How to become a counsellor in Australia

Two ladies in conversation discussing how to become a counsellor in Australia.
Two ladies in conversation discussing how to become a counsellor in Australia.

Do friends and family regularly tell you that you’re good at listening? That the advice you’ve given in the past has helped someone? Counselling is often a career that chooses us. Maybe helping someone has inspired you, and now you want to do more to help more people in the same way.

The number of Australians who’ve needed to access mental health services since the start of the pandemic has grown. Services like Lifeline are reporting demand at historical highs, with calls increasing by 33 per cent since 2019

Sadly, however, many clinics have long waitlists, and some have even had to close their books to new clients.

It’s obvious that our country needs more mental health professionals. So if you want to learn how to become a counsellor in Australia, we’ll break down what you need to know.

Why become a counsellor?

Milli Blenkin, Head of Discipline, Counselling, at the University of Canberra (UC), says that most people first consider this career path because they want to help people.

However, she adds ‘There's often an underlying component where someone has accessed some form of support themselves, then felt that that's what they'd like to do. Or they've supported someone else, which has made them think of counselling as a potential job.’

Learning about counselling roles and responsibilities may help validate your desire to help others, so you can be more confident about becoming a counsellor.

‘You get so much satisfaction from watching a person initially come to you because they have an issue, then later walk away ready to take on the world,’ says Ms Blenkin. ‘All because they've talked to you about what they're going to do, and what will work best for them.’

Don’t let age become a barrier

If you’re considering a career in counselling, but haven’t studied for a while, don’t let that hold you back.

We’ve had many mature students return to the University once they’re ready for a career change. This could be your opportunity to follow your heart and do something that truly meets your values and gives back to your community.

The sky’s the limit for career options

‘The thing about counselling,’ Ms Blenkin says, ‘is that it's a fantastic backup professional skill to have, whatever your position and wherever you want to go in life.’

It’ll allow you to  specialise in various areas within the counselling field as well, including: 

  • relationships
  • financial support
  • rehabilitation 
  • school counselling.

Entry-level positions across these areas have average earnings of $83,424 per year, with senior positions increasing to $112,960. 

But you don’t have to actually become a counsellor to benefit from the core counselling skills and strategies you’ll learn during a counselling degree. We’ve put together a list of 10 career options you could explore with a counselling degree, just to give you a taste of the potential. 

Whether you aspire to become a teacher, a manager or even a car salesperson, ‘counselling skills mean learning to listen.’ 

‘Only then can you give your clients what they want or need,’ she adds. ‘We've even trained hairdressers to spot the signs of domestic violence and taught them what to do in those situations.’

Regardless of your current career path, studying a Master of Counselling online could open all sorts of doors for you. The skills you’ll develop can help you to manage and support the people around you - even if you’re not in a counselling role. 

A woman staring at her computer screen thinking about what do you need to study to become a counsellor

What does becoming a counsellor involve?

If you’re wondering what you need to study to become a counsellor in Australia, Ms Blenkin notes that there are a few pathways to consider - each requiring a different level of education.

‘You can do diplomas or undergraduate qualifications – or you can go up to a master’s degree,’ she explains. ‘But the best qualifications are the ones accredited by the Australian Counselling Association (ACA).’ 

If you already have an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in any discipline, you may be able to apply to enrol in our Master of Counselling and study online. This is a professional counselling qualification and is accredited by the ACA, with a primary focus is on counselling, not social work or welfare. 

Any course recognised and accredited by the ACA, providing counselling qualifications in Australia, must continue to meet standards set by the association.

The skills you’ll be taught will take you beyond learning theory from a lecture. They’ll allow you to provide in-depth support and advice as you approach different situations.

However, to enrol, you’ll also need to demonstrate helping experience – either in a paid position, such as a teacher or hairdresser, or in a voluntary role, like helping out at an animal shelter or with an emergency services organisation. 

If you are unsure how to find these opportunities, has a section dedicated to volunteer programs. These roles could also provide you with other opportunities to use your future counselling qualifications across Australia.

If you’re already interested in a particular area of counselling, or in a specific industry, you could also try approaching charities or not-for-profits in that field. Ask them how you might work together in the future once you’re qualified.

How important is the right kind of qualification?

Counsellors aren’t legally required to have a counselling qualification in Australia. However, ethical counsellors recognise that they have a duty to be accountable for their professional actions.

‘If you want to go into this career to help people, you have to learn how to do that safely,’ advises Ms Blenkin. 

‘The ACA has worked hard to ensure that professional counsellors receive the respect they deserve. This means the industry now requires at least a Graduate Diploma in Counselling, and – more often than not – a master’s degree.’ 

Studying a course like our Master of Counselling will ensure you receive the industry recognition you deserve. It will also help to accredit you with the ACA, in line with their Professional Training Standards.  

An infographic showing the steps to become a counsellor in Australia

Even counsellors need support

After completing our Master of Counselling online in Australia, you’ll be able to register as a fully qualified counsellor. From there, you can apply for a professional membership with an Australian organisation, including the Australian Counselling Association (ACA) and the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA).

This important step isn’t just about being responsible to the community you’ll be serving. It’s also about looking after yourself as a professional, and engaging in self-care.

That’s because your registration will provide you with access to critical support like supervision and mentoring, as well as continuing professional development. It ensures you have access to everything you need to do your job to the best of your ability.

A man looking at the camera and is glad he's become a counsellor.

How to get the right qualification to become a counsellor

While our Master of Counselling degree is, of course, accredited, graduating with it provides so much more: it means you are choosing the right qualifications to become a professional, highly regarded and ethical counsellor.

We ensure that you are provided with not only the right qualifications, but also:

  • practical experience to hone your skills
  • supervised support from peers and clinical experts
  • an understanding of cultural diversity to support individuals across Australia
  • access to the latest research and technology.

With core units such as Loss, Grief and Trauma in Counselling and Creative Practices in Counselling, you’ll have an abundance of skills, ideas and theories at your fingertips.

Plus, the course also includes two placement units that offer you the opportunity to practise your skills at an approved counselling agency.

Study the right way for you

The right learning style: this master’s degree is 100 per cent online, which means you can tailor your learning to suit you and fit it around your other commitments.

The right timing: with an intake every two months, you can start whenever you’re ready.

The right university: we rank in the top five universities in Australia for skills development (Times Higher Education, 2021). That means you can have confidence that the skills you acquire are the ones your future employer is looking for. 

Find out more about studying counselling with UC

If you’re the type of person who enjoys helping people, combined with lifelong learning and development, this career path is made for you. 

‘Really, a master’s degree is only the beginning. You just keep going and going – there’s always something new to learn,’ finishes Ms Blenkin.

So, let’s start at the very beginning, together. 

To take the first step:

Our team is ready to help you to help others.

Related study options