Counsellor Qualifications And Skills (With Career Paths)

Updated 15 August 2023

Counsellors listen to, empathise with and empower individuals, students, families and communities to overcome their mental, emotional and behavioural challenges. The nature of problems and type of clients vary according to the setting and chosen specialisation. Knowing more about the educational requirements, skills and job responsibilities can help you decide whether to pursue a career in this field. In this article, we explore the meaning of a counsellor role and their job duties, list counsellor qualifications, explore their skills and provide an overview of the different career options available.

Related: Student Counsellor Job Description (With Duties And Skills)

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What Is A Counsellor And What Are Their Job Duties?

A counsellor is a qualified and trained professional who uses various methods and techniques to help clients manage and overcome their emotional and mental health issues. They listen to their patients and provide coping strategies and treatment plans to help them handle various difficulties they face in their personal and professional lives. Depending on their specialisation and career focus, counsellors may work in hospitals, mental health clinics, schools or corporate offices. The general duties and responsibilities include:

  • Listen to patients and diagnose emotional and mental challenges

  • Counsel individuals, couples or families

  • Evaluate the patient's mental well-being during interviews and conversations to determine the right course of treatment

  • Develop a treatment plan using counselling techniques, medication and other strategies

  • Refer patients to other specialists and treatment facilities

  • Analyse the patient's medical history to create customised treatment strategies

  • Maintain good working relationships with other healthcare providers, support networks and the community

  • Discuss treatment plans with patients

  • Empathise with patients and earn their trust to discuss complicated experiences and emotions

  • Assist patients through challenging life situations

  • Educate patients about their mental well-being by teaching them coping techniques

  • Advise and guide patients as they make difficult decisions

  • Help patients deal with complex problems like anger management, substance abuse, depression, stress, and workplace or school bullying

Related: What Is Talk Therapy? (Different Types And Skills Necessary)

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Counsellor Qualifications And Training Requirements

While there are several ways to build a career in counselling, having the following counsellor qualifications and training can help you secure roles and advance your career quickly:

High school certification

The first step to becoming a counsellor is to complete 10 + 2 years of schooling. While there are no specific subject requirements, choosing psychology or biology as one of your primary subjects in high school can help you learn about the neurological and physiological aspects of counselling. Scoring high marks in your secondary examinations improves your chances of securing admission to your preferred courses in college.

Related: How To Become A Counsellor: A Step-By-Step Guide With Skills

Bachelor's degree

Generally, most counselling positions require candidates to hold a relevant bachelor's degree. Once you finish high school, you can enrol in a three-or-four-year bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. While there are no specific requirements for the bachelor's degree, choosing courses in psychology, sociology, education, family science or business administration can help you develop the right skills and knowledge to aid your counselling career.

Related: 7 Careers In College Counselling (With Duties And Salaries)

Master's degree

Obtaining a master's degree in sociology, psychology, social work, therapy, clinical psychology or education provides you with the advanced skills and strategies to offer counselling services to patients. With a few exceptions, most employers require candidates to hold a relevant master's degree before commencing their counselling practice. While choosing a master's degree, consider your counselling preference and speciality to select the right course. For example, if you plan to work as a school counsellor, choosing a master's programme in child psychology helps you prepare for your future career.

Related: How To Become A Psychologist: A Complete Guide (With Steps)

Postgraduate diploma

While not mandatory, completing a postgraduate diploma programme is a good value addition to your educational qualifications. It helps develop your competency to effectively apply counselling theories, principles and skills to provide patients with customised treatment plans. It also helps in building the professional skills required for effective counselling. Here are a few tips to help you choose the right postgraduate programmes:

  • Understand your preferred counselling speciality and determine the right course that can help advance your career.

  • Determine who you wish to work with, such as teens, couples, seniors, or adults and choose programmes that specialise in providing mental health support for your target audience.

  • Learn about the admission requirements, application process, tuition fees and scholarships to choose a postgraduate diploma that aligns with your budget, schedule and learning style.

Related: What Are The Diploma Courses Available After Graduation?


Internships provide practical and realistic work experiences for counselling students. During an internship, your mentor offers real-time feedback on your knowledge, communication, professional attitude and client interaction skills. This helps you translate academic learning into field practice and improve counselling techniques and styles. Additionally, several roles require candidates to have prior field experience.

Working as an intern to a senior counsellor helps you meet the work experience requirements when applying for jobs and can also help you get a letter of recommendation from your mentor, which adds value to your profile. You can apply for an internship at the following types of places:

  • Substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation centres: If you wish to specialise in substance abuse, you can intern at a treatment facility to gain insights into the day-to-day process of recovery centres. This helps you gain practical experience in treating and rehabilitating patients prone to substance abuse.

  • Law offices and courts: Courts appoint counsellors to provide mental health and emotional well-being support to people who are incarcerated. Interning at such programmes can help you gain the skills to provide direct one-on-one outreach to individuals and conduct group therapy sessions.

  • Mental health clinics and hospitals: Interning at a local mental health clinic provides varied experiences as you observe and interact with patients with different mental health challenges. If you want to build a diverse experience handling patients of all ages and economic backgrounds, you can apply for an internship at a private mental health clinic or the psychiatric department at a local hospital.

  • School counselling departments: If you are inclined to work with kids and adolescents, you can apply for an internship at the counselling departments of schools or colleges. This helps you gain specialised skills to help children deal with personal difficulties, overcome academic challenges and work towards a better future.

  • Human resource departments at offices: Counsellors work in a corporate environment and help employees cope with workplace stress and challenges. An internship in the HR department of a multinational organisation can help you develop new skills suited to corporate practice, such as workforce motivation and mediation services.

Related: 15 Applied Psychology Jobs (With Duties And Salaries)

Skills To Advance In Your Counselling Career

Besides educational qualifications, employers expect potential candidates to have the appropriate skills to provide the best counselling services to clients. Here are a few counselling skills that can help you succeed in this career path:

  • Active listening: When you actively listen, you pay close attention to what the client says and encourage them to share their feelings and emotions. This helps the client feel that you understand their problems, helping you earn their trust.

  • Confidentiality and respect for professional boundaries: As clients often share sensitive topics and issues with counsellors, confidentiality is paramount in therapist-patient relationships. Maintaining a professional relationship with clients while earning their trust helps you provide impartial and balanced advice and treatment.

  • Non-judgemental: Counsellors help clients have a new perspective and develop a more optimistic viewpoint. They help clients express their innermost and vulnerable feelings by taking a non-judgemental and supportive approach.

  • Empathy: Even though you might not have had a similar experience to the client, developing the ability to identify and empathise with others' experiences helps you build a strong connection with each client. Nonverbal communication, paraphrasing what the client has communicated and reflecting on how the client feels enables you to demonstrate empathy during counselling sessions.

  • Accessibility and authenticity: Being accessible helps counsellors gain the client's trust. Additionally, demonstrating a genuine and authentic personality in your interactions with clients enables you to display a trusted and approachable persona that gets clients to share their feelings and emotions.

  • Flexibility: A good counsellor understands that clients have different experiences and backgrounds. The ability to alter your approach and methodologies to suit the needs of each client helps you deliver the best treatment in all scenarios.

Related: 11 Skills For A Guidance Counsellor To Have (With Examples)

Career Paths For Counsellors

As a counsellor, you can work in different professional environments like mental health clinics, outpatient wards in hospitals, substance abuse centres, schools, colleges and family courts or you can set up a private practice. Here are some of the available career paths for counsellors:

  • Career guidance counsellor

  • Child and parent counsellor

  • College counsellor

  • Legal counsellor

  • Mental health counsellor

  • Military counsellor

  • Rehabilitation counsellor

  • School counsellor

  • Substance abuse counsellor

Related: How To Write An Admission Counsellor Resume: A Detailed Guide

Initially, the majority of counsellors practice under the guidance of a senior. As they gain experience, they can either set up their practice or work as senior counsellors in corporate offices, large hospitals and healthcare centres. Some counsellors pursue higher education and advanced certification and training to specialise in addiction, sexual relationships or bereavement support.

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