How to Become a Counsellor in Australia
Counselling is suited to people who want to support the mental health and wellbeing of others and want to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Passionate and empathetic counsellors feel rewarded when they see clients tackle challenges in their lives. The profession is much-needed, and offers strong, well-paying, and flexible employment prospects.
Here’s what you need to know about becoming a counsellor, from what skills you need, what to study, and what you can expect from the industry.
What it takes to become a counsellor in Australia
Here are the key steps to becoming a qualified counsellor:
Considering whether the job is for you
Nobody can be a perfect counsellor without some experience and training, but it’s worth thinking about whether the job appeals to you, and builds on your natural talents and temperament.
Role and responsibilities
Services offered by counsellors tend to be time-limited to a specific number of weeks or sessions. Counsellors encourage clients to draw and build on their own insights and skills to address problems in their lives such as grief, making difficult transitions (such as a divorce or the birth of a new baby), relationship or career issues, poor self-esteem, and more.
Counsellors can have a range of different specialisations such as:
According to Job Outlook, full-time counsellors make on average $1,584 per week, which is a little over the average national wage. Average earnings grow over time as you gain more experience. There is very strong expected future jobs growth in the industry as more funding is invested into supporting the population’s mental health. Counselling is also a good profession for people looking to maintain work/life balance – 55% of counsellors work part-time.
Counsellors require certain skills and traits to thrive in a challenging environment, such as:
Empathy, nonjudgement, and compassion.
Caring about your clients, understanding their point of view, and allowing them to share whatever is on their mind without fear are key ways counsellors meaningfully relate to clients and build trust and rapport.
Counsellors need to be clear, sensitive communicators who build relationships. It’s important to choose your words carefully, especially when working with vulnerable populations. Strong communication also involves nonverbal communication skills, such as positive body language and having a calm, professional tone.
Patience and tenacity.
Sometimes clients require a long time to make positive changes in their life. Counsellors need to keep supporting them, and not let frustration or burn out impact on the relationship.
Although counsellors need to be empathetic and draw on their own life experience, they also need to maintain professional boundaries so they’re not sharing excessive information about themselves with clients, or taking their work home with them at the end of the day. They’ll have a self-care practice and will be prepared to ask others – such as a supervisor – for advice, or to debrief on difficult sessions. They’re also committed to upholding the legal and ethical responsibilities of a counsellor, ensuring their conduct is always appropriate and constructive.
Getting relevant qualifications
In Australia, counselling is not a regulated profession. This means that there are no particular qualifications or accreditations required to be a counsellor, although some states (including NSW, Vic, QLD and SA) do require that counsellors abide by a code of practice.
That said, getting a formal qualification is an important step towards becoming a professional counsellor, and showing prospective clients and employers that you understand what the job entails, and how to do it effectively and ethically. Courses will also give you practical experience while you’re still learning.
There are many counselling courses available.
For those looking to explore counselling as a career option, short courses and certificate courses are a good way to test if counselling is right for you.
At a minimum, a one-year Diploma of Counselling (CHC51015) at a TAFE or other vocational provider is required for professional accreditation and to start your own accredited counselling practice. However, many advertised counselling jobs require a three-year undergraduate degree such as a Bachelor of Counselling, or similar studies in community services with a counselling major. Postgraduate qualifications such as a graduate diploma or a masters degree are available for those with existing qualifications.
Ongoing professional development is also recommended throughout your career.
Getting professional accreditation
As counselling is unregulated, you don’t technically need professional accreditation to practice. However, it’s a good idea to become a member of a professional group such as the Australian Counselling Association (ACA) or the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) which accredits counsellors and psychotherapists.
Accreditation is well-regarded in the field. It will improve your access to jobs, affordable professional insurance, and further education and training.
Starting the job
Once you’re trained and accredited, you can seek employment opportunities from a diverse array of organisations that employ counsellors, such as:
Many counsellors also work in private practice, either on their own or as part of a practice team. Either way, counsellors working in private practice are self-employed and offer services to members of the general public.
Counselling is an important profession in supporting Australia’s wellbeing. It also provides well-paying, flexible job opportunities, with plenty of existing and expected future demand for counsellors through a diverse range of settings. It’s a great career option for those who love the idea of empowering people to make positive changes in their own lives.
How to Become a Counsellor in Australia
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