Counsellors help people to deal with their feelings and responses, solve problems and create change in their lives.
New counsellors in schools or DHBs usually earn
$45K-$48K per year
Senior counsellors with higher qualifications or more responsibility usually earn
$57K-99K per year
Source: Auckland Region DHBs/PSA and Ministry of Education, 2016
Current job prospects
How many people are doing this job?
Source: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2012 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2012.
Pay for counsellors varies depending on their employer, qualifications and experience.
Pay for counsellors working for district health boards
- Counsellors who are new graduates start on about $48,000 a year.
- They can progress in yearly steps to earn $65,000.
- Senior counsellors with extra responsibilities can earn up to $99,000.
Pay for guidance counsellors working in secondary schools
- Guidance counsellors in secondary schools start on between $46,000 and $54,000 a year.
- They can progress each year to earn between $57,800 and $75,500.
Many counsellors are self-employed
Forty percent of counsellors are self-employed. Their income depends on the success of their business and the number of hours they work.
Some counsellors also to do voluntary work.
Sources: Auckland Region DHBs/PSA, 'Allied, Public Health & Technical Collective Agreement (MECA)' - Expires 6 October 2017,' (undated); and Ministry of Education, 'Secondary Teachers' Collective Agreement 2015-2018', 2016.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Counsellors may do some or all of the following:
- encourage clients to express feelings and discuss what is happening in their lives
- listen, respond to, and reflect with clients
- help clients understand themselves, their needs and how to meet them
- discuss changes that clients could make, and the consequences of those changes, and support clients to make decisions
- research ways to deal with clients' specific problems
- run workshops and courses.
Skills and knowledge
Counsellors need to have:
- counselling skills and knowledge of counselling theories and techniques
- research, communication and listening skills
- skill in analysing and evaluating human behaviour
- knowledge of human development and relationships
- knowledge of grief, addiction and/or sexual abuse and how they can affect people
- knowledge of social and cultural issues
- knowledge of self-care strategies.
- usually work regular business hours, but may work rostered shifts
- work in offices and counselling rooms or in schools or hospitals. They may provide support by telephone, email, text or social media
- may travel to visit prisons, schools, marae or clients' homes.
What's the job really like?
Sally Latham has worked in many areas of counselling, including adoption counselling, family therapy, domestic violence and grief counselling.
No matter who she is working with, Sally believes the key to effective counselling is listening carefully to people then appropriately responding to what they say. "If someone is really missing their father, who has died, I might say ‘What would it be like if we could imagine your father sitting in this chair? What would you say to him?’”
Achieving work-life balance important
Sally is very aware of her role’s emotionally demanding nature and is careful to achieve work-life balance. “It is a challenge to leave people’s stories behind sometimes. When I finish work at the end of the day, I have to be able to stop asking myself whether I gave my best to my clients and whether there was anything else I could have done.”
Anyone can set up their own counselling business, but most employers require counsellors to:
- hold a Level 6 Diploma, or higher qualification, in counselling
- be a member of a relevant professional body (or be working towards this).
From 2019, the New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC) will require new members to have a minimum of a Level 7 Bachelor's degree in counselling.
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
- Children’s Action Plan website - overview of restrictions on working with children
- New Zealand Legislation website - information on serious convictions that prevent employment with children
A tertiary entrance qualification may be required. Useful subjects include English and languages to NCEA Level 2.
Additional requirements for specialist roles:
- Counsellors working for district health boards are expected to have at least a three-year degree.
- Guidance counsellors working in secondary schools are usually trained teachers with extra qualifications in counselling.
- Counsellors contracted to ACC must have relevant training (eg, in sexual abuse or physical injury counselling) and meet cultural sensitivity and professional support requirements.
Counsellors need to be:
- mature, broad-minded and non-judgemental
- caring, empathetic and supportive
- positive, and able to appreciate people’s strengths
- patient and persistent
- able to keep information private
- able to relate to people from a range of cultures and backgrounds.
You need to be really open, sensitive and empathetic when you are counselling people.
Useful experience for counsellors includes:
- volunteer work with organisations such as Lifeline and Youthline
- social or community work
- work that involves helping or caring for people
- research or study in fields such as psychology
- life experience.
- Lifeline website - information about becoming a volunteer
- Youthline website - information about becoming a volunteer
Counsellors can apply to become members of a professional body such as:
- Gestalt Institute of New Zealand
- New Zealand Association of Counsellors
- New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists
- New Zealand Christian Counsellors Association
Professional bodies require members to meet quality standards, including qualifications and face-to-face counselling experience. For example, both the New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC) and the New Zealand Christian Counsellors Association require:
- at least a Level 6 qualification in counselling (NZAC plans to make this a Level 7 Bachelor's degree from 2019)
- 200 hours relevant work experience for provisional membership, and further counselling practice for full membership.
Find out more about training
- Gestalt Institute of New Zealand
- firstname.lastname@example.org - 027 201 3380 - www.gestalt.org.nz
- New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC)
- (04) 471 0307- email@example.com - www.nzac.org.nz
- New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists (NZAP)
- (04) 475 6244 - firstname.lastname@example.org - http://nzap.org.nz
- New Zealand Christian Counsellors Association (NZCCA)
- (09) 361 4183 - email@example.com - www.nzcca.org.nz
- Te Rau Matatini - Māori Mental Health Workforce Development
- 0800 628 28464 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.teraumatatini.co.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Chances of getting a job as a counsellor are poor as it is a relatively small profession, with low funding.
Turnover among counsellors is low, so vacancies are rare and and there are few entry-level opportunities for counsellors.
As a result, some graduates struggle to achieve the number of counselling hours required to qualify for membership with a professional body.
Increasing the chances of finding your first job
You can increase your chances of work as a new graduate by:
- getting a successful report from a training placement that demonstrates your work-readiness
- working as a volunteer to build up your experience
- developing skills in alcohol and drugs counselling, or group counselling.
Good employment opportunities for Māori counsellors
The New Zealand Association of Counsellors reports a shortage of qualified Māori counsellors.
Professional membership recommended
Qualified counsellors with a proven track record of competence and experience, and membership of a professional organisation, have the best chance of finding work.
Self-employment and private practice work common
Forty percent of counsellors are in private practice. The remainder may work for:
- health and welfare services
- schools, universities and polytechnics
- government agencies such as ACC
- human resources departments
- job and recruitment agencies.
Nearly 40% of counsellors work part-time. The exception is drug and alcohol counsellors, 90% of whom are full-time employees.
- McFelin, A, executive officer, New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC), Careers New Zealand interview, October 2016.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
- New Zealand Association of Counsellors website, accessed September 2016, (www.nzac.org.nz).
- New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists website, accessed September 2016, (nzap.org.nz).
- New Zealand Christian Counsellors Association website, accessed September 2016, (www.nzcca.org.nz).
- PPTA and NZ Association of Counsellors, 'The School Guidance Counsellor: Guidelines for Principals, Boards of Trustees, Teachers and Guidance Counsellors,' 2015 revised edition, October 2015, (www.nzac.org.nz).
Progression and specialisations
Experienced counsellors may progress to set up their own private practice, or move into management roles.
Counsellors may specialise in:
- drug and alcohol counselling
- family counselling
- sexual abuse counselling.
Last updated 21 October 2016