Finding A Job That Speaks To You: Counselling & Therapy As A Career Choice



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Trying to find a rewarding career in 2024 can sometimes feel like an insurmountable task. Though they say that we go through three careers in our lifetime, the changing landscape of modern work, from the WFH revolution to increased automation, means that number feels like a pretty big underestimate.

Instead, the plight of the modern day worker is often to be in a state of flux, constantly having to adapt to stay relevant, all while trying to find that elusive ‘meaning’ from their chosen career.

The old adage of “find something you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” is something we are all striving for. And if you love helping people, all while staying relevant and in demand, then a career in counselling could be for you.

Today, we take a closer look at what it takes to become a counsellor or a therapist, and how to thrive in the role.

What Qualifications Are Needed To Become A Counsellor?

First things first; there are currently no UK laws regarding or regulating counselling and psychotherapy. That said, according to the Counselling Directory, ”guidelines recommend that, in order to practice, counsellors should have completed at least an appropriate diploma, or completed a course that was a minimum of 400 hours therapy training.”

Completing further qualifications is highly recommended. These include:

  • A BSc (Hons) or BA (Hons) in Psychology, which is usually the first step in the process of becoming a Chartered Counselling Psychologist, a job that, unlike counselling, is regulated under the Health and Social Services Professions Act.
  • A postgraduate diploma in counselling, which is usually taught over several years on a part time basis.
  • Accreditation from the BACP’s Individual Counsellor Accreditation or similar professional body, which requires 450 hours of formal training and 450 hours of supervised practice with clients.

Check out the UK government’s National Careers Service for more on the formal routes and requirements of becoming a counsellor.

& What Personality Traits Are Useful To The Role?

On a less technical level, there are certain personality straits that are arguably more suited to success in the profession than others.

First and foremost, a deep professional responsibility is required. You will be dealing with sensitive matters and sometimes clients displaying vulnerable emotions, and it’s imperative that you approach each and every action professionally.

You will also need to be approachable, empathetic, warm, and trustworthy. The counselling setting is one where you encourage the person to open up and discuss their problems although they may be originally reticent to do so. Other traits include being patient, tolerance, sensitivity, and being non-judgemental. Due to the nature of things you may hear you will also have to be discreet.

Another important trait that you may need to think about as a counsellor is humility. Sometimes, it may turn out they you unable to help someone. You have ultimately chosen this career as a means to help people, and not succeeding may get the better of you. The temptation to solve people’s problems for themselves when they cannot see the resolution is something that present itself. In counselling you need to encourage them to solve the problem.

That said, in some cases, a counsellor may need to make recommendations on where else a client should appropriately seek treatment. The ethics of terminations and referrals are explored this report, which is well worth checking out.

Do I Need A Physical Space Or Can I Do This Whole Thing Online?

Though counselling can – and increasingly does – take place online, over Zoom or an equivalent platform, it’s essential in the early days of your career progression to allow sessions to take place in person. This truly is the best way to learn, and the counsellor-to-client experience is arguably most organic and fruitful when committed face-to-face.

That’s not to say that remote services aren’t effective, but in terms of early practice, you’ll likely learn more comprehensively when with your client in-person.

Though some choose to have their practice at their home, or visit their client’s homes, there are many obvious drawbacks to this approach. Fortunately, you’ll find counselling rooms to rent in the majority of the UK’s other major urban centres.

The National Counselling Society gives a few pointers on keeping safe when in practice, both when at home and in a privately rented counselling room.

If working from home:

  • Don’t advertise to prospective clients that you work from home.
  • Always let someone know who, when and where the session is taking place.
  • Keep your therapy room as professional (and impersonal) as possible.
  • Set up a buddy system.

If working privately in a rented room:

  • Know where the entrances and exits are in relation to your room.
  • Ensure extra vigilance if there is casual access from the street.
  • Find out the occupied hours of your neighbouring rooms.
  • Get familiar with any building-specific security measures.

What Are Your Career Options?

When it comes to career options in counselling, you may wish to set up your own practice after you have qualified, or you may want to develop a certain skill set, such as dealing with workplace relationships, where you can help employees deal with common workplace stresses, and looking after their physical and mental well-being so they can work more productively, or couples counselling, which has a interpersonal focus.

Other career options include going down the personal coaching route where you may wish to help people in group scenarios or one on one with general anxiety or stress-related problems. Helping them achieve certain life goals is a very popular method that athletes and performers choose to employ, and so it can be a lucrative prospect if you were able to get into those circles.

Becoming A Therapist

While counselling offers a rewarding career helping individuals navigate their personal challenges, becoming a therapist can provide an even deeper level of engagement and support. Therapists often work with clients over longer periods, addressing more complex psychological issues and employing a broader range of therapeutic techniques.

Extensive Education

To become a therapist in the UK, one typically needs to pursue more extensive education and training compared to counselling. The journey often begins with obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. Following this, aspiring therapists usually need to complete a master’s degree or a doctorate in clinical psychology, counselling psychology, or psychotherapy. These advanced degrees involve rigorous coursework, research, and supervised clinical practice, ensuring that therapists are well-equipped to handle a wide array of mental health issues.

Supervised Practice

In addition to formal education, therapists must also undergo extensive supervised practice. This period of hands-on training is crucial, as it allows trainees to apply theoretical knowledge in real-world settings under the guidance of experienced professionals. This phase not only hones their skills but also helps them develop the necessary empathy, patience, and resilience required in the profession.

Greater Responsibility & Risk

One critical aspect of practising is the necessity of liability insurance for therapists. This insurance is essential as it protects therapists from potential legal claims that may arise from their professional practice. Given the sensitive nature of therapy, where clients may disclose deeply personal and sometimes distressing information, having liability insurance provides a safety net, ensuring that therapists can focus on their clients’ well-being without the constant worry of legal repercussions.

Professional Bodies

Therapists also need to be registered with a professional body, such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). These organisations set stringent standards for training, ethics, and professional conduct, ensuring that therapists maintain high levels of competence and integrity in their practice. Membership in these bodies often requires ongoing professional development, which helps therapists stay updated with the latest advancements in the field.

The role of a therapist is multifaceted, involving not just individual therapy sessions but also potentially working with groups, families, or couples. Therapists may specialise in various areas such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, or humanistic therapy, each offering different approaches to understanding and treating mental health issues. This specialisation allows therapists to tailor their methods to best meet the needs of their clients, providing more personalised and effective care.

The Bottom Line

To explore some of the nuances of this career further, check out our article on the differences between a life coach and a therapist. And whichever path you choose, we wish you the best of luck.

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