Careers in Counselling

We try to provide information for new aspirants who would like to study and make their mark in various fields. Today we will talk about another upcoming field about which many people might not be fully aware in terms of its usefulness to society and prospects as a career, namely counselling. Our guest expert and psychologist, Dr Ritu Modi, whose information is given towards the end of the article, has been an immense help in completion of this post. You can ask her any queries related to this area using the contact us link provided at the end.

Common Perception

Before going deeper into the topic, let us start by first understanding what is meant by the term counselling. Unfortunately, many parents, students, and the common people do not even know about the term. Even those who do, it merely means a person who does nothing but talks with you, so the usual response from the parents when kids want to take up this option is – ye kaun sa field hai bhai (what sort of field is this?) But is it so?

Counselling Profession

(Image Credits: Professional Counselling Service Website)

So What is Counselling?

The term counselling does not mean talking to people, but it is about understanding their psychological needs and responding with an appropriate plan of action based on the input. Hence it can be seen that since advising (usually viewed as talking) is one of the essential aspects of counselling, it requires another integral component of communication, namely active listening. It means that the counsellor should be in a position to listen to what the other person has to say with an open mind and understand the situation from their perspective and not from one’s perspective carefully. It might seem like an easy task, but it is not. It is not like listening to a friend and gives some advice just for the sake of it. It first involves taking responsibility for the mental health and well-being of a person who might be a total stranger and still advising in a manner that is best for them in terms of their overall well-being.

Psychiatrist vs. Counsellor 

There are some differences between a counsellor and psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has the knowledge and authority to prescribe medicines or drugs based on the condition of the patient. In contrast, the counsellor usually deals with the advice aspect and psychotherapy. It does not make their work less important but first puts them in a zone of higher responsibility. The psychiatrist usually has the basic medical bachelor’s degree followed by post-graduation or doctoral education in psychiatry.

Today’s Scenario

Apart from the service provided by counsellors to society, it is also a profession. So like any other career, the decision to put in time and money is like a long term investment, and it depends on the demand and supply scenario to get a profitable return on investment is seen from their perspective. So we need to see whether there is any demand for counsellors and its future trends not only in India but globally as well.

Mental Health Data

An important indicator of the demand for counselling services is the mental health data, and one of the most comprehensive documents in this regard is the World Health Organization Mental Health Atlas, whose latest version is that published in the year 2017. You can download it from the link provided.

It would be difficult to discuss this entire comprehensive document in this post as it would lead the discussion astray. However, some of the main highlights which may not be directly connected to the profession of counselling but are a strong indicator of the opportunities have been highlighted below.


(Image Credits: Cityscape Recruitment Website)

On a global scale, only nine mental health workers (that does not refer to counselling professionals alone but includes them too) exist for every one lac (one hundred thousand) of the population. It is a serious anomaly between the demand and supply of mental health professionals, and it means that there is a vast capacity to absorb mental health workers into the global workforce.

Data from WHO also suggests that nearly 25% of the world need some or other form of mental care, and they could be suffering from various issues like depression, anxiety, mood disorders and so forth. All these figures are not very encouraging from the health perspective, but they do indirectly point out to the fact that mental health issues are present, so the mental health workers are necessary.

Apart from the statistical data, it can also be understood from everyday experience that today we are all undergoing a lot of pressure in both professional and personal life. As a result, more and more people look at counselling. So the chances are that if you take up careers in counselling, you can make good money and name for yourself provided you are good at your work. People of all ages require counselling as even small children are under a lot of stress, although it is a different question that parents can be best counsellors for kids. Still, we would discuss that in a separate issue in our portal related to kids’ issues, which is betibeta.

Qualities Required in Counsellor

This is an area that could be controversial as it is not easy to define or outline the specific requirements for counselling or any profession for that matter. There could be well defined outline of the academic requirements like which are the pre-requisites for this profession and so forth. Still, personal qualities, traits, or characteristics cannot be objectively outlined. There are a few traits that could help a person to discharge the responsibilities of a counsellor in a better manner.


As per the Cambridge Dictionary, empathy can be defined as the “ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.” From the language perspective, it is very similar to the world sympathy, which is more related to feeling sad or remorseful about the condition of another person. Still, it is a higher state than sympathy where the person feels like the other but is also independent enough to analyze the situation and provide guidance and advice.

Can empathy be developed?

There are two views about empathy, where some people think that it is natural rather than acquired. It might have something to do with the upbringing of the person and other cultural factors that result in the formation of sanskaras, which are not easy to change later in life.

However, most experts, including our guest expert Dr. Ritu Modi is of the opinion that empathy is a psychological skill that can be learned over time. However, there has been a detailed discussion on this aspect, and this would be provided later either in the FAQ section or in the form of a separate post.

A Strong Mind:

A person working as a counsellor should also have a strong mind because it usually involves listening to the issues of other people. If a person does not have a strong mind, he or she could succumb to a sad state of mind through continuous listening of the views of others. However, there is a catch in this because if a person is not sensitive, he or she will not be able to empathize with the clients, but if the person is over sensitive, it is going to be a problem as well. Hence it requires a deliberate and delicate balance between empathy and strength of mind.


Most of us have an inherent tendency to share things we know about someone with other people. Usually, the more secret is the knowledge; the higher is the urge to share it with friends or anyone you feel comfortable with, generally speaking. This is something which has to be avoided by a counsellor as he or she could come across a wide range of personal information, and it should be kept confidential as it is also one of the ethical requirements of this job. Even if the client leaves the counsellor or says starts to use the services of a rival, the ethics always hold a higher value than personal emotions and feelings. This is something that could be developed only if one is sincere towards the work and respects the privacy of others.

General Awareness:

A counsellor is a person who needs to talk to different types of people having various backgrounds in terms of social, cultural, and economic factors. It is better if the person is familiar with the basic differences as it helps to establish a rapport with people belonging to different backgrounds. Basically, it is something similar to having the ability to communicate with people in an effective manner. Just take an example, where a counsellor has to talk to a female belonging to a very conservative background. It would be a challenging task to extract information as compared to someone who comes from a modern background and is open about such discussions.

Types of Counselling

One to one:

This is the most personal type of counselling in which the counsellor gives an individual session on one to one basis. This has several advantages, like the confidentiality of the client and the very important discussion. Many people are not comfortable talking about their issues in public. It also gives the counsellor a chance to connect personally with the client and understand the situation in a better manner. It has been observed that at many places like the Women Cells in India which are supposed to give counselling to married couples mainly in an attempt to prevent divorce often tend to provide this advice in a public place and in a manner which seems more formal and authoritarian rather than being a personal and sensitive matter. Later we will also be discussing types of counselling services that are available like marriage counselling, career counselling and so forth as counselling is not always related to issues of depression and mental health. Still, on the positive side, they are also associated with taking help in making the right decisions.

Group Counselling:

Group counselling is concerned with advising people in a group rather than in a one on one session. However, it is not that people just sit and listen to a counsellor for advice who keeps speaking. Basically, group counselling is more like a group discussion where people share common problems and advice each other although there is also a group leader who is a proper counsellor. Still, his or her role, in this case, is more to supervise and direct the conversation in an appropriate direction rather than just listen passively to what is being said and done. As can be understood, this type of counselling is usually suitable for matters of common concern where the issues are not very sensitive or private.

Teaser: Can you think about any such issues where group counselling could help. Type in the comments below or on our FB page.

Single Session vs. Multi-Session Counselling:

Counselling is usually not a onetime process because if the issue were so simple as to be resolved in one short or long sitting, it would not have required counselling in the first place. However, in some instances or categories of counselling it might work out. For example, if a student wants to take admission in a particular course and he/she has done her full homework and knows about various options but only confused about some of the points, a single sitting or session with a good counsellor should be sufficient to set the ball rolling and clarify the issues.

However, in cases of serious trauma, it might require long and multiple sessions to help the person to overcome that state of mind. This is known as multi-session counselling and is one of the best ways to solve complex problems. There is one catch with this type of counselling, especially from the perspective of the clients or their families. In India, as well as many other places in the world, there is also a stigma associated with visiting a counsellor or psychologist as well as the cost issues involved given the relatively lower levels of per capita income. Hence when it comes to taking multiple sessions, there are issues of trust associated with it too.

It is unfortunate that people in the developing world still have an opinion that doctors and health workers, including mental health workers of which counsellors are a part, are purely professional and only want to extract maximum fees from their clients. This means that if a counsellor calls them for multiple sessions, they may see it as a tactic from the economic benefit rather than as a tactic for the health benefit of the client. There have indeed been a large number of cases where this has been true, but that is a matter of separate discussion which we would be doing in a separate post that deals with ethics of the medical profession and how it was a pure service and slowly became a profession.

Specializations in Counselling

Marriage and Family Counselling

Marriages and families are under a lot of stress these days, and one of the main reasons for this is the rising stress. One source states that nearly 60% of the couples who get married currently and are in the age range of 20-25 years would get divorced in the coming years. These statistics might just be estimation, but it shows the seriousness of the situation. There is a term in Psychology known as the seven-year itch, which we would be discussing in detail in a separate post, which states that there are high chances of couples getting divorced in the seventh year of their marriage. There are several reasons for divorce, and the declining role of joint families, especially in the developing world, could be one of the issues. There are several institutions and agencies which help to counsel couples, including government bodies, women cell, NGOs, and so forth, but the role of the counsellor is most important. So there is an ample opportunity for counselling professionals to play in role in saving families and rise in their career.

Editor’s Note: there are other professions such as divorce lawyers who might benefit from the opposite, but we will talk about it in a separate post related to the legal profession as this is not meant in the form of sarcasm but a practical reality.

Career Counselling

Young people and teenagers often want to do a lot in life but are usually confused about which field to follow. Many people just take on a profession or career just because their friends or colleagues did so or that their parents wanted them to do so. The result is that they usually end up being frustrated or unhappy. This means that they should have a proper knowledge about the hardships, challenges, and real ground-based realities before they embark on this long journey.

Here is a short video by Ms Samriddhi Tyagi on this topic (in Hindi)

It must also be stated that even though career counselling is a form of counselling it is not precisely related to Psychology. Still, any expert with a thorough knowledge of various professionals could act as a guide and a mentor for the students. However, to check out the mental comparability of the person with the chosen field can be better done by a counsellor with knowledge of Psychology by conducting appropriate psychological tests.

Genetic Counselling

This type of counselling has gained prominence especially since the launch of the Human Genome Project towards the beginning of the century. This relates to advice on genetic disorders of current or future generations. It means that several people who have genetic disorders and there could be chances of those disorders being transmitted to their next generations through genes. Advice on how to deal with such risks in clients is the main role of a genetic counsellor. In case you are looking forward to get advice of any of such counsellors here is a list of genetic counsellors approved by the World Health Organization. 

Bereavement Counselling

This is also known as grief counselling and is mostly a foreign concept when talked about in the context of India. We all have to undergo different sorts of losses in life which could include the ultimate loss of death of a loved one. This causes grief or bereavement and in most of the foreign countries, there are nuclear families with people staying alone and it could be difficult to cope up with such situations. In India and many Asian countries the trend of joint families still exists and therefore it acts like a natural bereavement counselling but this concept of taking professional help in times of grief developed in the west and it is an important area for upcoming psychologists to make their career.

Grief counselling is based on the theory of Kubler & Ross who identified 5 stages of grief starting from denial to the final acceptance stage and it is the task of the counsellor to guide the client through this process taking through the intermediate stages of anger, bargaining and depression to reach the final acceptance stage after which the client is free from grief or at least learns to accept and live with it peacefully. This could be one of the most challenging tasks and one needs to put in real efforts to ensure that a person is taken successfully through these transition steps. 

Rehabilitation Counselling

Many people can disabilities which could either be physical or emotional. The former are more easily visible but it is not easy to recognize the latter and it is necessary for people with any kind of disability to be able to overcome it and live a normal useful life in the society, earn their living and be independent. In order to achieve this goal, it might be necessary for people to take professional help and this is where the concept of rehabilitation counselling comes in the picture.

This field is growing and estimates suggest that the demand for rehabilitation counsellors would go up by 20% even within the next two years as per the data from the US Bureau of Labour Statistics. It is a relatively long and painstaking process as it involves working with the clients right from the start and helping them to understand their strengths and weaknesses, trying to maximize on their strong points, making use of the available opportunities, skill development and so forth. It ends up with the rehabilitation of the clients in settings which are far better than their original condition. It could be a really satisfying job role as the counsellor. The person would feel that he/she has added something positive to the lives of mentally, emotionally or physically challenged people. This satisfaction is present in other forms of counselling also but here it is a sort of direct experience. 

Crisis Counselling

This counselling is considered quite close to grief or bereavement counselling but there are some differences as well. While grief or bereavement usually relates to loss of loved ones, mainly through death, crisis could involve several situations which a person could find difficulty in dealing with. There could be innumerable instances of such situations (as an exercise, could you outline some of the areas where crisis counselling could work?)

This is also known popularly as crisis intervention and it deals with short term help in terms of retaining the mental distress of clients. Another difference from grief counselling is that it deals with acute rather than chronic cases, meaning thereby that the counsellor in such a case is more focussed on providing help which could help in avoiding an immediate catastrophe rather than long term help. For example if a person might have gone through a total disaster in business and might need help to stabilize his or her mental condition else he/she could end up taking some step such as suicide or harm to others. 

Child Counselling

It has been often that that child is the father of man (though in these times of equality it could be reframed to the proverb that kids are the parents of human beings rather than being gender specific) but the fact that we have put this type of counselling in the end does not mean that it is any less important. Infact children are one of the most vulnerable groups and need proper psychological counselling so that their entire lives and future are secured. 

Child counselling is a highly specialized form of counselling where you would need to work with small children, adolescents and teenagers and identify their mental, emotional distress and try to find a way around it. It is more challenging since many times the smaller children may not be able to express their problems with accuracy and hence it is difficult to provide the necessary care. More often than  not you would require specialized qualifications to deal with children given the vulnerability and sensitivity of this client group.

Role of Play Therapy

It would be appropriate to mention the role of play therapy in child counselling. As we know that play is an important component in the healthy development of a child. As per medical theories the brain of a new born child contains millions and billions of neuro-cells but they are not having the complex inter-connectivity like an adult brain. This takes place during first five years of the child growth and playing has crucial role in this development. It is this connectivity which forms the basis of future development of a child from various aspects of mental health. 

This phenomenon of play is therefore used by child counsellors to know about the inherent feelings, emotions which they might not be able to express. However this therapy not only works for small kids but could be used for children upto say 12  years of age who might be facing behavioural issues and the parents are not being able to resolve them. It would be interested to note that this therapy is also used in teenagers and adults in certain cases as there is an inherent child in every adult psychological make up. This therapy could help in their grief treatment, mood disorders treatment, anxiety treatment and so forth.

*There can be several other types of counselling services but the above list should be sufficient to give you an idea about the main types of areas where you could offer your services and develop your career.

Education Qualifications

Having learnt about the types of counselling that could be provided, you must also know the educational qualifications which are necessary to become a certified or professional counsellor. Actually this is a topic which is very vast and requires an indepth analysis in itself. Like we stated above many cases of specialized counselling such as child counsellors etc would require over and above the normal qualifications required for a counsellor. 

Even the requirements vary from country to country and so do the regulatory mechanisms. Usually there would be very strict norms and regulations in the developed world for anyone trying to become an professional counsellor. In some of the developing parts of the world the rules may not be that stringent or even if they are present, they may be more on paper rather than in actual practice.

Still we would need to give a general overview of the types of qualification and usually you would require at minimal bachelor’s degree in psychology but preferably a master’s or doctorate degree. However given the nature of the profession it is equally important that you acquire actual working skills by doing internships during your study and then by working as an assistant under a full fledged counsellor in the area of your choice. 

Most of the countries would also require a licence apart from the educational degree to practice as a professional counsellor and the exact licensing requirements vary from country to country and the type of counselling you would like to provide your services. Hence it can be said that you require a combination of a professional degree as well as a professional licence to be able to work in this field. 

Job Roles & Salaries

Having attained the degree and licence of a counsellor what are the avenues where you can work and what type of salaries can you expect to withdraw. This is one of the most important questions which concerns the counsellors and asked very often. 

Individual Practice

You can work in your individual practice where you can provide counselling sessions to clients either from your office or by home visits. Obviously it is advised that you follow this route only once you are confident of handling the clients independently otherwise it could lead you and the client into trouble. Even though most of the professional courses ensure that you undergo internship before getting the degree still it is preferred to have real work experience before carrying out individual practice. Hence the best way is to work under a trained psychologist for a reasonable length of time say few months to a couple of years and when you know the “tricks of the trade” so to speak, you can work independently.


This is the best place to start your job as mostly people who are in psychological distress are often accompanied by some mental or physical trauma especially in case of rehabilitation. So being associated with a hospital or any medical institute would give you the advantage of using that platform to gain experience and benefit from its reputation and brand image. Usually clients would also feel more confident of going to a counsellor who is associated with a hospital rather than working alone unless he or she as a good name in the field. 

Salaries of a Counsellor

Although this is the last section of the post, it is something which is of maximum interest to people who are interested in this career. Again there cannot be a generic answer to the query that how much can I earn as a counsellor. It would depend on a number of factors such as 

  • Your qualification
  • Your experience
  • Client profile
  • Area of counselling
  • Word of mouth/brand image

However as a general rule the salary profile of a psychology counsellor in United States is shown below. It can be seen that the median salary of a counsellor in US$ is close to 58K and the higher end at US$ 90K and the lower extreme at 34K.

(Image Credits: Payscale Website)

However this is just an estimate and the actual salary could vary even beyond this range based on factors discussed above and also the country of your operation. Currently given the Covid-19 situation people are requiring a lot of counselling sessions and it is also an opportunity to provide online counselling sessions to clients and charge per hour based on the requirements and profile popularity. 

We have also included an image below taken from LearnPsychology website which is an interested source for learn more about psychology and it shows the various types of career paths available to counsellors and how much they can earn through it. If you are not able to see clearly just click on the picture to expand it.

(Image Credits: LearnPsychology website)

Publisher’s Note:

This article was written in collaboration with our team members (Sudipta Ray and Jyotsna Vaid) under the guidance and supervision of our associate and guest expert Dr Ritu Modi (Academician (Asst. Prof.) & Researcher). We understand that it is not possible to provide clarification on all queries so we request you to post all your queries either through comments, FB page, Twitter or using our contact us form. (Edited by: Rakesh Dogra)

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