How to start a career in counselling

7th September 2020

Choosing a career in counselling gives you the opportunity to help people through difficult periods, and make a positive impact on their quality of life. Counsellors assist individuals, couples, or groups to discuss various issues that may be negatively affecting their ability to function on a day-to-day basis. They provide their clients with opportunities to air their problems and grievances in a professional but personal setting, and help them to overcome these.

People who work within counselling can choose general careers that involve dealing with everyday issues such as social work and life coaching. These professionals are trained to help navigate and support people through challenging and changing circumstances including divorce, physical and mental illnesses, and homelessness. In addition to these more generalised areas, there are also many options for specialisation within this field. Whatever your personal interests and experiences are, there is likely to be a corresponding career pathway within counselling.

What is the role of a counsellor?

In general, counsellors are responsible for guiding their clients through a variety of issues. These may include (but are not limited to) relationships, mental health, financial issues, and sexual identity. In addition to providing their clients with a sympathetic ear, they may need to give practical advice in regards to government regulations, medical resources, and legal responsibilities. They must have a working understanding of the types of facilities and assistance that are available to their clients, and help them to navigate the bureaucratic processes necessary for accessing these.

Many counsellors also choose to specialise in particular types of interpersonal relationships. The most general of these is perhaps the relationship counsellor, who is responsible for assisting any type of relationship including that of siblings, parents and their children, friends, and couples. Marriage counsellors are trained more specifically in romantic relationships, often providing a form of intervention when a married couple is having problems with communication or conflicting values and desires. There are also those who work specifically with young people, such as student counsellors and youth counsellors. These people are trained in issues that effect young people as they transition from children to adults, and may include navigating education systems and issues such as bullying and breakdowns in their familial relationships.

Working within rehabilitation is another popular area of specialisation within counselling. Substance abuse counsellors and rehabilitation counsellors both have skills relating to recovery from various difficult and life-altering circumstances. While a substance abuse counsellor focuses on overcoming the physiological and psychological effects of addiction to drugs and alcohol, a rehabilitation counsellor may be responsible for similar issues, as well as problems arising from disabilities, injuries, or poor health. Through discussions with individuals and their family and friends, they determine appropriate courses of action for a healthy recovery.

Why study counselling?

Many people study counselling because they are looking for a rewarding career that allows them to have a direct effect on the wellbeing of individuals, and give back to their community. Family counsellors and family dispute resolution practitioners, for example, work on improving base-level relationships within the family unit. These relationships often make up the basic support networks for an individual, and their function is often essential for the general mental health and livelihood of most people. This can then have far-reaching effects on their wider communities.

Each day as a counsellor is likely to look different, which means that counselling is an ever-changing and challenging career. While there are of course certain processes that must be learnt and engaged with often, each client’s needs will be different. As such, every session and plan for navigating issues will require a personalised response that differs from person to person. There is also a lot of flexibility in counselling. Not only can you choose different specialisations, you may also work in hugely varied contexts, from remote call centres to private practises. Travel may also be possible with this career; wherever there are people, there is a need for counsellors.

Those who love interacting with others and who have strong interpersonal and communication skills would be perfect for this profession. An interest in social welfare and helping others is also essential for this career choice.

Study and Career Pathways

To gain foundational skills within the field of counselling, students may like to begin with the Certificate II or Certificate III in Community Services. Both of these courses are generally completed within one year, and involve supervised work placements.

For more specialised understandings within this industry, students may like to enrol in a Certificate IV or Diploma. For example, the Certificate IV in Youth Work, Certificate IV in Alcohol and Other Drugs, and the Diploma of Mental Health will all build on student’s basic knowledge of counselling and teach them specific skills and strategies for their area of interest. Most of these courses can also be completed within a year and include practical training in work places.

Students who are looking for an even more in-depth understanding of counselling, or those who already work within this field and want to develop their skills and improve their career prospects, may like to consider a two-year degree such as the Graduate Diploma of Trauma-Informed Processwork Psychotherapy. This type of course combines extensive residential training with scientific understandings of neurobiological theory and skills that equip students to deal effectively with a variety of complex client issues.

There are a huge number of career pathways that you can choose within the field of counselling, from a general support worker who assists clients with daily tasks, to a highly trained psychotherapist with medical understandings in the treatment of mental illnesses. Wherever your interests lie, there is likely to be a rewarding pathway within the field of counselling for you.

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