How To Become a Counsellor: A Step-by-Step Guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 9 December 2022

Published 22 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

There are a variety of career options you may pursue that allow you to help individuals make improvements in their own lives. However, it's important to explore your options to help ensure you select the career that best aligns with your personality and goals. One potential career path that may empower you to help others is a counsellor. In this article, we discuss what a counsellor is and does, how to become a counsellor, the skills they need, how much they earn, and their regular work environments.

Related: What Is Counselling? Definition and Role of a Counsellor

What is a counsellor?

A counsellor is a professional who helps individuals better understand their experiences and provides them with resources to make positive changes in their lives. They may work with individuals of all ages, though most counsellors specialise in working with one specific age group. However, other counsellors may specialise in providing guidance in a certain speciality or treatment focus. Some examples of common specialities or treatment areas include:

  • Addiction

  • Delinquent behaviours

  • Disabilities

  • Marital issues

  • Mental health problems

Counsellors often see patients on an individual basis. However, some counsellors may host group sessions, such as support groups for individuals with shared characteristics or to meet with families of children in counselling. Other counsellors may see people in pairs, such as during marital counselling.

Related: What Is a Life Coach? (With Duties, Skills and Salary)

What does a counsellor do?

Counsellors meet with patients to build relationships with them and help their patients learn more about themselves as individuals. Counsellors often interview patients, asking open-ended questions that allow patients to share as much information as they would like. Based on the patient's answers, the counsellor assesses their experiences to look for an explanation or a potential cause.

Counsellors create customised treatment plans for their clients to implement. These programmes may include strategies or techniques for a patient to use to challenge their thought processes or method of approaching problems. The counsellor's goal is to empower their patient to pursue and achieve their own success. It's important to remember that counsellors may not prescribe medications to their patients, but they may recommend patients to see other medical professionals for additional care.

Related: How To Become an Art Therapist (With Skills and Career Guide)

What qualifications do you need to be a counsellor?

Becoming a counsellor involves earning a few qualifications. This career requires a minimum of a postgraduate degree as an educational qualification. There are some professional certifications that may help you secure a job and demonstrate your skills as a counsellor. Many counsellors choose to register themselves with the Singapore Association for Counselling (SAC).

How to become a counsellor or therapist

Consider these steps to pursue a career as a counsellor or therapist:

1. Complete your education

Becoming a counsellor or therapist requires pursuing undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. It's important for you to earn at least a postgraduate diploma in an area like counselling psychology or a similar field. When selecting your postgraduate programme, select a course recognised by the Singapore Association for Counselling (SAC) to help ensure you can become a registered counsellor.

Related: Diploma vs. Degree vs. Certificate: Key Differences

2. Gain experience

Gaining practical experience is an important aspect of completing your education. Most recognised programmes require you to complete at least 100 hours of practicum with face-to-face counselling and at least 10 hours of clinical supervision. Upon completing these hours, you may earn the designation of Provisional Clinical Member (PCM), allowing you to seek employment as a professional counsellor.

3. Earn a certification

As you begin to work as a counsellor, it's important to work towards earning your status as a registered counsellor with the SAC. Earning this designation requires you to complete at least 600 hours of face-to-face counselling and at least 60 hours of clinical supervision within no fewer than two years, but no more than three years. Maintaining your designation requires you to complete at least 400 hours of face-to-face counselling and 50 hours of continuing professional education courses every two years.

4. Determine your speciality

As you practise as a counsellor, it's important to find the niche that you enjoy working in the most. Explore various opportunities and zero in on the one you find most rewarding. Some examples of places where you may work as a counsellor include:

  • Children's homes

  • Community health centres

  • Daycare centres

  • Family service centres

  • Hospitals

  • Mental health facilities

  • Nursing homes

  • Private practices

  • Retirement homes

  • Schools

  • Senior community centres

  • Student care centres

5. Join a professional organisation

Seek opportunities to join a professional organisation, such as one for counsellors in general or one for your chosen speciality. This may provide you with important networking opportunities to connect with like-minded professionals and search for job openings. Actively participating in a professional organisation may also reinforce your commitment to professional development and demonstrate your abilities to others.

Related: Why Is Networking Important and How To Start Networking

6. Pursue additional learning opportunities

As a counsellor, it's important to challenge yourself to continue learning. Keep up to date with the latest psychology practices and regulations, especially through courses required to maintain your SAC designation. You may also consider pursuing a higher degree to earn a doctorate, which may provide you with additional career opportunities.

Related: Undergraduate vs. Graduate Degree Courses: Key Differences

Counsellor skills

Working as a counsellor requires a combination of soft skills and hard skills. Soft skills are the skills related to your personal characteristics and are reflected through your work ethic and how you interact with others. Hard skills, however, are technical skills specifically related to your ability to do your job-related tasks.

Read more: Counsellor Skills: Definition, Examples and a How-to Guide

Some examples of important skills for a counsellor to develop include:

Active listening

Active listening, which is a soft skill, refers to your ability to listen to a speaker with complete focus. This skill allows you to comprehend, understand, and remember the information a speaker shares with you, allowing you to respond thoughtfully and carefully. Using active listening helps ensure you treat your patients properly.

Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: Definitions and Examples

Clinical skills

Clinical skills are technical skills related to the provision of patient care. As a counsellor, it's essential for you to be able to diagnose your patient correctly based on your conversations. Upon diagnosing your patient, you also need to develop and implement the appropriate treatment plan.

Related: Clinical Social Work Skills: Definition and Examples

Communication skills

Communication skills, which include both written and verbal skills, refer to your ability to share, receive, and process information. Strong verbal communication skills are essential to ensure you can have productive conversations with your patients. Excellent written communication skills are important to help you maintain accurate records of your sessions and recommended treatment plans for clients.

Related: How To Improve Communication Skills (With Definition and Examples)

Critical thinking skills

Critical thinking skills relate to the ability to analyse and interpret situations. These skills allow you to draw logical conclusions from your understanding of situations. Critical thinking skills are essential as a counsellor to help you process what your patients tell you so you may best identify the potential cause of their experiences.

Related: 9 Essential Critical Thinking Skills and How To Develop Them

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence, which is an interpersonal skill, helps you better understand your own emotions and the emotions of others. It requires empathy and understanding, and it's essential for a counsellor. Strong emotional intelligence helps you better understand the viewpoints of others and successfully build strong, productive relationships with your patients.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definition and Examples

Teamwork skills

Teamwork skills are soft skills related to your ability to collaborate and work with other people. While counsellors typically work individually, it's important for them to be able to successfully work with others, especially when developing treatment plans. Counsellors may need to confer with other professionals to create an effective plan and monitor its success.

Read more: Teamwork Skills: Definition and Examples

Counsellor salary

The national average salary for a counsellor is $62,083 per year, and the national average salary for a therapist is $41,594 per year. However, it's important to remember exact salaries may vary. For example, factors like your qualifications, experience, employer or location may affect how much you earn.

Counsellor work environment

Counsellors may work in a variety of environments based on their chosen speciality. Most have full-time schedules, working around 40 hours per week. However, the specific hours or days they work may vary.

For example, a counsellor working at a private practice may work Monday through Friday during standard business hours. Alternatively, a counsellor working at a mental health facility or similar facility may work evenings or overnight, and their schedule may require them to work weekends or holidays. However, there are some exceptions, as some counsellors working in private practices may elect to offer evening hours to accommodate their patients' needs.

Related: What Is a Good Work Environment? (Plus Other FAQs)

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article is affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate’s experience, academic background and location.

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