A relationship counsellor is someone who offers advice and guidance to couples, married or otherwise, or encourages the client to find answers to the problems themselves. The counsellor can operate as an intermediary in an attempt to reconcile differences between two people, or to improve generally the prospects in the relationship.
The term ‘relationship counsellor’ is often used generically to describe a wide range of quite distinct specialisations within the area of counselling. Broadly, it is used to describe somebody who speaks to couples in an attempt to repair or better their relationship. Under this umbrella description, the different types of counsellor are described below:
- Relationship counsellor
Counselling involves discussing issues with the client in a way that helps the person solve a problem. It can also help to create conditions that will enable the client to understand and improve their behaviour, personal characteristics, top values or life circumstances. Relationship counselling is not about giving advice.
- Relationship coach
Relationship coaching is a means for a person to seek support, help and advice for a range of personal issues. The focus is on improving the future prospects for a couple, but centres on the need for self-belief and personal empowerment. Relationship coaching can be applied to individuals who are trying to get over a relationship breakdown, or for those who just need to understand who they are and what their values are.
Methods vary, but generally, the aim of relationship psychotherapy is to allow couples or individuals to get to the root of the issues which are causing unhappiness, infidelity or loss of intimacy. Psychotherapy can also be used to treat difficulties in sexual relationships by enabling both partners to have an understanding of subconscious issues which are affecting the relationship.
‘Standard’ counsellors can expect to earn between £20,000 and £30,000, depending on location and experience. Earnings potential generally improves as the professional’s reputation and skill set develops. Additional, formal, certified accreditation by professional bodies can improve the potential conditions for earnings growth. Those candidates who decide to move into psychology or sex therapy can expect slightly more in terms of top earnings scope. Service users usually pay a per-hour or per-session rate, which can range from £90 per hour, up to around £300 per hour.
- Ensure clients have an understanding of the processes involved.
- Support the individual during the stressful process of reconciliation or improvement.
- Work at a pace which is acceptable for the client’s budget and expectation.
- Communicate clearly.
- Adapt techniques to the demands of the individual’s personal circumstances.
Service users (and any potential employer, in the case of a larger practice) will usually demand that a relationship counsellor is in possession of professional accreditation certificates. A professional qualification, such as a degree or a diploma, is one that is recognised by an industry body. The most widely recognised are those issued by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).
The minimum term of study required for a diploma is one year of full-time study, or 2-3 years of part-time study. A period of supervised vocational placement is normally necessary after completion of the course. Psychotherapy normally demands a university degree.
- Be able to communicate clearly.
- Be able to develop suitable practical methodologies in a limited time frame.
- Have an understanding of the principles and application of technique necessary to overcome a variety of issues.
- Offer support and understanding to clients.
- Be able to allow service users to see their own mistakes and embrace their own solutions.
- Be sympathetic to vulnerability, lack of confidence and potentially harmful psychological conditions.
The working environment varies greatly. Whilst most counsellors have an office or clinic which is their main base of operations, many offer a telephone service (which may or may not be based from the clinic or from home). In addition, some offer an email respondent service, where clients pay per email response. Some counsellors choose to offer a home visit service, and some often travel to offices or customers’ workplaces to administer their counselling service on site.
In terms of health and safety, counselling classes as a medium-risk occupation, due to the close proximity of the counsellor to the public, and the fact that the service user can often be experiencing a compromised emotional state. This could in turn lead to violence or aggressive behaviour towards the relationship counsellor.
Once a basic accreditation has been achieved in the area specific to the field of practice the counsellor wishes to administer, they then are able to offer their services. However, the array of available and prospective fields of specialisation is vast, so many relationship counsellors embark on a never-ending quest for knowledge. There is always something new to learn, and those who work in this industry note this as a key reason why the job never becomes boring.
The most widely recognised organisation offering relationship counselling in the UK is Relate. They have 150,000 service users per annum, and a total of 77 service centres operating simultaneously at a given time. Relate is a registered charity, and although it is non-profit making, it should be noted that the service is not free.
Also known as…
- Marriage counsellor
- Relationship coach
What’s it really like?
Stephen Hedger is one of the most respected and prominent life coaching and relationship coaching specialists working in the UK today. He has practised for ten years, and now offers assistance and coaching to a variety of clients, including other counsellors and psychologists.
What made you decide to choose to get into this sort of career?
When I was eight years old, I found I was constantly asking myself one question, and that was, “why are people horrible to each other?” I realised later that serious relationship difficulties are caused by problems recurring, and to understand the reason for this became something I felt I must do. I have a need to understand these issues: about the way we interact within the context of the world, and looking beyond that, the relationships we have with ourselves.
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of `exercise’?
No, each day is different. I can be presented with a whole series of problems. Different methods of therapy work for the better or for the worse with different people, so understanding how to apply the appropriate methodology and techniques is the key to helping different types of people.
What is the most common type of problem/call-out/enquiry you must attend to?
There really is a whole range. The root of people’s unhappiness can be to do with self esteem issues, problems with arguments, going round in circles, not being able to break the cycle. I administer therapy over the phone, by email, Skype, in people’s homes . . . It just depends on the person or couple’s circumstances.
What do you like most about the job?
Watching people’s faces when the penny drops; they realise that they have an amazing life, and after being shown some simple self-awareness methods, they suddenly feel they can overcome their difficulties. I have one client who has been in total despair for twenty months, and after five weeks of therapy, that person now feels as if a veil has been lifted, and they can enjoy life once more. Leverage is the key; understanding that our relationship with ourselves needs to be good in order to form the base for a relationship with anyone else.
What do you like least about the job?
Core to my method of therapy is to focus on the good things, so that is a tough question to answer. If pushed, I would say when you have a circumstance with a couple where one wants to move forward and the other is resisting change. That’s very difficult for me, especially where children are concerned, because you are offering them a solution and it is not being acted upon by both people.
What are the key responsibilities?
Safety. My responsibility is to look after them during this difficult process. Some people feel vulnerable, insecure, or scared of finding out something about themselves. Some people know what I will find, and they are terrified of me finding out. I practise in an NHS clinic because I am surrounded by doctors, people who can help. It adds credibility to my operation too. I must ensure that I always communicate clearly, in order to offer this process of accelerated healing; I work fast so as to minimise client trauma and cost. In this respect, I add value to the process of understanding what will help them to change. Some people even come to me before marriage, so they can learn of issues to be aware of before embarking on the next step in their relationship.
What about academic requirements? Any formal demands, eg- A Levels?
Experience of life is more important than any academic qualification. I have the appropriate accreditation relevant to the methods of therapy which I administer, but nothing prepares, really, other than life itself. You must be prepared to keep learning; buy books, fill the mind. Often, it is easy for practitioners to think, “OK, here’s my process”, and they get locked in. You must always be open to learn new ways, and new things about yourself. This is why I also coach counsellors and psychologists.
What is the starting salary and how does this increase over time with promotion?
Standard counsellors can expect to earn between £20,000 and £30,000. £30,000 is the maximum. If the candidate studies and decides to move into psychology, then the earnings capacity increases. Some therapists charge £275 per hour. My rate is £150 for 2 hours, so I feel I am offering very good value. I prefer to have a regular turnover of clients, rather than trying to extract money from a small number of people.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into this as a career?
Read everything. Start to understand; start to heighten the awareness you have of yourself. You must understand yourself in order to be able to help others, and to be able to communicate clearly. How do you use your top values? I teach counsellors and other therapists this too, and I instruct them on how to understand their core values, vulnerability and communication.
What are the most important qualities an applicant must or should possess?
People must have a desire to learn, and to learn about themselves. Women have an amazing aptitude for intuitive recognition, but men can learn this skill too. It is also important to realise that different upbringings create different characteristics in people, and that different life circumstances can yield different career paths within the profession of counselling, coaching, psychology and in relationship guidance.