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How to become a Counsellor in Australia

Counsellors in Australia perform a crucial role in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of Australians.

Counselling is a rewarding profession for those who wish to help others tackle their emotional challenges and regain their health.

Counsellors are trained mental health professionals who utilise a variety of therapies, such as Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to assist people overcome their emotional challenges.

Counsellors work across a broad variety of settings, with diverse client groups. Counsellors commonly work in mental health, community and school settings. They assist clients with diverse issues such as depression, anxiety, loss and grief, domestic violence, addictions, trauma, couples and family, relationship challenges and more.

If you’re asking, “How do I become a Counsellor?”, this article has the answers – from what personal attributes make a good Counsellor, what qualifications you need, what you can earn, and more.

Why is Counselling growing so rapidly?

The counselling profession is one of the fastest growing mental health professions.

This rapid growth is primarily due to two factors – firstly, the high prevalence of mental ill-health in Australia; and secondly, a field force shortage of mental health professionals.

The statistics on mental ill-health in Australia paint a stark picture.

45.5%

of Australians

Almost half of the Australian population (45.5%) will experience a mental disorder in the lifetime.

1 in 5

Australians

One in five (20.0%) Australians aged 16- 85 years experienced mental disorders in the previous 12 months. This is equivalent to almost 3.2 million Australians.

This extreme level of need is exacerbated by a field force shortage. In some States, medical doctors report waiting lists of up to six (6) to nine (9) months to secure an appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist. And with a minimum six (6) year training pathway to become a psychologist, Counselling is seen by many as a better and more practical training and career option.


To help alleviate the mental health bottleneck, policy makers are increasingly expanding service options for Counsellors. Presently, members of the Australian Counselling Association (ACA) can deliver services through the National Disability and Insurance Scheme (NDIS), many Private Health Insurers (including Medibank, Bupa, AHM, Police Health Fund, Doctors Health Fund and more), State Workcover schemes (including NSW, Qld and SA), Employee Assistance Schemes (EAP’s), e-health partnerships, supporting tenders through Primary Health Networks (PHN’s) and more.

What qualification do you need to become a Counsellor in Australia?

To become a registered Counsellor in Australia, you need an appropriate Counselling qualification.

Mental health services in Australia are delivered to a stepped-care model, whereby treatment is applied according to client need. Under this continuum of care model, client need “steps up” from low/mild, to moderate, to severe/complex needs.

https://www.connecttowellbeing.org.au/stepped-care

Counselling is the only mental health profession that aligns practitioner competency (training and qualification) to client need, under the stepped-care model. This alignment between practitioner training and service delivery ensures clients receive the right level of care, by the right practitioner, at the right time, thereby preventing over-servicing and under-servicing of clients.

The largest industry association for Counsellors in Australia, the Australian Counselling Association (ACA), accepts counsellors into its membership with a Diploma of Counselling, Graduate Certificate or Graduate Diploma in Counselling, Bachelor of Counselling or Master of Counselling.

Under the stepped-care model, counsellors with a Diploma of Counselling typically work with clients requiring clinical support in the low/mild to moderate levels of the continuum. Counsellors with a Bachelor of Counselling or Master of Counselling work with clients requiring moderate to severe/complex needs.

What does a Counsellor do?

Counsellors work in employed or self-employed roles. They are a crucial workforce supporting the mental health of Australians.

With 33,000* Counsellors currently working in Australia, there are almost as many Counsellors as psychologists (36,000* psychologists), with the profession expected to grow to 37,800* by 2025.

Counsellors are also trained to support clients with interventions such as:

Stress management

Relaxation strategies

Breathing techniques

Anger management

Social skills training

Communication strategies

Sleep hygiene

Problem-solving skills

and much more.

As Counsellors are 77% female*, with an average age of 45-years*, they frequently come to the profession with substantial lived-experience. This life experience provides Counsellors with a deep empathic insight into the issues faced by their clients.

Counsellors are trained to utilise a range of evidence-based psychological therapies and interventions, such as Behaviour therapy, Cognitive behavioral therapy, Solution-focused brief therapy, Person-centered therapy, and more.

Counsellors can also specialise in a range of areas, such as:

Mental health

Case management

School counselling

Relationship counselling

Youth, adolescents and children

Trauma counselling

Addictions (including alcohol and other drugs, gambling, and more)

Grief and loss

and more.

How much do Counsellors earn in Australia?

According to the Australian government Job Outlook site, Counsellors on average earn $1,584* per week or $82,368 per annum.

Counsellors in entry level positions could expect to earn around $75,000 per annum, while those with more experience could expect to earn around $115,000 per annum.

The Counselling profession grew very strongly over the past 5-years and is expecting Strong Growth* over the next 5-years. There are currently 33,000* workers in the industry (compared to 36,000* psychologists), with 37,800* estimated by 2025.

Is Counselling a suitable career for me?

So how do you know if Counselling is an appropriate career for you?

Most Counsellors “feel” this answer rather than “think” it. Counsellors commonly feel a pull drawing them to the career. They are individuals that others come to for support. And they are naturally empathic, and good listeners.

Often, they have travelled their own journey – and have their own lived experience with challenges. This experience provides them with a unique perspective and capacity to assist others facing similar challenges.

Here are some signs that may indicate Counselling is a career for you:

Life Experience

You have lived experience and want to support others on their journey. Counsellors have often travelled a bumpy road. They’ve lived diverse experiences and survived challenges. They now want to support others who are going through a similar experience.

Empathic and caring

People come to you to seek your counsel and support. Counsellors are often individuals that others go to for support. They are naturally empathic and supportive, which makes them a safe harbour where others can open up and explore their feelings.

Compassionate

You care about others and their wellbeing. Counsellors foremostly care about the wellbeing of others. They are individuals who want to help. They enjoy assisting others and feel an emotional reward for their service supporting others.

Patient problem solver

You’re a patient problem solver. Whilst counselling is not about providing advice (it’s about empowering others to find their own solutions), counsellors are often good problem solvers. They can explore ideas from various angles and have healthy mental agility.

Introspective

You want to learn about yourself, and why you feel and do the things you do. The study of counselling is an exploration of the self – why we feel and act as we do. A commonly expressed benefit of becoming a counsellor is the enhanced self-understanding, and the improved mood and relationships that result.

Getting started on your Counselling journey

Most Counsellors come to the profession at a mature age, as a second (or third) career – so it’s never too late to start your journey to become a Counsellor.

If you don’t have an undergraduate degree, or are seeking an entirely flexible learning option, our Diploma of Counselling may be a good option. Not only will this course get you into the profession faster (employed or in private practice), it will also give you academic credit into further learning down the road.

If you want to jump straight into a Bachelor level qualification, our Bachelor of Counselling may be a good fit. It’s approved for FEE-HELP and is one the most popular Bachelor programs in Australia.

If you have an undergraduate degree (in any field) and want to transition to Counselling, you may want to consider our Master of Counselling. It’s also approved for FEE-HELP and is one the most popular Masters programs in the country.

References

*Source: Job Outlook Government website. https://joboutlook.gov.au/occupations/counsellors?occupationCode=2721

ABC news: Meet the Australians stuck waiting for mental healthcare as the pandemic takes its toll https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-09-18/australia-mentalhealth- wait-times-covid-pandemic/100457162

ABC news: Nine-month waiting list for psychologists in Queensland as doctors forced to 'pull favours' https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-05-14/gold-coastmental- health-services-psychologist/100133878

Counselling courses you may be interested in

Diploma of Counselling

Australia’s most popular industry accredited course leading to professional registration. Self-paced, cost-effective and flexible.

Diploma of Counselling Cover Image

Bachelor of Counselling

The ideal path for those seeking an undergraduate degree in Counselling. Receive up to a year credit for prior counselling studies and experience.

Bachelor of Counselling Cover Image

Master of Counselling

Australia’s most popular Master of Counselling program. The ideal path to registration for those with an undergraduate degree (in any field).

Master of Counselling Cover Image

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