Could you be an effective counsellor?

With soaring violence, devastating levels of women and child abuse combined with the debilitating effects of endemic poverty, HIV AIDS and high unemployment, as well as the prevalence of bullying, gangsterism and substance abuse, it is not surprising that South Africa has large-scale mental health issues. Unfortunately, trauma, suffering, shock, distress, deprivation, depression, grief, anguish, anxiety, agony and fear, and a plethora of other mental and emotional conditions strongly and constantly permeate all levels of South African society.

Given the harsh realities in South Africa there is an ever-increasing need for a community of mental health professionals to provide a variety of services at all levels of society, from the community to the corporate environments. In an effort to scale up the range of mental health professionals trained and equipped to provide psychological services to the South African population the Registered Counsellor category was created.

Do you have what it takes to be a Registered Counsellor?

“Counselling is a profession that is well suited to individuals who are warm, caring, empathic and have a strong desire to help, support and counsel people who are experiencing challenges in their lives”, says Laura Fisher, Director of Academic Affairs at SACAP (the South African College of Applied Psychology). Some of the top qualities and skills of effective counsellors include:
A strong interest in the wellbeing of people
Empathic respect
Good communication skills, especially when it comes to listening
A high degree of comfort with, and enjoyment in cultural diversity
Emotional maturity and intelligence
A passion to commit skills and energy to make a positive difference in the lives of others
Effective personal stress management
An ability to champion and help facilitate social coherence

While personal attributes such as these form the bedrock of a successful counselling career, having a Registered Counsellor qualification is essential. In order to become a Registered Counsellor you have to enrol for a programme such as SACAP’s Bachelor of Psychology (BPsych). This BPsych develops a thorough grounding in the knowledge, theory and principles of psychology as well as training students to provide psychological services that are focused on prevention and primary intervention for psychological difficulties in diverse community context.

It also includes a practical component in which students provide short-term supportive counselling services, engage in psychological screening as well as referral and management strategies and promote psychosocial health and community based care with individuals, families and communities. This kind of qualification is critical in providing good quality psychological care at primary health care level.
Registered counsellors are professional practitioners who make primary psychological services available in diverse community contexts, thereby enhancing psychological wellbeing of the public at large.

Once qualified, Registered Counsellors may seek employment and work opportunities in a wide range of fields, including:
Non-Government Organisations
Community programmes and support facilities
Schools and other educational institutions
Rehabilitation and addiction treatment centres and programmes
Crisis and trauma centres
Hospitals and hospices
Consumer organisations
Corporate Wellness Programmes
Support services for South African Police
Correctional Services

This qualification allows students to be self-employed as a Registered Counsellor in a practice and is also a notable stepping-stone for those aiming at a career as a Clinical or Counselling Psychologist. Registered Counsellors differ from other categories of psychology in that their primary function is to prevent, promote, intervene, and appropriately refer. Their primary role at a preventative and promotional level involves screening and engaging early and appropriate levels of intervention. The scope of the Registered Counsellors work includes:
Screening and identification of mental health challenges
Containment of presenting difficulties
Providing preventative, developmental counselling services and interventions
Psycho-education and training
Promotion of primary psychosocial well being
Referral to appropriate professionals or other appropriate resources (know when to refer to a psychiatrist or psychologist)
Working in a context appropriate, multi professional team
Assessments (intellectual assessment, BASIC functioning, kinetic figure drawing)

SACAP’s Bachelor of Psychology degree, is approved by the HPCSA. Graduates of this programme are eligible to write the National Examination of the Professional Board for Psychology in the Registered Counsellor category. Successful completion of the exam will allow the student to register with the HPCSA as a Registered Counsellor. As a four-year NQF8 degree programme, SACAP’s BPsych degree has a ‘built-in’ Honours year. Graduates are therefore also able to advance into a Masters programme if they wish to continue their training in Psychology.