If you’re considering counselling as a career, it’s important to understand the roles, expectations, and responsibilities of a counsellor. A counsellor is someone who, “empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.”

Counselling is a collaborative effort between a client and a counsellor, and counsellors work with individuals to develop a professional relationship that will help them navigate and better deal with a variety of issues. Different specialities exist in the field. Depending on where you work and who you are working with, you may employ individual counselling or group counselling to help clients deal with issues such as communication, coping skills, self-esteem, goal setting, behaviour change, and behaviour management. Counsellors aim to work with clients until the problem at hand is resolved.

Only individuals who meet certain educational, training, and licensing requirements can provide counselling. Every state and the District of Columbia require professional counsellors to be licensed to legally practice. There are several levels of professional counsellors, and requirements vary by jurisdiction. Regardless of geography, becoming a licensed professional requires gaining a master’s degree or doctoral degree in counselling from an accredited institution—which takes a significant commitment of time and effort. Additionally, professional counsellors must complete supervised clinical training after graduation as well as meet continuing education requirements once they begin practising.

What Professional Counsellors Can Do to Help

From working with individuals to groups and organizations, the scope of practice for a professional counsellor is far-reaching. According to the ACA, roughly one in four Americans will experience a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.

Professional counsellors employ a variety of skills and techniques to help their clients overcome challenges and face difficult issues. They empower clients to implement positive mental and behavioural strategies that can help them lead more fulfilling lives.

Counsellors work with clients on a wide range of issues. They may include:

  • Life changes, including divorce, career changes, adapting to college life and returning from military deployment
  • Grief after a traumatic experience, such as losing a loved one
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders
  • Eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia
  • Personal relationships (e.g. with family, roommates, friends, spouses, or partners)
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity issues
  • Goal-setting in personal, relationship, career, and educational contexts

The issues mentioned above do not represent an exhaustive list, as there are many other situations that counsellors may help with.

Professional counsellors rely on providing well-established treatment options such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, psychotherapy, and interpersonal therapy to help individuals work through their problems. Though treatment plans vary depending on the individual and their personal situation, at the core of all counselling practice is the aim to help people lead more fulfilling lives.

Types of Counselling

If you want to become a counsellor, it’s important to understand the different types of counsellors that exist. Different types of counsellors work with different clients, provide varying services, and address a range of distinct issues.

Below are descriptions of a few common types of counselling.

Individual counselling – Individual counselling is a personal, individualized approach to counselling that helps people work through difficulties in their personal lives. Individual counselling may address issues such as mental health, life adjustments, and substance abuse.

Couples counselling – Issues and disagreements between couples aren’t unusual—but when escalated, they may require the help of a professional counsellor. Whether a couple is dealing with issues of closeness or more serious problems like aggressive behaviour, this type of counselling provides tools for resolving conflicts and rebuilding relationships.

Group counselling – Group counselling may be a viable option for people experiencing issues that others are also dealing with. Knowing they are not alone can help clients reach important goals, know that they are being held accountable, and develop management strategies. Common topics addressed in group therapy settings include substance abuse, anger management, working through trauma, and more.

Family counselling – Family counselling may be necessary for a variety of reasons including the loss of a family member, changes in family dynamics, or family conflict. Sometimes, family counselling is conducted with all family members present, while other times it may work with family members individually.