How to Become a Relationship Counsellor

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Would you like to help couples work through their issues, heal old wounds and put an end to conflict? Relationship Counsellors help couples communicate more effectively so that they can reach conclusions about their relationship and take positive steps forward.

What do they do?

couple hugging

Relationships matter and the quality of our closest relationships can have a significant impact on how we feel about ourselves, how we choose to live our lives and how we treat those around us. Relationship Counsellors offer couples a safe non-judgemental environment to communicate with one another, and identify any underlying issues that may be causing them to argue, or feel disconnected.

A Relationship Counsellor won’t offer couples advice, but they will listen, encourage partners to listen to each other, and ask questions that will help couples to explore their feelings further. Whilst the aim of the counselling is usually to help couples get back on track, sometimes it can also bring about the end of a relationship if one or both people in a pairing discover that they would actually be better off apart.

Couples seek counselling to work through a number of different problems, such as:

  • Communication issues
  • Infidelity
  • Trust Issues
  • Sexual issues
  • Issues within the family e.g. trouble accepting that one partner has a child from another relationship.
  • Financial issues

Even if a Relationship Counsellor has strong opinions about how one or both of the people on the couple are behaving, they cannot express these, or side with either party. Instead, they must support and facilitate a couple’s communication, whilst remaining neutral.

During couple’s counselling sessions, a Relationship Counsellor might:

  • Encourage both people in a couple to talk to one another openly about how they are feeling.
  • Listen to and empathise with couples in an unbiased manner.
  • Build trusting relationships so couples feel they have a safe place to open up.
  • Steer the direction of conversation between partners – making sure that it’s as productive as possible, rather than just an excuse to have another argument.
  • Agree an action plan with a couple during the first session – to determine realistic goals for what they want to achieve, both individually and as a partnership.
  • Help couples to better understand their feelings and patterns of behaviour, so they can work out how it may be affecting their relationship.
  • Support couples, both as individuals and as a pair, in making positive decisions going forward.
  • Refer couples to other sources of help, where necessary.
  • Liaise with other professionals such as GPs, hospital staff and community mental health teams when appropriate – always respecting patient confidentiality.
  • Keep records of counselling sessions and couples’ progress.
  • Suggest helpful tools and coping strategies that couples can use outside of counselling sessions.

Most Relationship Counsellors work with clients face-to-face, but sometimes there are opportunities to counsel couples online or over the phone. Especially in light of the Coronavirus pandemic where most sessions are currently being conducted remotely.

What skills do I need?

The right person will:

  • Have excellent communication skills.
  • Be receptive to new ideas and prepared to commit to training – it is a skilled job.
  • 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 remain unbiased/neutral.
  • 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. 
  • Be self-aware, mature and stable.

Counselling can be an incredibly rewarding career path, but trying not to get caught up in others’ circumstances can be a challenge (especially if couples are in a real state of conflict), so having 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?

holding hands
  • Helping couples work through their problems and work towards a more positive future – either together or apart.
  • Following couples on their journey of emotional exploration from start to finish. It can be very rewarding seeing the progress that they make and how much happier they can become.
  • Flexible hours – very often you can work from your own home if you have suitable space.

“It’s a privilege to work in a field where it feels like you can make a difference to an important aspect of people’s lives.”

Monica Elba – former Lawyer who retrained as a Couple Counsellor

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, or a couple is struggling to stop arguing and start communicating effectively. However, it is usually a requirement that Counsellors have counselling themselves, to help them deal with everything they’re exposed to.
  • 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 their issues. You may also have to accept that some couples just aren’t meant to be together, which can be tough when they initially come to you, with the hope that they can fix their relationship.
  • Training is extremely stimulating but occasionally intellectually and mentally demanding. It takes around 3 and a half years from start to finish, though it can be completed flexibly around work. You’ll need to commit financially and emotionally.

How much will I earn?

This in a way is up to you.

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.
Rates are normally expressed as hourly charges, so in London, a typical price for an hour is between £100 and £140 per session.

Costs and overheads are generally low, especially if you are using your own premises.

Some local authorities and organisations like Relate also employ relationship counsellors. Salaries there vary from a newly qualified employee at around £20,000 per year up to £45,000 for more senior roles.

How do I get started

There is no set route to becoming a Relationship Counsellor, however you will certainly need to undertake some practical and theoretical training before applying for your first role, or setting up your own counselling practice.

Tavistock Relationships offer world-renowned courses and clinical training to people who are looking to train as Relationship Counsellors. These run over several weeks and are specifically designed to give people with little or no clinical experience – and from a wide range of professional backgrounds – greater insight into what it’s like to be a Relationship Counsellor. The courses introduce a range of couple psychotherapy theories – with seminars, role plays and workshops on changing trends in family and intimate relationships, the impact of children on couples, divorce, serial marriages, bereavement and step-families.

Their highly respected Foundation Certificate in Couple Counselling and Psychotherapy is currently accepting applications from candidates up until 19 November 2020 for study running from January to May 2021.

Successful completion of the course will allow you to apply for a place on a Tavistock Relationship Master’s Programme, such as the PGDip/MA: Couple and Individual Counselling/Psychotherapy – a three year course, which will consist mainly of clinical training, and enable you to become a fully qualified Relationship Counsellor.

After this has been completed, the organisation very often offers full time jobs as a couple therapist for qualified trainees.

If you’re interested in finding out more about becoming a relationship counsellor then why not sign up to their free, no obligation virtual open evening events on Wednesday 4 November 2020 and Thursday 12 November 2020 to find out more. Places are limited so book quickly to avoid disappointment.

Or if you’re looking to hear from someone who has transitioned into a career as a relationship counsellor in their 50s, you can read Heidi’s story about retraining from an Education Officer to a Relationship Counsellor at 51.

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