For some, becoming a counsellor has been a life-long calling that has been beckoning to them since their childhood, while others find themselves drawn to it later in their life.
I’ve been practicing for many years, and I believe the work is fulfilling on a deep level. Here’s a walkthrough of how you can follow in my footsteps and join the world of professional therapy.
What is a Counsellor?
The counsellor role is trained to provide counselling services to clients, focusing on acting within ethical guidelines, and meeting specific competency standards. They treat clients who are experiencing symptoms that cause cognitive, emotional, or behavioural impairment in their lives and those who want to improve their personal growth and general productivity.
In this role, you will apply recognized psychological theories, respond to outcomes and shifts in clients, and address each of your clients with a customized treatment plan, often through communication and overview of existing frameworks for mental health.
One of the key elements for entering this profession is a strong theoretical and practical foundation, obtained from intensive and relevant schooling. Whether you want to work with “mini-adults” or adults.
Certificate and Diploma
One option in this area is to take a counselling certificate or diploma program. Certificates can be less than a year of study, while diplomas may range from 1-2 years. The topics they can cover can be broad and general or more specialized to a specific area, like complex trauma or child and youth counselling.
Some examples of programs in the BC area where you can get registered clinical counsellor training are the Kelowna College of Professional Counselling, which offers customized certificates and diploma programs, or the Vancouver Community College course in foundational counselling skills.
Bachelors and Masters
This path is significantly longer and more expensive than a certificate, but it provides more in-depth education and a smoother pathway into the industry. Bachelors programs that specialize in counselling psychology are generally non-existent. The real specialization will take place once you enter your master’s program.
But before that, you will have to do four years, or five. Any university degree will do, meaning you can take the time to study some other interests or focus on adjacent fields. For instance, a bachelor of arts or science in psychology may give you a starting look into counselling, or you might seek out a bachelor of social work. As long as the prerequisites are met.
Regardless it would be best to do well and boost your extracurricular portfolio to set you up for acceptance into the more focused masters program. One downside of going this route is that bachelor’s degrees are often focused entirely on theory, avoiding more practical counselling skills in most cases.
If you want more hands-on education before you hit your masters, it can make sense to look for a co-op program that offers real-life professional engagement. Do your research here.
Now that you’ve found yourself at the end of a fruitful four years, it’s time to go for your masters, a prevalent option when it comes to training counsellors. It’s optimal because it offers a wealth of deepened theoretical knowledge and the chance to acquire and develop field skills. Often graduate counselling students will have to decide on a specific area of intense study for their thesis.
Researching schools here is essential, as the type of courses you take on will have a significant impact on what you learn over the next two to three and a half years (which is on top of the years you’ve already dedicated to a bachelor’s degree).
The Masters in Counselling program at the University of Northern British Columbia is one such choice with courses available for working with parents and families or indigenous communities. Another option is the Counselling Psychology MA at Simon Fraser University, which offers studies in ethics and assessment procedures. The most specialized of these schools is City University of Seattle, with the location in downtown Vancouver.
While the other two paths are the most popular, the Ph.D. route is another one you can take if you don’t mind being in school for an extended period. However, if you go this route, you may still do counselling work but will likely find yourself working in research or other fields. You wouldn’t necessarily call yourself a counsellor with this sort of educational backing, which makes sense since you’ll qualify as a doctor.
Many of the same concerns for the master’s program apply here. One example of a Ph.D. program is the Counselling Psychology degree at the University of British Columbia. It offers in-depth training using the scientist-practitioner model, building on your research skill and your ability to be a professional psychologist.
With the advent of COVID-19, many courses have moved online, so if you were to go to school now, you’d likely find yourself working remotely. However, once this pandemic has gone by, there will still be the question of whether you should pursue online courses vs. physical ones.
The advantages are apparent. It’s much more convenient to reach your classes when they can be accessed with the touch of a button, and with video-conferencing technology, it becomes more comfortable than ever to feel like you’re in the classroom. However, you will have trouble networking with your classmates, and some people may find online courses not to suit their temperament and learning style. It also makes it more difficult to get hands-on experience.
If you decide to go with the online route, make sure that the program is legitimate and recognized by the province. Also, check the curriculum to make sure it offers the education you need and the type of courses that best suit your interests as a counsellor.
All this being said, this first step of education is a core part of how to become a registered clinical counsellor in BC. However, there are issues with existing training due to the scarcity of expertise and the costliness of undergoing education. Keep an eye out for new training strategies and procedures coming in the future.
Professional Associations and Certifications
An excellent way to boost your career and improve networking is by joining professional associations. Similarly, it can make sense to get counselling certifications to stand out from the crowd and hone your skills in different ways.
One particular association of note is the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. Being able to join their ranks means that you can classify yourself as a Registered Clinical Counsellor. This designation guarantees to your clients that you’ve met the educational and training requirements suggested by the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors.
This eligibility requires that you first have a master’s degree from an accredited institution and that you have completed the counselling course requirements in each of the six areas:
- Normal development and/or abnormal Psychology
Basic research design
- Counselling and personality theories
- Family therapy theory and practice
- Group therapy theory and practice
You also need to have had 100 hours of clinical supervision as verified through a legitimate reference. As long as you meet all these requirements and send in an application, you can be a member of the association, providing you with connections and qualifications that will benefit your career.
Another association that you might consider joining is the Canadian Professional Counsellors Association. This national non-profit will similarly provide a registered status as well as access to events and training. Membership with them requires a minimum of 450 training hours, 90 of which are practicum hours with an accredited education provider, and provision of various supporting documents
Certifications can refer to the certificates previously mentioned and can include any number of specialized certificate courses, like those focused on counselling women or minorities. The more qualifications you have in this area, the better you are angled to get a position in a field of counselling that interests you.
Another way to obtain a certification is through the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. Rather than just membership, it requires that you fill out an application that will ask you questions about direct practice experience as well as the type of coursework you’ve completed.
With a combination of education, association status, and certifications, you’re well on your way to becoming a counsellor.
While the nitty-gritty details may be necessary, even more critical is your broader motivation and long-term goals within the counselling field. You want to make sure before you jump in that it’s the right fit for you and that you won’t burn out or become disillusioned.
So ask yourself, what is your motivation for going into this field? Is it something genuine and authentic? Also, consider whether you’re self-aware enough to make it and, if relevant, whether past counselling experiences (as a client) have shaped your perspective and understanding of the field.
You may want to think about whether you will jump into private practice. You will still need extensive clinical supervision and counselling experience before making the jump to independent work, but it is something to contemplate as a long-term milestone.
Another crucial element is whether you’re ready for an intensive schooling regimen. Make sure you can succeed in your courses and that you’re willing to sacrifice years and thousands of dollars into pursuing this dream.
Lastly, ask yourself whether you love the profession, whether you want to help people, and walk others through the most challenging parts of their lives. Counselling, regardless of focus, is all about helping people in a variety of ways, and you have to love doing that if you want to succeed. If you can answer all these questions with confidence, then you may be cut from the right cloth to have a long and fulfilling career in the field.
Components of Success
If you’ve decided, all there’s left to do is focus on being successful. You must have good listening skills and the ability to engage and emphasize actively. Encouragement, open-mindedness, and creative problem-solving are particularly relevant as well. It would be best to develop an intuitive sense of problems and how you can best help resolve them.
You should also have a firm grasp of technology. Computers and tablets, digital audio equipment, and word and spreadsheet processing software will all be used regardless of what study area you decide to work in, making the capability to handle all these moving parts another hidden part of being a good counsellor.
Jumping into the field of therapy and social support is not a decision to be made lightly. As you can hopefully see from the above, there is a lot to consider when making this choice, and even pursuing education alone could take many years and a lot of money.
Think deeply about your passions, your qualifications, and your strengths before diving into this world. Counselling may be hard to define but the rewards are concrete and lasting. If you still think it’s for you, then there’s no time like the present to get started.
If you’re passionate about becoming a counsellor in BC, a profession which I wholeheartedly recommend, it makes sense to talk to someone in the field first. You can contact Well Beings Counselling by booking a session with one of our counsellors in Vancouver who can give you the insight and expertise you need to make the best decision possible.