volunteers.
- You can do further short specialist courses for example in bereavement counselling.
- Throughout your working life as a counsellor you will have ongoing supervision from a colleague, to support you in your work.
- There is a great deal of voluntary counselling work and you might get valuable experience through this.
- You can then move on to further training and paid employment or self-employment.
- With experience, you may wish to become self-employed, either working from home on your own or with colleagues.
- As people become more aware of the benefits of counselling, the demand for counsellors is growing.
The following organisations may be able to provide further information.
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