How to Become a Counsellor (Individual)

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Are you empathetic and trustworthy? Do you enjoy listening to others? By becoming a Counsellor, you could offer people the chance to explore their feelings in a safe, non-judgemental environment on a one-to-one basis.

What do they do?

Counsellors offer people a safe, non-judgemental and confidential environment to work through any issues that they might have. They won’t give advice; but will actively listen, ask questions which can help clients explore their feelings, and offer empathy.

Some people come to counselling with a clear idea about what they want to talk about, for example, a particularly traumatic event, or stress at work. Other people may come to counselling to work through a period of depression, or because they want to explore a general feeling that something in their lives isn’t quite right. Counselling can help people come to terms with their feelings and consider alternative ways of doing things so that they can make positive changes to their lives.

The number of counselling sessions a client has may very, but will typically take place over 6-12 sessions – although sometimes longer depending on what the client needs.

A Counsellor’s responsibilities typically include:

  • Encouraging clients to talk about issues they may struggle to share with others.
  • Listening and empathising with clients in an unbiased manner.
  • Building trusting relationships with clients so that they feel they have a safe place to open up.
  • Agreeing an action plan with clients in the first session – to determine realistic goals for what they want to achieve.
  • Helping clients better understand their feelings and patterns of behaviour.
  • Supporting clients in making positive decisions going forward.
  • Referring clients to other sources of help, where necessary.
  • Liaising with other professionals such as GPs, hospital staff and community mental health teams when appropriate – always respecting patient confidentiality.
  • Keeping records of counselling sessions and client progress.
  • Suggesting coping strategies that clients can use outside of counselling sessions.

Most Counsellors work with clients face-to-face, but sometimes there are opportunities to counsel people online or over the phone.


What skills do I need?

The right person will:

  • Have excellent communication skills.
  • Be able to demonstrate patience and understanding.
  • Be reliable and trustworthy.
  • Be able to exercise discretion and respect patient confidentiality.
  • Have a warm and approachable nature.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Be able to keep their own personal issues separate from their relationship with the client.
  • Look after themselves both mentally and physically, to prevent clients’ issues from becoming an unhealthy burden.
  • Be non-judgemental and empathetic. 

Counselling can be an incredibly rewarding career path, but trying not to get caught up in others’ circumstances can be a challenge, so having extra life experience under your belt can be a real bonus. Experienced individuals who have lived through life’s ups and downs, can often find it easier to empathise with others who are going through similar circumstances.

What will I love about the job?

difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations
  • Helping clients work through their problems and work towards a more positive future.
  • Following clients on their journey of emotional exploration from start to finish. It can be very rewarding seeing the progress that they make.

What are the challenges?

  • Listening to other people’s problems every day can be challenging – especially if the things they want to discuss are particularly harrowing. However, it is usually a requirement that Counsellors have counselling themselves, to help them deal with everything they hear.
  • Counselling isn’t for everyone and, whilst you will want to help all your clients feel better, sometimes you have to accept that it won’t be possible to solve all your patients’ issues.

How much will I earn?

As a newly qualified Counsellor, you could earn anywhere between £20,000 and £26,000 – although starting salaries do vary considerably. Experienced Counsellors may earn between £30,000 and £40,000, or potentially more if you would prefer to work in a specialist counselling role e.g. relationship counselling or working with people with eating disorders or addiction.

If you decide to work in a private practice, you could earn £40-£80 for each 50-minute counselling session, depending on the area you work in and what the needs of the client are.

Are there opportunities to progress?

Some Counsellors decide to specialise and develop expertise in specific areas, such as:

  • Bereavement
  • Addiction
  • Eating Disorders
  • Divorce or relationship counselling
  • Anxiety

How do I get started?

There are no set standards for training to become a Counsellor, but the The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) do recommend that you complete a three-stage Diploma course (lasting three years), which will give you plenty of opportunities to practice your counselling skills in real-life situations and get feedback from supervisors and tutors.

The three stages are:

Stage 1 – Introduction to Counselling – a course which introduces you to the basics of counselling to help you decide whether it’s for you before you fully commit. It usually takes eight to twelve weeks and is run by adult education centres or local colleges.

Stage 2 – Certificate in Counselling – a course designed to help you develop your counselling skills and give you a deeper understanding of counselling theories, ethics and self-awareness. It’s usually run by adult education colleges or local colleges and is run on a part-time basis for a year.

For these stages, it’s best to check with your local colleges, universities and adult education centres to see which courses are running, when and what the associated costs are.

For the final stage….

Stage 3 – Core Practitioner Training – stage three of the process involves completing a minimum level of a diploma in counselling or psychotherapy in order to become fully qualified. BACP tends to offer Level 5 or Advanced Level diplomas (lasting at least one year full-time or two years part-time) which can be taken after completing some certificate-level training. 

BACP have a list of accredited diplomas  which you can view here:

Or get started with a distance-learning course…

If you aren’t sure that you want to commit to the full three-stage route above, then you can still acquire some of the basic skills and knowledge needed to become a Counsellor by taking a distance-learning course at a pace that suits you. Oxbridge Home Learning offer a Level 2 NCFE Cache Certificate course, which is accredited by the ACCPH (Accredited Counsellors, Coaches, Psychotherapists and Hypnotherapists). 

Completing this 120-hour online program will allow you to gain insight into the nature of counselling work and the skills involved. From here, if you decide that a career in counselling is right for you, you can progress to a Level 3 distance-learning course, before registering with a counselling association and gaining some practical experience.

Have you recently changed career? Or are you looking to do something different? We’d love to hear from you at [email protected].


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