A counsellor helps people talk about their feelings. This could be because of relationship difficulties, grief or to help them deal with everyday life.
This page has information on the role of a counsellor, the entry requirements, skills needed and how to apply.
You’ll hold sessions with individuals and groups in a safe and confidential environment. You'll encourage them to look at their choices and find their own way to make a positive change in their life.
In the NHS, many staff will have counsellor in their job title, usually in a specific area and depending on the needs of the local population and the employer. For example, you may:
- provide help, care and support to patients with cancer and their families
- provide counselling to clients with mild to moderate mental health problems
- work with individuals who have drug-related problems
- help individuals understand and deal with genetic disorders
- provide counselling and support for families with an unplanned pregnancy
Your role will be to build a relationship with your clients. You’ll do this by:
- agreeing with them what will be discussed
- encouraging them to talk about their feelings
- listening carefully, asking questions and checking that you understand a client's situation
- empathising with the client’s issues, but challenging them when necessary
- helping clients to see things more clearly or in a different way
Where will I work?
You could work in various locations like schools, GP surgeries, hospitals or advice centres. You may also counsel people over the phone or on the internet.
Entry requirements and training
You are likely to need a recognised counselling qualification. There are different types and levels of course available including at diploma, degree and postgraduate level. Some are available on a part-time basis, others full-time. Many can lead to registration on a voluntary basis, with a number of organisations.
If you are considering a career as a counsellor in the health sector, employers may expect you to be on one of these voluntary registers. The Professional Standards Authority accredits a number of voluntary registers against its standards including governance, setting standards for registrants, education and training, managing the register. These include several voluntary registers for counsellors including:
- Association of Child Psychotherapists
- Association of Christian Counsellors
- British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
- British Association of Play Therapists
- British Psychoanalytic Council
- COSCA (Counselling & Psychotherapy in Scotland)
- Human Givens Institute
- National Counselling Society
- Play Therapy UK
- UK Council for Psychotherapy
(List updated 6 April 2017)
For some counselling roles, employers may also ask for a clinical/professional qualification, such as being a registered nurse, occupational therapist or social worker. Or you may need a scientific background for some roles in genomic counselling, for instance.
Each employer will indicate their individual requirements so make sure to check the person specification for the role.
- to be able to make people feel relaxed
- excellent communication skills
- the ability to positively challenge people
- be patient, tolerant, and sensitive
- to be empathetic and non-judgmental
- self-awareness and the ability to examine your own thoughts and values
Experience or skills in a particular area may also be required, such as the ability to speak in multiple languages or working in mental health.
Pay and conditions
Most jobs in the NHS are covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay scales. This pay system covers all staff except doctors, dentists and the most senior managers.
Counsellors might be paid at any bands in the NHS so you should check with the employer but will usually work standard hours of 37.5 per week. Terms and conditions can vary for employers outside of the NHS.
Where the role can lead
Working as counsellor could lead to a number of opportunities (after further training) including psychology, mental health nursing and psychotherapy. You could also specialise in an area such as eating disorders or addiction. You could apply to be a trainee high intensity therapist or psychological well-being practitioner, enabling you to work under the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies initiative (IAPT).
Job market and vacancies
If you're applying for a role either directly in the NHS or in an organisation that provides NHS services, you'll be asked to show how you think the values of the NHS Constitution apply in your everyday work.
For a list of organisations accredited by the Professional Standards Authority to deliver education and training in counselling, visit: