As a Registered Clinical Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Private Practice Business Coach & Clinical Supervisor, I often receive inquiries about choosing the right counselling course in Australia. This blog will help you if you are wanting to become a counsellor and it also contains useful links for choosing a PACFA accredited course.
Embarking on a career in counselling is a noble and rewarding path, however, it’s crucial to start with the right foundation. With the diverse range of counselling courses available, prospective counsellors must carefully consider their options. One key factor that should not be overlooked is accreditation by the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA). In this blog post, we’ll explore how to choose the right counselling course and why selecting an accredited course with PACFA is of paramount importance. We’ll also address the evolving landscape of online training in the field and its implications. Furthermore, we’ll discuss PACFA’s unique approach, as they also accept counsellors who meet their training standards, even if their courses aren’t PACFA-accredited. If you need assistance with membership in such cases, or if you are currently a member with another association and your qualification meets PACFA’s training standards, PACFA welcomes you to transition and offers discounted joining fees.
How to Choose a Counselling Course
Consider Your Career Goals and Specialisation: Before choosing a counselling course, it’s a good idea to have a clear understanding of your career goals and potential specialisation such as family therapy, addiction counselling or trauma counselling. You can find a list of the differing modalities here. Don’t worry though if you are unsure at the moment, a good solid all-round counselling degree is the perfect foundation – many counsellors go on to do specialised training, in psychotherapy for example, after their foundational degree.
The Evolving Landscape of Online Training
Online training has gained prominence since the pandemic, and its relevance to the counselling profession is being evaluated by PACFA through a research project led by the University of Southern Queensland. This project aims to assess the evidence related to online training of counsellors and psychotherapists. While the findings are pending, it’s crucial for prospective counsellors to consider the pros and cons of online courses and whether they meet the current training standards. You can read more about this research project here.
Importance of Placements: A valuable counselling course should include a placement or practicum component. Practical experience is essential for integrating theoretical knowledge with real-world situations, building client interactions, and refining counselling skills. Ensure that the course you choose emphasises hands-on experience through placements.
Personal Counselling Requirement: An ideal counselling course should at least encourage or, preferably, require you to undergo personal counselling. This is vital for self-awareness, personal growth, and understanding the client-counsellor relationship. It equips you with the emotional resilience needed for the role.
Consider the Dedication and Investment: Becoming a counsellor is a vocation and plays a crucial role in people’s lives and their mental health. It requires dedication, time, and energy. Recognise the commitment needed to pursue this path and be prepared to invest not only in your education but also in ongoing personal and professional development.
Accreditation Matters: Ensure that the course you’re considering is accredited by a reputable organisation like PACFA. Accreditation is a mark of quality and assures you that the program meets specific standards and requirements set by experts in the field.
Why Choose an Accredited Course with PACFA
The Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) holds the highest standards for counsellor and psychotherapist registration and has 8000 members nationally. Here’s why you should consider their accreditation when selecting a counselling course:
High Standards: PACFA maintains high standards in the counselling profession. They only accept courses at degree AFQ7 and above, ensuring that their accredited programs are comprehensive and meet rigorous academic and clinical requirements.
Inclusivity: PACFA has a College of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Practices. This commitment to cultural competence and inclusivity in counselling education is vital in addressing the diverse needs of Australia’s population.
Non-Affiliation with Training Organisations: PACFA is an independent body and is not linked specifically to any other training organisations. This independence ensures that their accreditation is not influenced by the profit motives of any specific training institution, emphasising their commitment to maintaining high standards.
Registered Charity Status: PACFA is a registered charity. By choosing a PACFA-accredited course, you are supporting an organisation that reinvests in the counselling profession and ensures that it remains accessible for other aspiring counsellors.
Alignment with Government Standards: It might be tempting to opt for shorter courses, but the government is calling for the counselling industry to raise its standards to degree-level and above. This change aligns the counselling profession with other mental health and allied health professionals, ensuring the highest level of care for clients.
Full Membership in Allied Health Professionals Australia: PACFA is the only counselling association that is a full member of Allied Health Professionals Australia. This membership offers several benefits, including recognition as a legitimate part of the allied health sector, access to government initiatives, and collaborative opportunities with other healthcare professionals.
Student Membership is FREE: The Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) provides free student membership, including free insurance for student placements, and is available at www.pacfa.org.au
When Choosing a Course…
When choosing a counselling course, it’s also essential to consider the motivations and goals of the training organisations and the association the course is accredited by. PACFA’s primary motivation is to promote counselling as a credible and essential profession. This focus on the betterment of the sector, and their increased transparency, ensures that their accreditation standards and advocacy are dedicated to the advancement of the profession as a whole.
PACFA’s Unique Approach
In addition to accrediting courses, PACFA also welcomes counsellors who meet their training standards, even if their courses aren’t PACFA-accredited. If you find yourself in such a situation, don’t hesitate to contact PACFA for membership assistance. They also extend a warm welcome to those currently affiliated with other associations, that meets their training standards, offering discounted joining fees to facilitate a smooth transition.
For those current or future counsellors who have their sights set on joining PACFA, you can usually gain 6-8 subjects of Recognised Prior Learning for your diploma when undertaking a Bachelor of Counselling.
Post Graduate Counselling Training
If you have a related undergraduate degree such as social work or psychology and wish to become a counsellor, post-graduate studies in counselling, such as a Graduate Diploma or Masters Degree (rather than the Diploma. NB: ACAP announced in October 2023 that they will be teaching out their Grad Dip and now recommending the Master’s) are AQF7 and above and they will likely provide you with a pathway to registering with PACFA and their associated benefits.
Choosing a counselling course is a pivotal step in your journey to becoming a professional counsellor. By selecting a course accredited by PACFA and considering the evolving landscape of online training, practical placements, personal counselling, and the dedication required, you are laying the groundwork for a successful and fulfilling career. The counselling profession plays a critical role in mental health, and your choice of education will shape your ability to make a meaningful impact on the lives of individuals and communities. With PACFA’s commitment to accreditation and your consideration of these factors, you can embark on your counselling career with confidence and the knowledge that you are part of a profession dedicated to promoting mental well-being.