Find a course
Knowledge Hub » Mental Health » Career Options in Counselling

Career Options in Counselling

Introduction to Counselling as a Profession

Many people in the UK experience mental health problems, stress and other issues making them unhappy and dissatisfied. 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year in England (Mind), and 79% of UK adults feel stressed at least one day a month (Priory). These statistics highlight there is a need for counselling.

Counselling is commonly known as therapy. According to the NHS, it is one of many talking therapies involving a trained therapist listening to an individual and helping them find ways to deal with emotional issues. Its primary objective is to promote mental health and well-being so people cope better and lead happier and more fulfilled lives.

Counselling encourages individuals to discuss their feelings and identify difficulties in a confidential and safe environment. It helps them reflect on their choices, situations, thoughts, feelings and behaviours and encourages them to make positive and effective changes in their life. It is not about giving advice and guidance but supporting people to understand themselves and others and overcome their problems.

Anyone can seek counselling if they are unhappy or dissatisfied with their lives and need someone to talk to. However, some examples of people who are more likely to access this type of service are those:

  • With mental health problems, e.g. depression, anxiety, addictions, eating disorders, etc.
  • Going through a life-changing event, such as a bereavement, job loss and divorce.
  • Experiencing work-related stress.
  • Suffering from physical health conditions and pain affecting their mental health, e.g. fibromyalgia and cancer.
  • With emotional difficulties, e.g. anger and low self-esteem.
  • Having fertility problems.
  • With other issues, e.g. sexual and gender identity.

Research conducted by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) found that 88% of people would seek counselling for a problem before it gets out of hand. They concluded that the public believes in its power to change lives. Therefore, this demonstrates that this rewarding career is worth pursuing and makes a difference.

Counselling is a dynamic profession with various specialisations and opportunities. It is a fantastic career choice for those interested in helping individuals and communities achieve mental and emotional well-being. This blog post will explore different counselling career paths, the qualifications required, and the unique roles and responsibilities associated with each path.

Career Options in Counselling

Educational requirements

The educational pathways and qualifications needed to become a counsellor will depend on where an individual wants to work and the area of counselling in which they specialise.

Undertaking relevant work experience before training or during studies can help individuals stand out and build their knowledge and skills. They could apply for paid or voluntary roles that involve working with and helping people. Counselling services and charities can offer training and help provide practical experience, e.g. the Samaritans, Mind, Relate and Cruse. There is information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-it, NCVO and Volunteering Matters.

There are currently no compulsory qualifications or specific training requirements for counsellors. However, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) recommends a three-stage route to becoming a counsellor, which can take three or four years. These stages are:

  • Stage 1 – undertake an introductory course in counselling to gain basic skills, which takes around 8 to 12 weeks. It gives an insight into the profession so individuals can see if it is the right career path.
  • Stage 2 – undertake a certificate in counselling skills, which takes approximately one year, part-time. It enables students to develop counselling skills and provides a deeper understanding of the professional requirements.
  • Stage 3 – undertake core practitioner training, e.g. a diploma, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or doctorate, which usually takes one year full-time or two years part-time. It provides the skills, knowledge and competence to work as a counsellor. The course must meet professional body requirements to gain membership/accreditation.

Most courses are run at colleges, universities or other adult education centres. Some examples are as follows:


  • Level 2 or 3 Certificate in Counselling Skills.
  • Level 4 Diploma in Counselling Skills and Theory.
  • Level 4 or 5 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling.


  • Foundation degree, undergraduate degree and postgraduate course in counselling or psychotherapy.
  • Some undergraduate courses combine counselling with other areas, such as psychology or criminology.

The entry requirements will vary depending on the course level and institution.

Individuals looking at starting a career as a counsellor or those wanting to undertake further qualifications can find accredited courses on the following:

BACP is recognised as the leading accreditation body for training courses in counselling and psychotherapy. Therefore, it is advisable to choose a BACP-accredited course. Those with professional qualifications, memberships and accreditations are more likely to be sought after by employers and clients than those without.

Although it is not compulsory, anyone looking at a career in counselling should consider applying to an accredited register. Registration demonstrates to employers and clients that a counsellor has undergone accredited training and is committed to professional development. Therefore, it can improve their chances of getting a job or attracting more clients, as there is a lot of competition for paid work.

Those wanting to work as a counsellor in the NHS must register on a counselling or psychotherapy register accredited by the Professional Standards Authority. Each register will require registrants to adhere to specific terms and conditions and conduct.

Career Options in Counselling

Types of Counselling Specialisations

Counsellors can work with individuals on a wide range of issues, or they may decide to specialise in specific fields. The counselling profession includes many different titles and specialisms.

Career counsellors

These counsellors help individuals decide on their career objectives, development, movements and changes. Career counsellors can work with people at various stages of their career, such as:

  • Pupils considering higher education or work options after leaving school.
  • Students looking at career options after university.
  • Mid-career professionals considering a career change.
  • Unemployed people seeking work.
  • Individuals returning to work after a long time, e.g. due to illness.

Their responsibilities can vary, but may include:

  • Conducting career assessments to identify strengths, skills, interests and areas of improvement.
  • Advising on job searches and applications, including CV and cover letter writing and interview preparation.
  • Helping clients decide on a career path and the goals to achieve it.
  • Providing guidance on transitioning to new career paths or jobs.
  • Assisting clients in finding the right job to match their needs and skills.

Career counsellors can also help with a wide range of work-related issues. A large study by Indeed in 2022 found that 36% of people in the UK were unhappy in their jobs, and 72% admitted workplace unhappiness affected their physical/mental well-being. Career counsellors can help these types of people resolve difficulties at work to increase job performance and satisfaction.

Further information on career counselling is in the Counselling Directory.

Clinical counsellors

Clinical counsellors typically work within clinical psychology that involves assessing, diagnosing and using therapy to treat patients with specific mental or physical health problems, psychological difficulties and emotional distress. This type of counselling can be one-to-one, couple, family or group-based in a clinical setting or private practice.

Clinical counsellors can work with people with various conditions and disorders, such as:

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Schizophrenia.
  • Bipolar.
  • Addictions.
  • Psychosis.
  • Learning disabilities.
  • Eating disorders.

Their responsibilities may include:

  • Assessing and diagnosing clients’ mental and emotional health.
  • Developing tailored treatment plans.
  • Offering counselling sessions.
  • Providing therapy, crisis intervention and support, and referrals.
  • Helping clients find ways to improve their mental health and well-being.
  • Keeping records and writing reports.

Most clinical counsellors have postgraduate training to work with individuals suffering from severe psychiatric and mental health problems.

Marriage and family therapists

This type of therapy may sometimes be known as relationship/marriage counselling or family therapy. Counsellors working in this specialist area help families and couples to communicate better and resolve specific issues affecting the functioning of the family, such as:

  • Conflicts between siblings.
  • Problems in a relationship.
  • Separation and divorce.
  • Mental health problems.
  • Marriage, e.g. a divorced parent getting remarried.

Marriage and family therapists can work with individuals, couples, parts of a family and whole families. They may:

  • Gather information to identify the problem, differences and behaviours.
  • Observe relationship dynamics.
  • Assess the impact the issues have on individuals and relationships.
  • Hold sessions with individuals, couples, or some or all family members.
  • Teach skills on dealing with conflict resolution, anger, and stress management.

Further information on family therapy is in the Counselling Directory.

Mental health counsellors

These counsellors provide therapy to people with various mental health issues to help them cope with their conditions/emotions and difficult life events. Overall, it is about improving their cognitive, emotional and behavioural well-being.

Those who may need to see a mental health counsellor are those with:

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD).
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Panic and agoraphobia.
  • Long-term illnesses.
  • Addictions.
  • Trauma
  • Schizophrenia.
  • Eating disorders, e.g. binge eating, bulimia and anorexia.

Some counsellors may specialise in helping people with specific mental health problems, e.g. an eating disorder counsellor or addiction therapist. Therefore, their responsibilities will vary widely.

A video on the Counselling Directory discusses how counselling can support people with mental health problems.

School counsellors

According to the Children’s Society, 1 in 6 children aged 5-16 is likely to have a mental health problem. Therefore, this highlights a need for school counsellors, and the BACP believes that a paid counsellor should be available in every secondary school, academy and FE college in England.

The BACP defines school-based counselling as “a form of psychological therapy that provides young people with an empathic, non-judgmental and supportive relationship to find their own answers to their own problems”. The aim is to reduce psychological distress in children and young people.

This specialist area involves promoting and improving children and young people’s mental health, emotional resilience and well-being and supporting their academic and emotional development within a school environment. Some counsellors may specialise in working in specific schools and with pupils of certain ages, e.g. primary school children.

Further information on school counselling is on GOV.UK and BACP.

Substance abuse counsellors

Substance abuse counsellors can also be known as addiction counsellors or recovery counsellors. They can work in various settings, such as addiction and recovery clinics, hospitals, private practices and outpatient clinics. These counsellors help individuals or groups of people with substance misuse and addiction to alcohol, illicit drugs and/or prescription drugs.

This type of counselling involves using a range of appropriate therapeutic interventions to identify any underlying causes or coexisting conditions for substance abuse, such as depression. It is about supporting people to find new ways of dealing with cravings, recover in a safe and controlled environment and improve their quality of life.

Their role and responsibilities will vary but may include assessing clients/patients’ substance use and issues and developing treatment and recovery plans. They will conduct therapy sessions, provide support groups, give advice on coping mechanisms and offer crisis intervention.

Further information on addiction counselling is in the Counselling Directory.

Career Options in Counselling

Settings for Counselling Careers

The settings where counsellors will work will depend on their role, whether they are employed, self-employed or volunteers, and specialist areas. Some examples include:

Education settings

  • Counsellors can work in various education settings, such as primary and secondary schools, academies, colleges and universities. They can work for local authorities and private education providers.
    • Opportunities– in these settings, counsellors will help and support pupils and students of various ages, e.g. children, young people and adolescents, to overcome any difficulties impacting their education or home life.
    • Challenges– it can be difficult to see pupils and students having difficulties in an education setting, e.g. bullying, and some can be challenging to work with.

Healthcare settings

  • Counsellors can work in various healthcare settings, such as NHS or private hospitals, walk-in centres, therapy clinics, rehabilitation centres, GP surgeries, residential care homes, nursing homes, and hospices. They can work for the NHS, private healthcare providers, addiction agencies and charities.
    • Opportunities– counsellors will help many patients and residents with various physical, mental, emotional and behavioural issues, which is rewarding. There are also many opportunities to pursue a career in different healthcare areas.
    • Challenges– there is an increased risk of verbal and physical abuse in counselling in healthcare. It is usually due to alcohol and drug-related issues, but people can also lash out when in pain or emotional distress.

Community settings

  • Counsellors can work in various community settings, such as community centres, advice centres, client/patient homes, churches and premises of other faiths and refuges. They can work for charities, the NHS, local authorities, not-for-profit organisations, private companies, etc.
    • Opportunities – counsellors working in community settings can often work from their home base, thus giving them more flexibility. It can also help patients and clients to stay in their own homes, which may be more beneficial for them.
    • Challenges – there may be significant travel involved in some community-based roles. There is also an increased risk to personal safety to counsellors when travelling and visiting people in their own homes and in the community.

Private settings

  • Counsellors can work in various private settings, such as offices, clinics and their own homes. They can work for consultants, counselling service providers and themselves.
    • Opportunities – there are opportunities for counsellors to be self-employed with their own business, and some may be able to work from home in their own practice and offer phone and video appointments. It can give counsellors a better work-life balance.
    • Challenges – setting up a counselling practice and managing a business is not easy, and there will be additional costs. There is also an increased personal safety risk when working from home alone with clients.

Workplace settings

  • Counsellors can work in various workplace settings, usually large corporations, but they may also work in smaller businesses. They can work for businesses, organisations, employee assistance providers, consultancies and other private counselling services.
    • Opportunities – helping people to feel happier and more fulfilled at work can enhance their well-being and increase employee morale and productivity. It also helps with employee retention. Therefore, if people continue to work, it helps them, their families, and employers. It also benefits society, i.e. taxpayers.
    • Challenges – workplace politics can often be tricky to navigate, and conflicts and other issues can be difficult to solve. Some people can also be challenging to work with if they do not want to put the effort to make changes to improve.
Career Options in Counselling

Responsibilities and Skills

The responsibilities a counsellor will have will depend on their role, their specialist area and the type of setting in which they work. Some core responsibilities that all counsellors will have include:

  • Holding sessions with patients/clients – counsellors can have one-to-one, couple, family or group sessions face-to-face, over the telephone or online. In healthcare settings, they may work with patients and in private settings with clients, and will:
  • Agree with them on what will be covered in sessions and developing treatment plans.
  • Encourage them to talk about their feelings and any issues they may have.
  • Listen carefully to them whilst empathising with them and without bias.
  • Assist them to see their problems more clearly or differently and find ways to help them cope.
  • Ask them questions and check their understanding.
  • Challenge them if what they say or do appears to be inconsistent.
  • Support them to make choices that will improve their health and well-being.
  • Make notes during sessions.
  • Liaising with other healthcare professionals – counsellors may work in mental health teams and liaise with others, such as psychologists or psychiatrists. They may also deal with other healthcare professionals, such as GPs, doctors, nurses and other mental health workers for referrals. They must maintain confidentiality, even when providing information for collaboration purposes.
  • Maintaining confidential records – counsellors must record sessions to provide ongoing support for patients/clients and for information if they need to refer them to other mental health professionals. They will need to ensure their records are accurate, confidential and secure.

Some of the skills that counsellors require include:

  • Knowledge of laws and standards – to remain compliant and professional.
  • Ethical skills – to follow professional guidelines and principles. Counsellors must provide confidential and secure sessions for patients/clients to ensure their safety and well-being. They must have personal integrity and be trustworthy and discreet.
  • Self-awareness – to know and understand themselves, including examination of their own thoughts and values. It also means knowing when they are not helping a patient/client and understanding their limitations.
  • Patience – to let patients/clients talk about their issues while listening carefully and realising that progress can take time. It also means helping and supporting patients/clients despite difficulties and challenging behaviour.
  • Empathy – to listen with compassion and understand what a patient/client is going through and their position without judgement or criticism. It is also being sensitive to a person’s feelings and emotions and making them feel more comfortable talking.
  • Verbal communication skills – to have sessions with many patients/clients, communicate with them clearly and effectively, and provide accurate information. Good communication skills are vital for building relationships/trust and when questioning and challenging.
  • Written communication skills – to take notes, write treatment plans and produce accurate records. Some may also need to write reports if any issues arise.
  • IT skills – to maintain accurate and confidential records on secure computer systems. Some counsellors may also offer video calls and should know how to use the software.
  • Interpersonal skills – to establish relationships with patients/clients from all backgrounds and challenge them when necessary. Counsellors will also work effectively with colleagues and other mental health professionals.
  • Active listening skills – to listen intently to what a patient/client has to say and give them their full attention without judgment. It also encompasses understanding what they mean and their intent.
  • Emotional resilience – to be professional, impartial and not emotional, even when listening to upsetting and distressing information from patients/clients. It also means having the ability to remain calm, even in stressful situations.
  • Observational skills – to watch for specific behaviours, attitudes and emotions, e.g. when someone is upset or angry, and respond correctly to help patients/clients the best way. These skills can also enable counsellors to know when referrals are needed.
Career Options in Counselling

Career Growth and Development

Individuals looking at becoming counsellors should complete an accredited qualification, apply for membership and become registered with any of the following:

Joining a professional body can help prospective and current counsellors enhance their skills and overall career, as they provide various membership benefits and guidance on career advancement within counselling. Counsellors can also move to higher membership levels within their professional body as they gain more knowledge, skills and experience.

Once registered, counsellors will need to undertake continuing professional development (CPD) to maintain registration. The requirements for CPD will depend on each professional body but can include short training courses, postgraduate training, practical experience and seminars.

As a counsellor gains more experience, they may want to consider the following to advance their career:

  • Specialising in a specific area of counselling – they can choose to specialise in an area, such as clinical, mental health, substance abuse, etc. They may also be able to work with specific groups, such as children or families. It usually requires postgraduate training or practical experience within a particular area.
  • Promotion to senior roles – there may be opportunities to move into a lead counsellor role or become a supervisor, team leader or manager looking after a team of counsellors. It usually involves less time with clients and more work on policies and strategies. There are also consultant and training roles.
  • Moving into different settings – some counsellors may move from a job within an NHS hospital to a private one or work in community settings. There is a wide range of settings in which counsellors can work and move.
  • Becoming self-employed with their own private practice – some counsellors provide their own counselling services from home or in a private practice, giving them more flexibility. It is important to note that the BACP does not recommend this for newly qualified counsellors.
  • Work in other areas – counsellors may be able to use their knowledge, skills and experience to work in other areas, e.g. education and training, research or supervision, occupational health, mentoring or mental health services.
  • Combine counselling with other roles – many counselling roles are part-time or voluntary, so those looking for longer working hours could do counselling alongside other jobs, such as teaching or nursing.
Career Options in Counselling

Personal Fulfilment and Impact

Those looking for a meaningful and rewarding career should seriously consider counselling. Helping people struggling with various challenges to make positive changes can give counsellors a sense of personal fulfilment. They are not only helping individuals but also improving the health and well-being of our society.

The results of the BACP’s annual Public Perceptions Survey found that 77% of people who have had counselling or psychotherapy would likely recommend it to someone with emotional difficulties or a mental health problem. This high percentage demonstrates that counsellors can make a significant difference in people’s lives, and it can give those in the career a feeling that they are achieving something important.

If there is any doubt about how counselling can transform, change and even save lives, here are some examples:

  • The charity Mind has a story here about how talking can save lives.
  • Users of the Ascent Advice and Counselling project spoke about how it “changed” and “saved” their lives (BACP).
  • Couples counselling saved a marriage (Oxford County Council).
  • Therapy completely changed a depressed man’s life (The Irish Times).
  • The BACP has a story here about how counselling changed an individual’s life.
  • Therapy helped Kelly, and now she is a therapist (Mind).
  • The BACP has more stories on how therapy helps people here.

The BACP has ten reasons to feel good about being a counsellor today here. They also have some videos and statements from their member counsellors on what they think is the most rewarding thing about being a counsellor here.

Career Options in Counselling


Counselling is a diverse and rewarding profession that offers numerous opportunities for development, specialisation and progression. There is also a lot of support and guidance from professional bodies, charities and experienced counsellors that can help those looking at a career in counselling or those wanting to progress in their careers.

To become an effective counsellor, individuals considering this profession should explore their interests and passions within the field and pursue a counselling career that aligns with their values and goals. They should also have life experience, attend counselling and reflect on their own experience with a supervisor if they want to become accredited.

Being accredited and registered will increase an individual’s chances of getting a paid role in counselling, as it is a competitive field. There are more counsellors than employed roles, so individuals must be willing to learn and seek continuing professional development to be successful.

How about sharing your own experiences, questions, or insights regarding counselling careers in the comments section?

Career Options in Counselling
Counselling level 2 course

Interested in working as a counsellor?

We offer the TQUK Level 2 Certificate in Counselling Skills through our online campus.

Learn more about our CACHE Level 2 course

Read another one of our posts