Counsellors are concerned with people's mental wellbeing. They help people to find better ways to deal with issues in their lives such as relationship problems, drug addictions and low self-esteem. They may also help people with mild to moderate mental health conditions.
Scope of Work
Counselling work involves talking to clients or patients about issues or problems which they are finding difficult to deal with. Work may be either one-on-one or in groups. Sometimes counsellors offer services via telephone or online.
Counselling normally involves working with clients over a fixed number of sessions (usually 6 to 12) to help them find ways to overcome their problems. At the end of this period, follow-up sessions may be offered.
Counsellors assess the needs of new clients. They then spend most of their time talking to the clients using therapeutic interventions and a range of specific skills to enhance communication which are referred to as microskills.
The counsellor develops a treatment plan for the individual. Over the course of therapy, counsellors monitor an individual's progress and may refine the treatment plan.
Counsellors use different approaches to treatment from various theoretical frameworks.
Some counsellors specialise in particular areas of wellbeing e.g. child counselling, crisis management, addictions counselling.
What You Need to Learn
Assessment - distress levels, suicidal ideation , referral procedures
- Mental health - depression, anxiety, stress, substance use
- Child psychology - normal development, stage theories, problems of adolescence
- Family dynamics - nuclear & non-nuclear relationships, GLBTIQ relationships, cultural variations
- Psychological theory - anger, stress, grief, self-esteem issues, coping skills
- Communication skills - verbal, non-verbal, interviewing, educating, social awareness
- Counselling skills - attending, listening, confrontation, focusing, reflection, influencing
- Counselling theory - family systems therapy, behaviour therapy, CBT
- Legal & ethical issues - confidentiality, multicultural competence, informed consent, parental consent
- Health & safety - knowledge of OH&S procedures, crisis support contacts
- Writing skills - note taking, report writing, record keeping
- Planning skills - organising sessions, planning interventions, working out schedules
Starting a Career
There is no specific path to starting a career as a counsellor. Instead, becoming a counsellor really depends on your experience and knowledge, and whether it is something which appeals to you.
Some people have a natural leaning towards helping others. It may begin at a young age, e.g. being the one who your friends turn to for relationship advice, or it may be something you grow into as you gain experience in other work roles e.g. maybe your work colleagues choose to confide in you.
If counselling is your goal then there are things you can do to make it a reality:
- Gain experience in helping others e.g. volunteer for a telephone crisis service
- Do work for charities like Barnardoes, Save the Children, Lifeline, St John's Ambulance
- Take some foundation courses in counselling and related subjects
- Do some networking e.g. join some social media groups which share your interests
Progressing a Career
Ongoing training and learning is key to progressing a career in counselling. The scope of problems you may be consulted about is extremely broad and whilst general counselling skills will serve you well, there are many specialist areas which you could learn about to broaden your skill set and help with promotions.
For those who seek to work in private practice you are also going to need to compete against many other competent counsellors. This means you'll need to promote yourself well and ensure you keep up to date with relevant industry research and methods.
To advance your career:
- Read and research - be aware of counselling practices, trends and changes
- Diversify - gain experience in other niche areas of counselling e.g. child counselling, grief counselling, aged care
- Get involved in committees and organisations which represent the counselling industry
- Learn - take online courses, professional development courses & workshops
- Attend conferences where you can network and gain insights from others