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How to Become a Child Counsellor

A child counsellor is a specialist psychotherapist who has received additional training to enable them to work directly with children of all ages, including young people and adolescents. Because childhood covers such a broad spectrum of developmental stages, child counsellors receive extensive additional training when compared to adult-focused counsellors. The role of a child counsellor is very similar to that of a child psychologist, so, you will likely experience some overlap between the qualities and day-to-day tasks of the two positions.

From where you will find child counsellor jobs to what kind of child counsellor salary you can expect, here’s everything you need to know about how to become a child counsellor:

What is a Child Counsellor

Whilst colloquially known as child counsellors, the official title for this role is Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist (CAPT). As a CAPT the main focus of your role will be to work with children, adolescents, and young people up to the age of 25, as well as their families or caregivers, to help them with any emotional or psychological difficulties that they may be experiencing.

As a full-time child counsellor, you can expect to work around 40 hours per week, but your working schedule will depend on whether you choose to work within the NHS or within private practice. As a private child counsellor, you will have more freedom to set your own working hours, whilst as an NHS child counsellor, you are likely to work regular office hours. You will also need to work extra hours, and out of hours, to attend meetings or run training sessions. This could involve occasional evening and weekend work.

Child counsellor during therapy session

Personal Qualities of a Child Counsellor

If you’re thinking of becoming a child counsellor or looking for a child counsellor role then you will need the following personal qualities to succeed in the role:

  • Extensive experience in working with children and young people of a wide variety of ages and socio-cultural demographics
  • A genuine interest in working with young people, adolescents, and children and a desire to help them deal with any emotional problems they may face with empathy and sensitivity
  • A robust emotional intelligence that will allow you to support children at their most vulnerable, or dealing with the extremes of human emotions, without taking those problems home with you
  • Self-motivated and able to work well independently, as well as spending part of your role working within a team
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills. Your role will involve communicating with individuals of all ages, and you will also need to produce comprehensive written reports for each of your clients
  • The ability to thrive in constantly changing environments and think on your feet
  • The ability to manage your own workload confidently, whilst also supporting junior team members to manage their own workloads efficiently
  • The ability to remove your own emotions from difficult situations, helping children or adolescents to deal with their own feelings, experiences, and emotions without imprinting your own experiences on their situation
  • Confidence in your ability to work both with children and young people, as well as their parents and other professionals as part of a multidisciplinary team

What a Child Counsellor Does

The role of a child counsellor is a varied one, and because each patient you see will be uniquely different, each day of your working life will be slightly different too. Having said that, you can expect some of your day-to-day routines to become familiar, and some of the tasks you will complete on a regular basis include:

  • Work with children, young people, and their parents and carers to create both psychotherapeutic assessments and treatment plans suited to their unique needs
  • Work with children and young people both individually and as part of small groups
  • Spend time observing children and young people, and working to understand their mental state using non-verbal, as well as verbal, cues. This could include watching them play or interact with others
  • Work with each child under your care in an age-appropriate way, adapting your approach to consider both their age and abilities. This means you may be undertaking both talking therapy sessions and play therapy sessions on the same day
  • Spend time working alongside other professionals as part of a wider, multidisciplinary team. This could include other healthcare professionals, teaching staff, social workers or members of a care team. You will also attend meetings with this core group, and your focus will always be on how you can best help both the child or young person, as well as their family
  • Complete interventions with a child or young person that could take place on a long-term basis or could just involve a few short sessions. You will play a key role in assessing how much support each child needs
  • As part of your ongoing professional training, you will need to take time out from your role as a child counsellor to undertake professional clinical supervision from a more experienced counsellor in your field
  • You will also keep up to date with any developments within the field of child counselling, as part of your ongoing professional development
  • As you progress in your career you may also be involved in supervising other therapists, including trainee therapists
  • Undertake risk assessments and create risk management plans for each child under your care
  • Regularly review each of your patients, understanding the effects of any treatment plans you implement, and how each assessment has impacted their continued development
Child counsellor during play therapy

How Much Does a Child Counsellor Earn?

If you’re thinking of training to become a child counsellor, then you’ll want to know what kind of child counsellor salary you could achieve when you’re fully qualified. Salary expectations for child counsellors will vary slightly depending on whether you work within private practice (where you can set your own hours and hourly rate) or within the NHS.

The vast majority of child counsellors work within the NHS for at least part of their careers. If you work for the NHS, for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) or for other public service bodies then you will be paid according to NHS pay scales:

  • As a trainee, you will fall into NHS pay grade band 6. This would give you an annual salary of between £32,306 and £39,027
  • As a qualified child counsellor, you would fall into NHS pay grade band 7. This would give you an annual salary of between £40,057 and £45,839
  • As you progress through your career you could become a principal or lead child psychotherapist, leading a team of other counsellors working below you, and this would move you to NHS pay Band 8 with a salary that starts from £47,126 and moves to as high as £90,387 for the highest-paid staff in this position

This means that working as a child counsellor within the NHS offers considerable child counsellor salary potential and career progression opportunities, Many NHS counsellors also choose to boost their salaries by offering private practice services outside of their NHS hours. Alternatively, you could choose to give back to your community by providing low-cost therapy for unemployed or low-income clients outside of the NHS framework.

If you choose to work outside the NHS then other organisations you could work for within a child counsellor role include:

  • Working within eating disorder services or with eating disorder charities
  • Supporting looked-after children as part of a wider social services team
  • Working with children directly in primary and secondary schools
  • Providing student mental health services within a university setting
  • Caring for in-patient children and young people within specialist or residential care units
  • Working within a court environment as part of youth justice services
  • Working within the voluntary sector

Qualifications Needed for a Child Counsellor

Child Counsellors are highly qualified professionals with extensive academic achievements in conjunction with a sustained period of relevant work experience. Your first step towards becoming a child counsellor will be to secure a qualification in observational psychoanalytic studies at either a postgraduate diploma, Master’s level, or an equivalent course that obtains this level of knowledge and understanding. Regardless of which route you take the achieve this level of education, the minimum components of your studies that you should have achieved are extended psychoanalytic infant observations, work discussion seminars, psychoanalytic theory and child development research lectures.

The school you study at must be registered with and accredited by, the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP) and you can expect to spend two years studying to reach diploma level or three years studying to reach Masters level. In order to secure a place on one of these courses you will need an honours degree or equivalent, as well as extensive, demonstrable experience of working with children or young people. These courses are usually self-funded. Not sure whether you will need to work towards a Masters or diploma? Because Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Clinical Training is a graduate entry profession, students who do not have an honours degree must complete the course to Masters level.

Other things you need to know are that:

  • Applications from those with lived experience and from a diverse range of backgrounds are encouraged, so if you don’t have a conventional educational route then don’t let this discourage you from applying and pursuing your dream of becoming a child counsellor
  • As well as pursuing your studies, you will also be expected to undergo personal psychoanalysis (three/four/five times a week) before and during your training process. This will give you a better understanding of the importance of psychoanalytic treatment

Once your academic qualifications are completed you will begin a period of clinical training. The clinical training timeframe for child counsellors is longer for those working in adult services because working with children is a more complex role which requires a greater breadth and depth of skills and competences. The ACP clinical training in CAPT is an NHS funded programme which will take four full years to complete: this a salaried training post (on NHS Band 6) in a child and adolescent mental health service. You can choose to undertake this training either in a training centre or as part of a placement within a hospital or clinic, depending on both your preference and where you are based. There are five training centres in the UK; two in London, one in Birmingham, one in Leeds and one in Glasgow. Clinical training placements are available across the UK, making this a more appealing option if you live in a rural location.

On the Job Training

You cannot work as a child counsellor without being a member of the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP) and completing on the job training and continued professional development (CPD) is integral to maintaining that membership. There are many ways you can earn your CPD credits, with most aimed at keeping you up to date with clinical advances within your field and promoting your understanding of the industry. Some popular examples of this include:

  • Taking part in work-based learning, such as undergoing supervision from a more experienced colleague, undertaking a relevant training course, or engaging in peer review activities
  • Undertake professional activities relevant to your field such as presenting at an industry-specific conference, lecturing, or teaching junior counsellors, or taking an active role within a professional body for child counsellors
  • Continue your formal education by completing an additional training course, undertaking academic research, or authoring papers for a journal in the field. Taking a relevant short course to help you to specialise in a field of counselling would also be relevant here
  • You might also undertake self-directed learning if you are unable to complete any of the above activities. Subscribing to a professional journal and reading research papers relevant to your industry are good examples of this

No matter how busy you are in your day-to-day role, it is essential that you carve out time to undertake some professional development. You should also spend at least 12 hours per month in counselling sessions with either young people, or their families and carers. This is to ensure that you maintain your practice technique, and without this you will lose your ability to practice.

You should also note that, no matter how qualified you are or how far you advance in your career, you will also be required to continue receiving individual clinical supervision from a more senior counsellor within the profession. How many hours of supervision you should undertake each day will depend on your role and level of experience.

Professional Bodies

As outlined above, you must be registered with the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP) to practise as a child counsellor within the UK. This is the professional body for all child and adolescent psychotherapy services and has been active in the UK since 1949. As well as registering all child counsellors, and maintaining standards within the profession, the ACP also organises training and events that could be beneficial as part of your CDP.

Other professional bodies within the sector include the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) which offers admission to both adult and child counsellors and psychotherapists. The BACP children and young people division aims to take a leading role in the development of counselling and psychotherapy for children, young people and families. If you are interested in being part of a body that supports the work of the wider counselling community, as well as providing access to journals, events, and a member’s hub where you can communicate with other members and professionals, then this might well be the right option for you.

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