Counselling offers a rewarding and fulfilling career path for many people. Training as a counsellor has dozens of advantages, but it also presents some challenges.
How to become a counsellor
Firstly, you should be aware that licensed counsellors have to complete several years of training. You will need to invest heavily in your education and earn a bachelor’s degree and a masters in counselling before you can apply for a counselling license. The role of a counsellor is also demanding and stressful at times. You may have to work unsociable hours and support people through extremely difficult and traumatic situations. Not everyone has the skills to become an effective counsellor. Training as a counsellor is a huge commitment, so you must check that you are cut out for the role beforehand. On that note, here are 10 tips to become a great counsellor.
1. Understand why people need counselling
To be effective, counsellors should have a clear understanding of why people need counselling. Counsellors should also have a solid appreciation of the benefits that counselling can have on people and society as a whole. Everyone has to face emotional difficulties from time to time and people seek counselling services for a wide variety of reasons. Here are some of the key reasons why people need counselling:
- Many people seek counselling because they are suffering from mental health issues such as depression or anxiety disorders. A counsellor can help a person overcome mental health problems and go on to live a happier and more fulfilled life.
- People can visit a substance abuse counsellor to get support if they are dealing with addictions or other behavioural issues. Substance abuse counsellors are mental health specialists who have earned a masters in counselling before gaining licensure.
- Counsellors can provide valuable support to families and couples who are experiencing relationship difficulties. A counsellor can strengthen family bonds and help to create a healthier and happier family unit.
- Students can approach their school counsellor for advice on matters relating to their academic performance and personal development. School counsellors typically complete a masters in counselling and specialize in career or education counselling.
- Counselling services can also assist people with a variety of physical and mental disabilities. The goal of a rehabilitation counsellor is to help people deal with disabilities effectively and lead safe, happy, and independent lives.
- People often seek counselling to help them cope with traumatic life events such as the loss of a loved one, abuse, or redundancy.
Understanding the reasons why people seek counselling can help counsellors become more effective. Counsellors play an important role in society and perform meaningful work that has a significant impact on others. If you are thinking about pursuing a career in counselling, then do sufficient research to gain a deep understanding of the role and what will be involved.
2. Explore different qualification routes
Earning the qualifications to become a licensed counselor takes time and financial investment. Generally speaking, you will need to complete a bachelor’s in counselling followed by a masters in counselling. Earning these qualifications will usually take a minimum of five years. However, this can be significantly longer if you choose to study part-time or complete a placement year on your masters in counselling program. Completing a counselling qualification is demanding and you need to be prepared to work hard and invest time and money into your education. With that in mind, you must choose the right course and have a good understanding of what will be involved. Take the time to review the program specification in detail and pick a bachelor’s degree and masters in counselling that suit your schedule and study preferences. According to advice on counselor-license.com, you should take the following into account when choosing a counselling program: “class size, school reputation, clinical components and internships, and your learning style.” You must also make sure that the course you choose has been accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
3. Consider distance learning
Certain people are unable to complete the traditional route to qualification i.e. attend a campus-based bachelor’s degree followed by a masters in counselling program. Dedicating at least five years of full-time study may be impossible for someone who has children or needs to work to pay a mortgage, for example. Fortunately, counselling qualifications have become a lot more accessible. Modern technology has made it possible for students to earn a wide range of certifications, including a masters in counselling, via distance learning. This means you can fit learning around your existing schedule and study at your own pace from anywhere with a stable internet connection. Studying for a bachelor’s or a masters in counselling qualification online has loads of potential benefits, but it is a costly investment. To be successful at distance learning, you must be extremely organized and efficient with your time. If you decide to study for a qualification like a masters in counselling online, then make sure that you create a productive study environment and minimize potential distractions.
4. Apply for internships early
Gaining relevant industry experience is crucial if you want to become an effective counselor. Internships will broaden your knowledge and teach you valuable counselling skills outside of the classroom. Completing internships will also help you decide which counselling specialization you will choose when you enrol in a masters in counselling. Besides these fantastic benefits, you will also have the opportunity to build meaningful connections with professionals in the counselling sector. This is likely to prove extremely beneficial when you start applying for counselling roles.
Don’t wait until your masters in counselling to build your clinical experience. You should be proactive when it comes to work experience and start searching for internships and placements at the earliest opportunity. School holidays can be the ideal time to complete placements, so take advantage of them to build your work experience. If you’re struggling to find a formal internship, then try applying for volunteer positions. Many counselling facilities accept volunteers and actively look for support from masters in counselling students. You can try approaching the following places to enquire about counselling work experience – schools, colleges, prisons, mental health facilities, treatment centres, and private clinics. When you enrol in a masters in counselling, you will likely have to complete a specific number of clinical hours. Keep in mind that the best placements tend to get filled months in advance, so start researching and making applications early in the term. Experts at Indeed state that you can get the most out of internships by setting clear goals for the placement, actively seeking opportunities to grow, and keeping in touch with connections once your placement is finished.
When you are in the placement process make sure to agree clearcut key performance indicators so you know exactly what you’ll achieve.
5. Improve your micro-skills
Experts recommend that counsellors should possess five key micro-skills or qualities. These skills help counsellors develop trusting relationships with their clients and make their counselling sessions more effective. Enhancing your micro-skills can help you become a more successful and productive counsel. These are the five essential micro-skills of counsellors, according to HealthGrad.com:
- Reflections of meaning
6. Commit to continuous learning
A great counselor should be committed to continuous learning and want to become a more knowledgeable counselor. You will learn a variety of advanced skills while studying for a masters in counselling that you can then apply in clinical practice. However, your learning shouldn’t stop there. Counsellors should constantly seek to update their knowledge and expertise by reading literature, attending seminars, or completing additional courses and certifications. Joining a counselling organization can be an excellent way to stay up to date with the latest industry developments and enhance your counselling capabilities. Some of the best known counseling organizations to consider joining include the American Counseling Association (ACA), the American College Counseling Association (ACCA), and the American Academy of Grief Counseling (AAGC). Professional organizations offer the chance to get the most out of your professional development and gain new skills and techniques that will benefit both you and your clients.
7. Build your professional network
Networking is an excellent way to build relationships with other counselling professionals, seek out new job opportunities, and improve your skills and expertise. Don’t wait until you are studying for a masters in counselling or qualified to grow your professional network. You should start building your network at the earliest opportunity, ideally before you enrol in a masters in counselling. As mentioned above, joining professional counselling organizations can be an excellent way to connect with people in the industry and share ideas and methods. You can also build your professional network by attending conferences and connecting with people on social media platforms like LinkedIn.
8. Get to know your clients
Counsellors work closely with clients and support them through traumatic life events and difficulties. For counselling sessions to be effective, counsellors must develop trust with their clients and build strong and meaningful relationships. While studying for a masters in counselling, you will be taught essential communication skills such as effective listening and dealing with confrontation. However, you must go the extra mile to get to know your clients and connect with them on a personal level. Effective counsellors have an empathic attitude and know how to make people open up and share their feelings.
9. Choose the right specialism
The majority of counsellors decide to specialize in a particular area of counselling. Choosing a specialism will allow you to focus on the area of counselling that you find most interesting and become an expert in that field. In most cases, counsellors pick a specialism when they are studying for a masters in counselling. The most popular counselling specializations include educational counselling, mental health counselling, family counselling, and grief counselling. The specialism you choose for your masters in counselling will have a significant impact on your career and responsibilities. With that in mind, you must explore the various fields of counselling carefully and choose the field that is best matched to your interests and skills.
10. Remember to take care of yourself
Counselling is challenging work and you will invest a considerable amount of time supporting others. However, you must remember to take care of yourself and make your health and wellbeing a priority. Counsellors are at risk of experiencing feelings of stress, exhaustion, and burnout. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to avoid counsellor burnout and strike a healthy balance between your professional and family life. Firstly, you should create distinct boundaries and try to maintain a separation between your work and home life. For instance, avoid bringing work home with you and responding to work emails or calls in the evenings. Remember that family is important and you should dedicate a few evenings a week to spending quality time with family and friends.
You should also find relaxing outlets to relieve work-related stress. For example, while studying for a masters in counselling, make sure that you take adequate study breaks to relax and recharge your mind. When you start working as a counsellor, make sure that you take some time for yourself to relax and do things that you enjoy outside of work. This could involve watching movies, reading, socializing with friends, cooking, and so on. Achieving a healthy work-life balance will ensure that you are healthy, happy, and prepared to face the demands of professional counselling.
Qualifying as a counselor is a long journey and you will have to work hard to become a great counselor. Counselling is a rewarding and challenging job that can provide a highly satisfying career for anyone with the skills and determination to succeed. A great counsellor is constantly seeking new ways to update their knowledge and improve their counselling skills. You must make professional development a priority and commit to continuous learning once you have earned a masters in counselling and been granted licensure. Apply the above tips to develop your counselling skills and become the best counselor possible.