- McFelin, A, executive officer, New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC), Careers New Zealand interview, October 2011.
- New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC), 'Executive Report to Branches', August 2011, (www.nzac.org.nz).
- Weber, B, national secretary NZAC, Careers New Zealand interview, November 2013.
Counsellor - How to enter the job Alternative titles
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.
Call us on 0800 222 733
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'.
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.”
The New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC) has recently changed the minimum education level for becoming a qualified counsellor. It is expected that people will have at least a bachelor's degree.
Most employers will only hire qualified counsellors who are members of the New Zealand Association of Counsellors.
However, the profession is unregulated, which means anyone can set up their own counselling business.
There are no specific entry requirements to become a life coach. However, a diploma or other qualification in coaching from a professional coaching school is strongly recommended. Courses should involve at least 60 hours of practical and theoretical training.
- International Coach Federation Australasia website - information on accredited coach training programmes in Australia and New Zealand
- NZ Association of Counsellors website - information about training options
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.
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.
Sally Latham Counsellor
Useful experience for counsellors includes social work or community work. Life experience and any work that involves helping or caring for people is an advantage, as is any research in related fields.
View information on courses in the course database
Find out more about training
What are the chances of getting a job?
Despite growth in the number of counsellors, current government strategies have led to a reduction of funding for counselling-related work. This has meant less work is available and competition is high for positions that arise.
As a result, some graduates are struggling to achieve the number of counselling hours required to qualify for New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC) membership.
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.
Professional membership recommended
Counselling is currently unregulated, so there are no set standards or qualifications people need to meet to practise. 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.
Good employment opportunities for Māori counsellors
NZAC says there is a shortage of qualified Māori counsellors.
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.
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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 and sexual abuse counselling. In addition, you can train in one of the following areas:
- Careers Counsellor
- Careers counsellors assist individuals and groups with their career decision-making, and may assist with an individual's self-development and job search.
- 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.
How many people are doing this job?
Updated 4 Jun 2015