Counsellors help people to deal with challenges and manage their emotions, thoughts and behaviour.
Counsellors with up to five years' experience usually earn
$51K-$72K per year
Senior counsellors with more experience and responsibility usually earn
$72K-$113K per year
Source: Auckland Region DHBs/PSA, 2020 and Ministry of Education, 2021.
Pay for counsellors varies depending on their employer, qualifications and experience.
Counsellors working for district health boards
- Graduates with a counselling qualification usually start on $53,000 a year.
- Counsellors with up to five years' experience usually earn $53,000 to $72,000.
- Counsellors with over five years' experience usually earn $72,000 to $85,000.
- Senior counsellors with over 10 years' experience and more responsibilities can earn between $85,000 and $113,000.
Guidance counsellors working in secondary schools
- Guidance counsellors without teaching qualifications in secondary schools usually earn between $51,000 and $62,000 a year.
- Guidance counsellors without teaching qualifications and over five years' experience can earn between $62,000 and $75,000.
- Guidance counsellors with teaching qualifications in secondary schools usually earn between $56,000 and $75,000 a year.
- Guidance counsellors with teaching qualifications and over five years' experience can earn between $77,000 and $87,000.
Self-employed counsellors may earn more than this, depending on the success of their business.
Sources: Auckland Region District Health Boards/PSA, 'Allied, Public Health and Technical Multi-employer Collective Agreement – Expires 31 October 2020,' 2020; and Ministry of Education, 'Secondary Teachers' Collective Agreement 2019-2022', 2021.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Counsellors may do some or all of the following:
- provide counselling face to face, over the phone, or online
- encourage clients to discuss challenges in their lives
- help clients to talk about their feelings and find ways to cope
- discuss changes that clients could make and help them to make decisions
- research ways to deal with clients' specific problems
- keep client records
- run workshops and courses.
Skills and knowledge
Counsellors need to have knowledge of:
- counselling theories and techniques
- human behaviour and thought patterns
- grief, addiction and sexual abuse, and how these problems can affect people
- social and cultural problems
- research in their area of counselling.
- usually work regular business hours, but may do shift work
- work in private practices, clients' homes, schools, hospitals or prisons
- may travel locally to visit clients.
What's the job really like?
What do you like about being a counsellor?
"I love my job as a counsellor because I get to meet diverse people from all walks of life. I’m really grateful because I can put a smile on someone’s face by helping them.
"One of the best things is when I hear my clients acknowledge that their lives have changed for the better since receiving counselling."
Can you describe your main job tasks?
"My duties involve talking to individuals, active listening, and providing a safe place for people to discuss life challenges and explore solutions to their problems.
"A typical day would involve preparing and planning for each session before talking to clients, and writing notes and reports."
What are opportunities for counsellors like?
"Opportunities are good because there are many people with mental health challenges who need someone to talk to. The schools are also short of counsellors, and another area of need is the drug and alcohol field.
"I believe every person needs to talk to a counsellor at some stage in their lives."
To become a counsellor you usually need to:
- hold a Level 6 diploma, or higher qualification, in counselling
- be a member of a relevant professional body (or be working towards this).
The New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC) requires new members to have a minimum of a 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.
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.
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.
Counsellors can apply to become members of a professional body such as:
- 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
- New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC)
- (04) 471 0307- firstname.lastname@example.org - www.nzac.org.nz
- New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists (NZAP)
- (04) 475 6244 - email@example.com - http://nzap.org.nz
- New Zealand Christian Counsellors Association (NZCCA)
- (09) 361 4183 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.nzcca.org.nz
- Te Rau Matatini - Māori Mental Health Workforce Development
- 0800 628 28464 - email@example.com - www.teraumatatini.co.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Chances of getting a job as a counsellor are average as it's a relatively small profession.
Turnover among counsellors is low, so vacancies don't occur often and entry-level opportunities can be hard to find.
As a result, some graduates struggle to achieve the number of counselling hours required to qualify for membership with a professional body.
According to the Census, 5,223 counsellors worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Qualifications and professional membership recommended
Qualified counsellors with experience and a professional counselling organisation membership have the best chance of finding work.
Good employment opportunities for Māori counsellors
The New Zealand Association of Counsellors reports a shortage of qualified Māori counsellors.
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.
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.
- Auckland Region District Health Board, 'Allied, Public Health & Technical Collective Agreement (MECA)' accessed March 2021, (www.careers.adhb.govt.nz).
- Ministry of Education, '$199 Million Education Wellbeing Package Now Complete', 31 July 2020, (www.education.govt.nz).
- New Zealand Association of Counsellors website, accessed March 2021, (www.nzac.org.nz).
- New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists website, accessed March 2021, (nzap.org.nz).
- New Zealand Christian Counsellors Association website, accessed March 2021, (www.nzcca.org.nz).
- New Zealand Government, ‘Increased Counselling Support For All Students’ (media release), 31 July 2020.
- New Zealand Post Primary Teachers' Association, 'Secondary Teachers' Collective Agreement (STCA)', accessed March 2021, (www.ppta.org.nz).
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
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 29 April 2021