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How to become a counsellor

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Start a rewarding career by following our guide to get you on the pathway to becoming a counsellor in Australia.

Counselling is a fulfilling career where professionals work with clients to make important progress in their mental and emotional health.

It’s a career where you will interact with new people daily and work with like-minded professionals passionate about helping people. There are currently over 30,000 counsellors working in Australia and this number is expected to grow by 14.2% in the next three years.

Over two in five Australians aged between 16-85 have experienced a mental disorder at some point in their life. The demand for mental health professionals is rising and if you’ve been considering a career in counselling, job security and prospects in the coming years look promising.

There are a few things to tick off the list before becoming a counsellor. Find out what is involved in becoming a qualified counselling professional and the steps to take to reach your career goals. 

What is a counsellor? 

Counsellors are trained professionals who work with individuals to navigate difficult situations that affect their emotional and mental wellbeing. Most counsellors work with clients for a short period of time and provide support to patients by talking about the troubles they are facing, such as grief, trauma, abuse, addiction, anxiety and depression. Counselling professionals establish strategies and techniques to help clients work through their concerns. 

The counselling profession is not regulated in Australia, meaning a person can call themself a counsellor and practice in the industry without experience or qualifications. In saying this, employers and clients tend to seek out counselling professionals with accreditation and formal qualifications in counselling. The qualifications you have can dictate where you work and the individuals you take on as clients, as counsellors with a higher education level can work with clients experiencing complex issues. 

What does a counsellor do?

Counsellors treat clients of all ages and commonly work with individuals, families and groups. The roles and responsibilities of a counsellor vary but most commonly they:

  • create a trusting space and build rapport to provide adequate support to clients
  • communicate with clients to evaluate their emotional and mental state 
  • help patients understand and process their concerns through methods such as cognitive behaviour therapy
  • provide relevant tools and information to individuals to create positive patterns and build skills to handle adversity
  • help clients access resources for further support 
  • develop rehabilitation plans 
  • document case notes to professional industry standards

6 steps to becoming a counsellor in Australia 

1. Consider if counselling is the right career path for you

Counselling is a meaningful career that has great potential to help people in mental or emotional distress. While you’ll likely find this is a rewarding career, it doesn’t mean you won’t have to deal with some heavy situations and conversations along the way. There are some soft skills that are valuable to have in the counselling profession to help you excel in your role. These include: 

  • empathy
  • open-mindedness
  • active listening
  • patience
  • compassion

Don’t fret if you’re not 100 per cent competent in these areas already. These are counselling skills that you can hone in on and actively practise throughout your studies and career. 

2. Study a Diploma of Counselling

Getting a Diploma of Counselling is a great option if you want to get a glimpse into the field. Although this does not lead to you becoming a qualified counsellor at this stage, you may have the option to work in entry-level counselling roles. 

3. Complete a Bachelor of Counselling

Completing a Bachelor of Counselling sets you on the path to a career as a counsellor. During your undergraduate course, you will learn practical hands-on skills and theoretical knowledge needed to succeed as a professional. 

4. Register for industry membership

The Australian Counselling Association (ACA) and the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) are the two main leading professional counselling associations in Australia. Membership is highly regarded in the counselling industry as it shows employers you are competent to practise alongside having relevant education and experience.

The ACA provides a code of ethics and practitioner standards for counsellors, advocates on behalf of professionals and creates employment opportunities for its members. ACA memberships are available at different levels based on your education level, qualifications and hours of professional or clinic supervision. 

The PACFA aims to promote professional excellence by giving its members access to services and resources such as a members-only job board, access to affordable insurance coverage, professional development opportunities, a code of ethics, advocacy for counselling professionals and a free ethics advice helpline. 

4. Study a postgraduate course

According to Labour Market Insights, the most common education level for qualified counsellors is postgraduate education. If you have already completed an undergraduate degree in an area related to health or social care and want to explore a career change in counselling, you may be eligible to apply for an ACA-accredited postgraduate counselling course to start your counselling career. If you’re a counsellor who is looking to fine-tune your skills and broaden your career prospects, either within counselling or a related industry, a postgraduate course can help take your career to the next level.  

Postgraduate counselling courses can be studied on campus or online. Online courses are a great option for busy people who want to study but also have to balance other important commitments. If you haven't previously studied counselling but have relevant education or industry experience, consider completing a graduate certificate or graduate diploma offered by universities such as Edith Cowan University (ECU) and University of Canberra (UC). 

A Master of Counselling is an accredited counselling course available to prospective students with a few years of relevant industry experience plus a relevant undergraduate degree, graduate certificate or graduate diploma.

The Graduate Diploma of Counselling from UC and the Master of Counselling from UC and ECU have an in-person placement unit that allows you to put your skills and knowledge into practice, network with professionals and attend clinical supervision. 

5. Kickstart your career in counselling

 Determining your strengths, the types of people you want to work with and the setting you want to work in is a good starting point for deciding what direction you want your career to go in. Completing a diploma or undergraduate degree in counselling helps you put your foot in the door for a career in counselling whereas gaining membership for the ACA or PACFA and completing a postgraduate counselling course opens the door to more opportunities across a range of industries as well as unique and complex jobs within the counselling industry. Having a long, fulfilling career in counselling involves being a lifelong learner. ACA members are required to complete 25 hours of professional development per year whereas PACFA members must complete 20 hours. Completing ongoing training and development is key to expanding your job prospects and opportunities.

Counselling jobs

Counsellors work in settings such as schools, universities, community health settings, private offices and non-profit organisations. 

Types of counsellors

Counsellors can specialise in a certain area of counselling or work with a wide range of people. Common types of counsellors include: 

  • grief counsellor
  • relationship counsellor
  • family counsellor
  • addiction counsellor
  • school counsellor
  • veteran counsellor
  • rehabilitation counsellor

How much do counsellors earn in Australia?

Counsellors earn an average of $90,000-$105,000 per year or $40-$45 per hour. Contributing factors to what a counsellor earns include years of experience, location, skill set, education level and qualifications.

Start a career in counselling

GlobalHealth Education connects students with some of Australia’s leading universities offering postgraduate counselling courses. Explore the courses below if you want to begin a counselling career or upskill in the field. 

Postgraduate counselling courses in Australia

The courses below are listed by qualification level, from lowest to highest.

Graduate Certificate in Counselling
Graduate Certificate in Counselling
This online qualification allows you to take the next step in your career as a counsellor, youth worker, community support worker, case worker, family counsellor, development officer and many other human service roles and provides a pathway to the Master of Counselling.
Graduate Certificate 8 months 4 Units
  • Counselling Theory and Approaches
  • Core Counselling Skills
  • Principles of Ethical Conduct in Counselling
  • Plus Electives
Graduate Certificate of Counselling
Graduate Certificate of Counselling
Delivered in a flexible online format, this can be a pathway to the Master of Counselling, which has been accredited by the Australian Counselling Association (ACA).
Graduate Certificate 6 months 3 Units
  • Foundations of Counselling Practice
  • Theories and Techniques in Counselling
  • The Role of the Counsellor
Graduate Diploma in Counselling
Graduate Diploma in Counselling
100% online and accredited, this course will expand your counselling skills and deepen your knowledge and theoretical understanding of trauma, loss and grief, and its impact on people's lives.
Graduate Diploma 16 months 8 Units
  • Counselling Theory and Approaches
  • Core Counselling Skills
  • Principles of Ethical Conduct in Counselling
  • Diversity Inclusion Respect
  • Introduction to Placement and Supervision
  • Counselling Skills in Practice
  • Loss, Grief and Trauma in Counselling
  • Placement A - Putting It All into Practice
Master of Counselling
Master of Counselling
100% online and accredited by the Australian Counselling Association (ACA), this course provides advanced, evidence-based counselling knowledge and skills for professionals.
Master's 24 months 12 Units
  • Foundations of counselling practice
  • Theories and techniques in counselling
  • The role of the counsellor
  • Ethics in counselling
  • Counselling in a digital world
  • Trauma informed counselling
  • Child and adolescent counselling
  • Counselling at the cultural interface: Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples and practice
  • Mental health counselling
  • Advanced theories and techniques in counselling
  • Plus Professional Placement
Master of Counselling
Master of Counselling
Online and accredited by the Australian Counselling Association (ACA), this course consists of research-led content that is delivered via supported and interactive teaching, while allowing you to undertake experiential learning.
Master's 24 months 12 Units
  • Counselling Theory and Approaches
  • Core Counselling Skills
  • Principles of Ethical Conduct in Counselling
  • Diversity Inclusion Respect
  • Introduction to Placement and Supervision
  • Counselling Skills in Practice
  • Loss, Grief and Trauma in Counselling
  • Understanding Mental Health
  • Next Level Counselling Skills
  • Creative Practices in Counselling
  • Placement A - Putting It All into Practice
  • Placement B - Masters Practicum

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There’s currently a high demand for counsellors in Australia. If you’re interested in helping people through life’s rough patches as a counsellor, here’s what you need to know.
Jackey Coyle
Updated on 19/09/2022