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How to become a counsellor

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

By Courtney Edwards Published 09/05/2023

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 will be able 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 cover, professional development opportunities, 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.

Georgina Akers, the Master of Counselling Course Coordinator at Edith Cowan University, believes postgraduate counselling education holds immense value in shaping highly skilled and competent professionals in the counselling field. 

"Postgraduate counselling courses play a pivotal role in equipping individuals with the necessary knowledge, skills and competencies to thrive in the counselling industry and meet the complex needs of clients. ECU's Master of Counselling (accredited online) course offers a unique opportunity for individuals to enter the profession or upskill in a flexible and accessible manner, ensuring they are prepared to make a meaningful impact on the lives of others," says Georgina . 

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. 

Speak to a Student Enrolment Advisor about how GlobalHealth Education can put you in contact with a Placement Specialist who will source a placement for you during your studies. 

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 between $80,000 - $100,000 per year or between $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. If you want to begin a counselling career or upskill in the field, speak to a Student Enrolment Advisor today about your options.

Study a counselling course with one of GlobalHealth Education’s partner universities 


Course name


Course length

Institution location

Study mode

Find out more

Edith Cowan University

Graduate Certificate of Counselling

3 units

6 months part time




University on Canberra

Graduate Certificate of Counselling

4 units

8 months part time




University on Canberra

Graduate Diploma in Counselling

8 units

16 months part time




Edith Cowan University

Master of Counselling

12 units

24 months part time




University on Canberra

Master of Counselling
12 units
24 months part time