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How to become a counsellor.

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. ~Anne Frank

This question has crossed my desk more times than I can count, so I am reprinting this post. A better title might be "How I became a counsellor" , you might do something completely different, something that suits you better.

There are many routes to working in the helping fields and each of us has to find a path that works. It doesn’t have to be a perfect path, just ensure that your program is accredited and/or the route to doing the type of work you want to do. Think with the end in mind as Steven Covey says.

People who provide helping services, therapy, counselling, psychotherapy, are a varied group of professionals, with diverse education and experience. Since there are a number of routes it can be helpful to ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Where do I want to work? (Hospital, Children’s Services, shelter, College or University, health clinic, private practice)

  2. What type of Education and Experience do I have and how much time and money am I able to put into further training?

  3. Where do I live? (Are there rules governing the practice of counselling in my region?)

At this time counselling professionals all over Canada and the US are hard at work to help the government regulate the profession, so it is important to find out if your own Province or State has specific requirements and laws governing counsellors/counselors.

*More information below.

How I became a counsellor (The circuitous route!)

Let’s just say my career path was organic: Meaning the training flowed as a result of the work. I didn’t decide when I was 5 that I was going to be a counsellor, coach, entrepreneur, consultant, etc, etc, etc. I was influenced both by the passion of my mentors for various approaches and by the needs of my clients for further resources and interventions.

Like many helping professionals, I was often the person people talked to about their problems or desires long before I made it my career. I did a lot of volunteering and when I did my undergraduate degree I focused on issues of abuse and trauma. I didn’t find myself to be too employable with my arts degree and my lack of career skills, so I drifted a bit worked in restaurants and private corporations where I learned more about the business side of things which helped me considerably when I started my own practice and consulting business.

Despite a growing interest in business I decided for once and for all that I wanted to get back into the work of trauma counselling, but I felt I needed more formal training and so I learned all I could about various programs in Canada that offered graduate training in Social Work, Counselling and Clinical Psychology.

I decided on the University of British Columbia and started with a diploma in Guidance (because I didn’t have all of the required courses necessary to apply to the Masters in Counselling). It was during the Masters in Counselling where I was introduced to the methods I would continue to train in and use to this day; Narrative Therapy and Solution Focussed Counselling. You can find this degree at some other Universities, in the Faculty of Education.

Why did I choose Counselling over Social Work or Clinical Psych? For a few reasons, which are the same reasons most people end up in one career over another; opportunity and misinformation! But hey, it all worked out. The Counselling Psychology Department at UBC was the place for me and I’m so glad I chose it, but was it the only route? No way. Just the best choice for me at the time. I didn’t have an undergraduate degree in Psychology so a Clinical Psych program would have been a longer haul. I didn’t want to work for CAS or in a hospital so I mistakenly ruled out an Masters of Social Work. Not mistakenly because I wish I had chosen it, just that I have lots of colleagues and friends who are Social Workers who do exactly what I do.

*nb with that said, at this time there may be additional compelling reasons to go the MSW or Psychologist route as sometimes their services are covered through insurance which can have a positive effect on building a private practice. In addition, if your aspiration is to work for a hospital or the Children's aid Society you may find that an MSW is more desirable. This may change as counselling becomes regulated, but that is what I have seen in the past.

During my work at UBC I did a placement at a University Counselling Clinic and at a High School clinic. I really enjoyed the University Clinic and that helped me narrow down my future career goals, and so I returned to Kingston and my own Alma Mater, Queen’s University. I still required more work experience so I held an advising position and also worked at a Woman’s shelter. After a couple of years I joined the staff at Queen’s.

I joined the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association when I started my private practice. Truthfully, so I could have access to their liability insurance. As the years went by the resources offered by the association inspired me to become even more involved and at the time of writing this article (2010) I was the Ontario Anglophone Director.

I hope what you can take from this rather unorthodox “behind the resume” is the idea that a career is not always linear. You don’t always know exactly where you will end up. I tell my clients that sometimes a career path doesn't make sense until you look at it from 20 years in!

What are some other routes to becoming trained to offer therapy?

You might want to explore becoming a Psychologist, Psychological Associate or a Social Worker.

*Currently the terms Psychologist, Psychotherapist, Social Worker (and others depending on where you want to practice) are registered and protected and what that means for potential students is that there is a linear career path. You must follow the regulations of the college to earn the right to use one of these titles.

If your main interest is in becoming a:


Social Worker

Certified Counsellor

Psychotherapist (Ontario)

If you have more specific questions feel free to get in touch via email. I regret that I don’t have the time to answer these questions informally “over lunch” but do have consulting hours that can be booked to ask more questions and get to the heart of what would be the best route for you.

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