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, £25,100 to £31,649 a year. Experienced counsellors may be on Band 6, £31,800 to £39,169 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.
Employers and clients look for a counsellor with 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. The course must include 100 hours of supervised placements to allow you to practice your skills.
Alternatively if you already have a degree you can study on a COSCA or BACP accredited postgraduate course.
In Scotland, Abertay University offers a Postgraduate Masters (MSc) in Counselling, three years part time and the University of Strathclyde offers the MSc Counselling and Psychotherapy full time. These are both BACP accredited.
The University of Aberdeen offers a PgDip in Person Centred Counselling and the University of Edinburgh offers a PgDip in Counselling, which are both 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 a COSCA validated diploma in counselling/psychotherapy with at least 400 hours of tutor/student contact and 100 hours supervised practice with clients. You must also have 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.