In May of 2015, I finally completed my post graduate diploma in counselling. After three and a half long years of sacrifice, studying part-time while working full-time (whilst getting paid the equivalent of two thirds of my former salary as a brand manager), I started looking for work as a counsellor only to find that many advertised roles which have the word “counsellor” in the title, don’t actually ask for specific counselling qualifications. Many seem to ask for social work or psychology qualifications. To be honest I was kind of confused. If you are advertising for a counsellor, why ask for a social work qualification? Asking for a psychology degree seems to make more sense, however, even the post graduate psychology course (which I was considering at one stage) does not have counselling specific subjects.
Below is an example from the Sydney Universisty Post Graduate Diploma course outline:
|GRADUATE DIPLOMA IN PSYCHOLOGY – POSSIBLE STUDY PLAN A|
|Semester 1||Year 1||PSYC2011||Brain and Behaviour *|
|PSYC2012||Statistics and Research Methods for Psychology *|
|Semester 2||Year 1||PSYC2013||Cognitive and Social Psychology *|
|PSYC2014||Personality and Intelligence I *|
|Semester 1||Year 2||PSYC3018||Abnormal Psychology *|
|Plus one of the following:|
|HPSC3023||History and Philosophy of Psychology & Psychiatry **|
|PSYC3011||Learning and Behaviour|
|PSYC3012||Cognition, Language and Thought|
|PSYC3015||Personality and Intelligence II|
|Semester 2||Year 2||Any 2 of the following:|
|PSYC3010||Advanced Statistics for Psychology ***|
|PSYC3014||Behavioural and Cognitive Neuroscience|
|PSYC3020||Applications of Psychological Science|
As you can see, there are no counselling specific subjects or counselling placement requirements.
I’d like to contrast that with the course I did, the Graduate Diploma in Counselling at ACAP (Australian College of Applied Psychology):
Graduate Diploma of Counselling (GradDipCouns)(Re-accredited)
|11. COUN5241 Field Placement and Supervision 2|
Electives – choose two
|COUN5801 Alcohol and Other Drugs Counselling|
|COUN5811 Narrative Therapy|
|COUN5821 Creative Therapies|
|COUN5831 Groupwork Theory and Practice|
|COUN5841 Family Counselling|
|COUN5851 Trauma Counselling|
As you can see, most of the subjects are counselling related and counselling specific. A counselling degree trains people to be counsellors and therapists. A psychology degree, on its own, does not.
If I was recruiting for a counselling position, then it would make the sense to ask for a counselling specific qualification, however this is not happening often enough, as far as I can tell. In 2015 when I called up the advertisers of some of these roles and asked, would they consider someone with a counselling specific qualification for the position, I was been met with somewhat defensive or ignorant responses. Clearly the question made them uncomfortable. To be fair, some said, yes a post graduate diploma in counselling would also be considered and encouraged me to apply …but my next question was then, (as it is now), why not state that in the ad? At the very least, from what I have gleaned so far, there seems to be little knowledge in the community services sector about the difference between counselling, psychology and social work. The way some advertisements are written you would think these disciplines are inter-changeable. I can tell you, they most certainly are not.
My suspicions regarding jobs for counselling graduates were depressingly confirmed when I came across this article written by a counselling educator at UWS, Where are the jobs for our graduates? (This blog post is kind of in response to this article). I say depressingly because the Google search phrase I used which delivered this article, (third result from the top) was, “graduate jobs counselling”!
After spending three years studying to be a counsellor I can honestly say this article was a low point. As someone who also has a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Post Graduate Diploma in Journalism, I can tell you the ACAP Grad Dip Counselling is not an easy course, not academically nor practically. Don’t get me wrong, if I had my time again, I probably would have started with a psychology degree and continued with the post-grad in counselling. I think psychology degrees are useful for many career paths including counselling, research, business etc. If I was interested in social justice or community work then a social work degree would be the right qualification to have. But I see myself, quite specifically, as a counsellor or psychotherapist. Someone that wants to work one on one, or in small groups, with people who need the sort of help only a therapeutic counselling relationship can offer. I strongly feel that what we know of as counselling can be the most effective agent of change for many people.
So, why is it so difficult to find a counselling role that asks for counselling qualifications? In the first instance, more work needs to be done by our governing body, PACFA (The Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia) and educational institutions, such as ACAP, – to educate the sector and government about the differences between these three different occupations.
The fact that Medicare does not cover counselling does not help. Similarly, most private health care funds will cover psychology, but not counselling. Interestingly, most will also cover alternative therapies (such as aromatherapy, massage etc) as well, but only Medibank Private offers a rebate for counselling. PACFA, have been campaigning to get counselling and psychotherapy covered by all Private Health Insurance companies. You can read more about their campaign here. This is a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go. Even though the evidence base for the effectiveness of counselling and psychotherapy continues to grow, I sometimes fear that we are preaching to the converted.
Considering I originally wrote this piece in 2015, the situation is still very disheartening and frustrating for counselling graduates. I am lucky to have found a full-time position in a counselling related role however I know that many counselling graduates struggle to find full-time, counselling related employment. In one sense, this is the plight of all new graduates – companies ask for on the job experience which is impossible to get without, well, experience. At least with a counselling qualification I exited the course with actual counselling experience already under my belt, something employers may be interested to know.
In my case, putting in extra work and volunteering helped me get the job I wanted. However, I believe there is more than one set path to achieving any goal. As long as you are following your heart and living your values there is hope. Let me leave you with this inspirational quote which I have always liked:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”