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How to become a counsellor in Australia

By Ana Isabel Alonsagay

For the naturally compassionate among us, counselling may just be the ideal career fit. With the opportunity to help people through their socio-emotional issues, a counsellor’s role is as rewarding to the worker as it is to society. Those looking to enter the industry have quite a promising outlook, with bright employment prospects on the horizon.

What does a counsellor do? 

Often found in school or healthcare settings, counsellors help people define and work through their emotional, social, and educational difficulties. Various therapeutic activities may be implemented, such as those involving cognitive behaviour or communication. 

As such, a counselling job is well-suited for those with excellent interpersonal skills – including the ability to actively listen, empathise, collaborate, and tackle problems with patience and understanding. Providing strong emotional support is just one aspect of the job, however; counsellors are still required to pursue methodical, logical, and objective tactics to properly analyse the situations at hand, free of bias. 

What qualification do you need to become a counsellor? 

Counsellors typically need a bachelor's degree in counselling, psychology, social work or related field. However, if you want to gain some entry-level work in the field, you can study the CHC51015 - Diploma of Counselling with Upskilled.

This course is delivered online and can equip you with the skills and knowledge needed to work with clients who need further support when experiencing issues with trauma or a crisis. You'll also have the opportunity to gain job-ready skills where you can provide emotional support with empathy, understanding and compassion.

How much do counsellors earn in Australia? 

As of 2021, the current average salary for a counsellor is $94,478 per year, according to Entry-level workers have a starting salary at $84,371 while more experienced workers can earn up to $115,278 per year. 

Is counselling a good career in Australia?

If you're a naturally empathetic individual who has the desire in helping people work through their issues affecting their social, family and work life, then a career in counselling may be a meaningful career for you. Counsellors need to also be prepared for situations where complex-problem solving is required, so being level-headed and patient are respected attributes to have in the field.

Below are some signs that may indicate whether a counselling career best matches your current aspirations within your professional life:
  • You're passionate about giving back to the community: As a counsellor, you're likely to work with clients who are part of the vulnerable population. These people have typically been through a crisis or trauma that has affected them deeply. You'll have the opportunity to help them work through these issues.
  • You're an empath: You naturally have the ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of other people outside of your own. This is a great quality to have, especially if you intend on pursuing a career in counselling.
  • You're a clear communicator: Counsellors need to have excellent communication skills to thrive in the role. You'll need to be sensitive to the needs of clients, particularly if they have experienced great trauma or a crisis. Having positive body language, as well as knowing how to build rapport are ways to engage and build better relationships with clients. 

How to become a professional counsellor in Australia

  1. Take a diploma course.
  2. Consider specialising or an undergraduate degree.
  3. Looking to work at a school? Register with a teaching board.
  4. Acquire an ACA or PACFA membership.

1. Take a diploma course.

young woman meeting with counsellor

A formal qualification is typically required to work as a counsellor in Australia. As a first step, individuals undertake a diploma course to get a feel of the profession before diving in. Such courses provide an introductory view of the field and basic skills training for entry-level counselling roles. Students will explore essential aspects of the role, such as case management, crisis management, and interpersonal communication. 

Aspiring counsellors commonly pursue these study options through vocational education and training (VET) providers. Upskilled, for example, offers a CHC51015 - Diploma of Counselling, equipping its students with the fundamental skills required to recognise one’s emotional or lifestyle problems – and provide the appropriate support in response. Students will also have the opportunity to work with diverse people from the industry, and craft their expertise in various counselling therapies, as well as building solid relationships with clients. Graduates will be qualified to work as entry-level counsellors or family support workers. 

Such courses will likely have practical aspects to conclude your training and offer a final assessment of competency. These may involve becoming a “trainee counsellor” and completing a set number of supervised counselling sessions in a simulated workplace with a variety of clients (as with Upskilled’s diploma course). Undertaking these activities helps provide insight into the daily trials and duties of a counselling profession, and offers valuable work experience to add to your resume. 

By starting off small in your education, you’ll gain a quick glimpse of the industry and its practices; helping you determine your compatibility with the occupation. 

2. Consider specialising or an undergraduate degree.

The counselling field consists of varying specialisations, including drugs and alcohol, family and marriage, and grief. Those who successfully complete a general qualification may choose to narrow their focus on a specific demographic. As with foundational studies for this profession, students will find plenty of diploma and certificate options for the differing sectors in this industry. Once again, VET institutions are a popular go-to for such qualifications. 

Along with their CHC51015 - Diploma of Counselling, Upskilled also provides courses in more specialised fields – such as their CHC43215 - Certificate IV in Alcohol and Other Drugs and CHC43315 - Certificate IV in Mental Health. Each tailors its training to address the unique issues surrounding a specific social problem, carving out your expertise for a better chance at employment. 

Upon acquiring your diploma, you may also choose to pursue further studies. Next to graduate qualifications, Job Outlook statistics show that those holding a bachelor’s degree have a higher chance of finding work.

Fortunately, diplomas are a common pathway into higher education – some VET providers, like Upskilled, may even have articulation agreements in place that help diploma graduates transition into a university’s bachelor program. An undergraduate degree also grants the opportunity to major in a counselling specialty. 

3. Looking to work at a school? Register with a teaching board.

counsellor talking with student client

Many qualified counsellors choose to work in school settings, supporting young students with any educational or social-related ordeals. In fact, Job Outlook data shows that 36% of the industry are from the education and training sector, just under those in health care and social assistance (who make up 47.4% of employment). 

However, some institutions will require you to register with your state teaching board, before practicing as a school counsellor. Qualifications for registry vary on a state or territory basis, but generally involve the following: (1) being an Australian or New Zealand citizen (or hold a working visa), (2) hold a completed four-year teaching degree from a nationally-accredited university, and (3) have a working with children and national police check

Depending on the employer, aspiring school counsellors may also need to demonstrate proof of being a registered psychologist. Most public schools in New South Wales, for example, have this standard in place. As with certified teachers, registered psychologists will have completed a Board-approved undergraduate degree in the field, along with two-years of supervised practice and training. 

4. Acquire an ACA or PACFA membership.

Finally, those pursuing a counselling career may benefit from gaining membership in a professional association. Currently, the two leading bodies in the industry are the Australian Counselling Association (ACA) and the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA)

These organisations provide valuable resources regarding the ethical and professional standards of the field. They also house educational materials, such as counselling journals, links to accredited courses, and the latest industry research. 

Members will also be granted a discounted access to various forms of professional development, such as workshops, conferences, and short training courses. Apart from tangible benefits, affiliation with these reputable bodies will bode well for employment seekers – as both represent peak standards of quality for professionals in counselling and psychotherapy. 

Australia’s counselling industry can look forward to great demand in the coming years, offering plenty of career opportunity for those passionate about community and social welfare. With the right training, qualifications, and experience in the field, aspiring professionals can look forward to a steadfast, rewarding career. 

Ready to kickstart your career in counselling? 

As discussed, Upskilled offers a variety of qualifications in counselling (and community services) field, such as the aforementioned CHC51015 - Diploma of Counselling. All courses provide aspiring professionals with both the practical and theoretical knowledge they need to pursue a career in this growing profession. Best of all – they’re delivered online, allowing you to study at a schedule that works for you. Take that first step into the industry, and enquire today. 

Editor's note: This article was originally published in September 2019. Content has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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