If you’re interested in kickstarting a counselling career, there are certain qualities that you need to have as a person. Apart from being interested in working with other people, which is key, you also need to possess a range of character traits to ensure that you are suited for this role.
Explore what a counselling career involves, the qualities you need to pursue this vocation, and how to gain these skills.
What does a counselling career involve?
Our society is evolving at a rapid rate. Unfortunately, this has also come with an increase in mental health disorders. Registered counsellors can play a crucial role in responding to the needs of society, building social coherence and supporting those who are struggling to cope.
Some of the opportunities that you can pursue with this qualification include working for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), educational institutions and community programmes, mental health and medical facilities, corporate wellness programmes and governmental support services (e.g. the police and correctional services).
The goal of working in this area of Applied Psychology is to make primary psychological services available in a diverse range of contexts. Counsellors are very important, because in the vast majority of countries worldwide, there are not enough psychologists to treat people’s mental health needs.
It’s important to note that while counsellors work with both individuals and groups, they offer primary intervention. This means that you will often refer patients to clinical psychologists for further psychotherapy after assessment.
Which qualities do I need for a counselling career?
As the first in line when it comes to offering psychological support, the qualities a counsellor needs include the following:
1. Interest in people’s wellbeing
The first and most important quality to have before taking on this kind of role is to be interested in supporting people and in making a positive difference. If you do not have a deep desire to serve society, likely, you won’t be able to manage the demands of working with people who are struggling every day.
In addition, you must be committed to doing this in the long term. It can take time to see the positive results you are working towards.
Empathy is also critical. To serve others, you need the ability to put yourself in their shoes and see things from a different perspective. Although you will need to maintain some level of professional detachment when consistently dealing with trauma, empathic respect is critical when dealing with people who are distressed and emotionally fragile.
Empathy is also related to emotional intelligence and maturity, which is crucial when working with people from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.
3. Communication Skills
To engage with others on a deeper level, and offer the necessary primary support for those in need, you need to have effective communication skills. These include being able to truly listen to people and respond effectively to them.
Active listening skills are critical here, as it can be difficult for many people to talk about their problems out of fear. Thus, listening and creating a safe space are paramount.
4. Effective stress management and self-care
As the first port of call for psychological intervention, to succeed in a counselling career, it’s critical to be able to manage your own stress. Dealing with people in distressing situations and who are trying to cope with trauma can take its toll. This means you need to have the capacity and tools to manage your own life while serving others.
You can do this by making a habit of taking care of your own mental health and seeking support from others when you are struggling too.
5. Appreciation of cultural diversity
In order to serve society, anyone pursuing a counselling career needs to have an appreciation and enjoyment of cultural diversity.
This is important not only from a practical point of view, as you will be working with people from different backgrounds. It is also because society is constantly shifting and evolving, which can make building social coherence challenging, but ultimately rewarding
How do I become a counsellor?
To become a registered counsellor, you will need to complete a relevant qualification, and register with the appropriate professional body. However, there are also ways to learn more about fundamental support skills to apply in your current role if you are for example a teacher, human resource practitioner, or life skills trainer. One such way is by completing a flexible short course online.
Exploring counselling fundamentals
To get an insight into basic counselling skills , you can register for SACAP Global micro-credentials like Fundamental Counselling Skills. This short course introduces terminology and key frameworks such as the Relational Skills Model.
If you would like to further your skills, you can sign up for our Deepening Your Counselling Skills short course. This flexible online short course builds on the Relational Skills Model and introduces Egan’s Skilled Helper Model, which provides frameworks and practical structures for improving your helping conversations with others.