Should I Become a Counsellor or a Psychologist?
Are you a people-person, wishing you had a job that speaks to who you really are?
If that’s the case, your desk job probably isn’t cutting it. If you want to give back to your community, why not try working as a counsellor or a psychologist? A career in mental health care will truly help you to help others, making your daily routine all the more meaningful.
Working as a mental health professional is the perfect opportunity to give back to your community, and your community really needs you:
45% of Australians are estimated to experience a mental health disorder of some kind in their lifetime. Treating mental health disorders professionally is believed to be better at preventing relapses from occurring in the long term.
People are experiencing more mental health issues now than they ever have before, especially in the face of COVID-19. Australians need people like you to step in and help out. By becoming a counsellor or psychologist, you can help people at risk directly.
Now, what’s the difference between counselling and psychology? And how do you choose which career is right for you? This article has all the answers so you can compare counsellor and psychologist skill sets, annual salaries, daily responsibilities and more.
The role of a counsellor
Counsellors work with people one-on-one to manage their mental health. They help people set goals and develop coping methods to deal with any issues they’re experiencing.
As an industry, counselling in Australia has grown a lot over the last five years, and the anticipated growth is steady. An estimated 32,500 counselling positions will be needed by 2023.
Counselling careers suit kind, considerate people — if you’re sensitive to the needs of others and remain patient no matter what, you’ll make a great counsellor.
How they help
Counsellors help people in a whole range of different ways, depending on the individual needs of every client. Working at your old job, you were probably expected to treat every client like a customer, but in counselling, it’s the opposite — it’s your job to treat every client as a real, multi-faceted person.
Counsellors tend to work in specialised areas of expertise, targeting specific problem areas like:
- Marriage counselling
- Family counselling
- Mental health counselling
- Rehabilitation counselling
The area you specialise in depends on how you want to help; you can tailor your counselling career to match your skills and interests. For example, if you’re interested in helping people overcoming issues in their relationships, you could pursue couples counselling. Couples counsellors use emotionally-focused therapy in their practice, a method proven to be 75% effective in helping couples overcome their concerns.
If you’re an empathetic and considerate person, you’ll thrive in any counselling career. No matter which area of expertise you end up in, your primary responsibility remains the same: you’re there to help.
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Counselling duties and responsibilities
As a counsellor, you can expect your day-to-day calendar to be filled with tasks like:
- Delivering ongoing counselling sessions
- Maintaining client records and making case notes
- Participating in weekly team meetings
- Effectively engaging with clients face-to-face and via phone
- Offering overall guidance, support and advice
A big part of the job is maintaining your client’s expectations. Since each client has their own personal set of circumstances, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach in counselling.
It’s your responsibility to tailor your counselling methods to each client, which is exactly why this is such a unique career — every session is different. Whether you’re defining goals or suggesting new methods, you’re likely to learn something new every day.
Depending on the kind of lifestyle you’re looking for, there’s a lot of room to move into a counselling career. 49% of counsellors in Australia work full-time, with the other 51% working part-time. There’s a lot of opportunities to shift your workload depending on your needs.
of counsellors work part-time
There are certain skills that will help you along in a counselling career. These are a few stand-outs that all counsellors need to succeed:
- Software and technology skills
- Clear communication
- Regulatory knowledge
- Research skills
- Understanding of ethics
A solid understanding of ethics is especially important. In Australia, counsellors are required to meet the Code of Ethics and Practice in accordance with the Australian Counselling Association (ACA).
The role of a psychologist
Psychologists study human behaviour to better understand the way the mind works. Practicing psychologists use research-driven, evidence-based methods to help people living with mental health conditions.
Much like counselling, the psychology sector is also booming. Psychologists make up a large part of the Australian mental health workforce, with over 29,000 practitioners working in the industry.
Psychology careers suit logical thinkers — if you want to help others with evidence-based research, this industry will suit you.
How they help
Psychologists are a lot like counsellors; they help their clients in a range of different ways. The big difference is their methodology; counselling psychologists utilise psychotherapy. They work with research-based and evidence-driven methods to help people living with mental health issues.
When you think of a psychologist, you probably immediately think of a clinical psychologist. In clinical psychology, psychologists work with general registration, within public or private practice. When people experience issues with their mental health, they get a referral from a medical doctor or a clinician to see a clinical psychologist.
Like counselling, there are also specialised areas within psychology. A psychologist that specialises in a certain field typically has additional qualifications and work experience.
Areas of specialised psychology include:
- Forensic psychology
- Education and development psychology
- Education psychology
If you’re good with children, specialising in child therapy can be incredibly rewarding. Almost 10% of Australian children aged 6 to 7 show signs of social-emotional stress and mental illness; early intervention and treatment has proven to be the best way to reduce this distress.
Psychologist duties and responsibilities
If you love to learn and thrive in an academic environment, you’ll make a great psychologist. As a psychologist, your everyday life will be full of tasks like:
- Writing reports
- Completing research
- Taking part in session observations
- Planning treatment strategies like CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)
- Providing overall support
Similar to a counselling career, psychologists spend a lot of time maintaining the needs and expectations of their clients. The main difference in the daily responsibilities lies in the methodology; if you love to learn, you’ll be sure to learn a lot in this industry.
If you’re interested in psychology but need a little flexibility, you’re in luck — only 52% of psychologists and psychotherapists work full-time, so there’s a lot of opportunities to work part-time.
of psychologists work part-time
While psychology is a research-driven field, that doesn’t give psychologists the right to be heartless and cold, relying only on the evidence. They are still therapists, after all! Much like counsellors, psychologists also need to be caring and compassionate. They need a range of soft skills to be successful. And, since research is such a huge part of psychology, there are also some hard skills that are essential to the industry.
- Clear communication
- Critical thinking
- Analysis skills
- Research experience
- Software knowledge
- Understanding of ethics
As a practicing psychologist in Australia, you have to maintain ethical standards according to the General Principles and Code of Ethics set by the Australian Psychological Society (APS).
Entering these industries
While there are a lot of similarities between counselling and psychology, there is one thing that sets them apart. Practicing psychologists require formal training, which is not mandatory for counsellors. However, most counsellors still choose to complete formal coursework before entering the industry.
While counsellors aren’t required to complete study to work, most counsellors complete short-term counselling courses. This is not only because it’s beneficial to their expertise, but also because clients find counsellors with qualifications much more trustworthy and hireable.
Most counsellors complete a Graduate Diploma of Counselling, at minimum. To become a fully qualified counsellor in Australia, you have to complete an undergraduate degree like a Bachelor of Counselling or equivalent. From there, you can get registered with the ACA.
Since psychology is much more research-driven, the industry requires more coursework. Most psychologists have postgraduate degrees, Master’s degrees or doctoral degrees. In Australia, all psychologists are required to hold a general registration with the Psychology Board of Australia.
Still feeling undecided about which path you want to pursue? No need to stress. There’s a whole range of study options available for both counselling and psychology, from entry-level certificates to advanced programmes.
Studying is the perfect introduction to the mental health industry. By studying, you can determine which career path suits you best and narrow down your options before you take the leap.
A majority of coursework takes less than three years on a part-time basis. Coursework can even take less than two years, depending on the course you choose! Courses are also available online with entry-level prerequisites, so you don’t have to leave your current job to get started.
No matter which path you decide to follow, counselling and psychology are both incredibly rewarding industries. It’s about time you pursued a career that puts care and compassion above all else. Discover how you can become an everyday hero, and help people help themselves.
If you’re interested in pursuing counselling, check out this comprehensive guide on how to get into the field.
Becoming a Counsellor in Australia: Your One-Stop Guide
Discover a resource library that can take you from A to B on your journey to becoming a counsellor. From figuring out what specialisation to choose, to insights from professional counsellors, this guide has everything you need.
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