Counsellor - How to enter the job
Counsellors help people to deal with their feelings and responses, and decide on actions they can take to solve problems and create change in their lives.
Counsellors with one to three years' experience usually earn
$30K-$55K per year
Experienced counsellors usually earn
$55K-$80K per year
Source: Auckland Region District Health Boards/PSA; Ministry of Education
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 employer, qualifications, and experience:
- New graduates may start on between $30,000 and $40,000 a year.
- After three years' experience, counsellors can expect to earn between $45,000 and $55,000.
- Counsellors with more than six years' experience may earn between $55,000 and $77,000.
- Senior counsellors with supervisory or managerial responsibilities can earn up to $80,000.
Pay for self-employed counsellors depends on the success of their business and the amount of hours they work.
Some counsellors also choose to do voluntary work.
Sources: Auckland Region District Health Boards/PSA, 'Allied Public Health and Technical Collective Agreement 2010–2012'; and Ministry of Education, 'Area Teachers' Collective Agreement 2011–2013'.
(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 their feelings and talk about 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
- support clients in making decisions
- research ways to help deal with specific client problems
- run workshops and courses for clients.
Skills and knowledge
Counsellors need to have:
- counselling skills and up-to-date knowledge of different counselling theories and techniques
- research, communication and listening skills
- skill in analysing and evaluating human behaviour
- an understanding of human development and relationships
- knowledge of social and cultural issues
- knowledge of self-care strategies.
- work regular business hours
- work in offices and counselling rooms
- may travel to visit prisons, schools, marae, clients' homes and other counselling centres.
What's the job really like?
Sally Latham - Counsellor
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.”
Although anyone can set up their own counselling business, most employers require counsellors to have relevant qualifications. Many will also only hire qualified counsellors who are members of a relevant 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, which include training that involves face-to-face counselling experience, and qualifications. For example:
- New Zealand Association of Counsellors requires at least a Level 6 qualification and relevant work experience for provisional membership. Full membership requires further counselling practice over several months
- New Zealand Christian Counsellors Association requires a Level 6 qualification and 200 hours of supervised counselling practice for provisional membership. Full membership requires another 200 hours of practice.
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
At least four years of secondary education is preferred. A tertiary entrance qualification may be needed to enter some courses. Useful subjects include English and languages.
Additional requirements for specialist roles:
There are no specific entry requirements to become a life coach. However, a diploma or other qualification from a professional coaching school is strongly recommended. Courses should involve at least 60 hours of practical and theoretical training.
Counsellors need to be:
- mature and supportive
- caring and empathetic
- positive, broad-minded and non-judgemental
- able to appreciate people’s strengths and notice change
- 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.
Sally Latham - Counsellor
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 - find out about becoming a volunteer
- Youthline website - find out about becoming a volunteer
Registration with a relevant professional body is recommended.
Find out more about training
- Gestalt Institute of New Zealand
- 0800 437 825 - www.gestalt.org.nz
- International Coaching Federation (ICF) Australasia
- (09) 449 1548 - www.icfaustralasia.com
- New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC)
- (07) 834 0220 - www.nzac.org.nz
- New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists (NZAP)
- (04) 475 6244 - http://nzap.org.nz
- New Zealand Christian Counsellors Association (NZCCA)
- (09) 361 4183 - http://www.nzcca.org.nz
- Te Rau Matatini - Māori Mental Health Workforce Development
- 0800 628 28464 - www.matatini.co.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Changes to counselling service funding have contributed to a reduction in the number of counsellor roles, and fewer 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
New graduates can increase their chances of finding work by getting a successful report from a placement that demonstrates work-readiness. Also, students who volunteer and build up their experience are more likely to find work.
Workers with skills in alcohol and drugs counselling, or group counselling are often attractive to employers.
Good employment opportunities for Māori counsellors
The New Zealand Association of Counsellors says there is a shortage of qualified Māori counsellors.
Professional membership recommended
There are no set standards or qualifications people need to meet to practise as counsellors. However, qualified counsellors with a proven track record of competency and experience, and who are members of a professional organisation have the best chance of finding work.
Self-employment and private practice work common
Self-employment and private practice work is common for counsellors, especially for people working as life coaches. Other employers of counsellors include:
- health and welfare services
- schools, universities and polytechnics
- government agencies
- human resources departments
- job and recruitment agencies.
- Gestalt Institute of New Zealand website, accessed July 2015, (www.gestalt.org.nz).
- McFelin, A, executive officer, New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC), Careers New Zealand interview, July 2015.
- New Zealand Association of Counsellors website, accessed July 2015, (www.nzac.org.nz).
- New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists website, accessed July 2015, (http://nzap.org.nz).
- New Zealand Christian Counsellors Association website, accessed July 2015, (www.nzcca.org.nz).
- Weber, B, national secretary, New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC), Careers New Zealand interview, November 2013.
Progression and specialisations
Experienced counsellors may set up a private practice. They may also move into management roles.
Counsellors may specialise in areas such as:
- drug and alcohol counselling
- family counselling
- sexual abuse counselling.
Counsellors can also specialise as a:
- Life Coach
- Life coaches improve the quality of people's lives by helping them identify steps and take actions to fulfil professional or personal goals. This may involve developing their business or career ambitions, or life dreams and aims.
Last updated 22 September 2015