Counsellors help people to deal with challenges and manage their emotions, thoughts and behaviour.
Counsellors usually earn
$51K-$86K per year
Qualified counsellors with more experience and responsibility can earn
$77K-$119K per year
Source: Te Whatu Ora/DHBs and Ministry of Education, 2022.
Pay for counsellors varies depending on their employer, qualifications and experience.
Counsellors working for Te Whatu Ora Heath NZ (former DHBs)
- Qualified counsellors usually earn $58,000 to $86,000 a year
- Senior counsellors, who may also supervise staff, can earn $87,000 to $119,000.
Guidance counsellors working in secondary schools
Guidance counsellors without teaching qualifications
- Guidance counsellors in secondary schools usually earn between $51,000 and $62,000 a year.
- Guidance counsellors with over five years' experience can earn between $62,000 and $75,000.
Guidance counsellors with teaching qualifications
- Guidance counsellors in secondary schools usually earn between $56,000 and $75,000 a year.
- Guidance counsellors with over five years' experience can earn between $77,000 and $87,000.
Self-employed counsellors may earn more than this, depending on the success of their business.
Sources: Auckland Region District Health Boards/PSA, ‘Allied, Public Health, Scientific & Technical Multi Employer Collective Agreement, expires 30 June 2023’, 2022; District Health Boards/PSA, ‘Allied, Public Health, Scientific & Technical Multi Employer collective agreement, expires 30 June 2023’, 2022; and Ministry of Education, 'Secondary Teachers' Collective Agreement 2019-2022', 2021.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Counsellors may do some or all of the following:
- provide counselling face to face, over the phone, or online
- encourage clients to discuss challenges in their lives
- help clients to talk about their feelings and find ways to cope
- discuss changes that clients could make and help them to make decisions
- research ways to deal with clients' specific problems
- keep client records
- run workshops and courses.
Skills and knowledge
Counsellors need to have knowledge of:
- counselling theories and techniques
- human behaviour and thought patterns
- grief, addiction and sexual abuse, and how these problems can affect people
- social and cultural problems
- research in their area of counselling.
- usually work regular business hours, but may do shift work
- work in private practices, clients' homes, schools, hospitals or prisons
- may travel locally to visit clients.
What's the job really like?
What do you like about being a counsellor?
"I love my job as a counsellor because I get to meet diverse people from all walks of life. I’m really grateful because I can put a smile on someone’s face by helping them.
"One of the best things is when I hear my clients acknowledge that their lives have changed for the better since receiving counselling."
Can you describe your main job tasks?
"My duties involve talking to individuals, active listening, and providing a safe place for people to discuss life challenges and explore solutions to their problems.
"A typical day would involve preparing and planning for each session before talking to clients, and writing notes and reports."
What are opportunities for counsellors like?
"Opportunities are good because there are many people with mental health challenges who need someone to talk to. The schools are also short of counsellors, and another area of need is the drug and alcohol field.
"I believe every person needs to talk to a counsellor at some stage in their lives."
Erika Bond-Milne talks about life as a counsellor – 2.40 mins
What a counsellor does is meet with clients to get really what they want out
of the counselling.
So that might be support, some changes within themselves,
or it might be that they are in crisis and they actually need
specific help to get through that crisis in that time. I am a
school guidance counsellor,
so I work in a school with young people aged between about 13 and
18 years old.
We really work with all different types of difficult decisions or difficult
situations and we work with those students to try and find
the best way forward for them. So right now I am following up
on a couple of email referrals.
A referral is when somebody else within the school is
concerned for somebody and they think they could benefit by seeing a counsellor.
The first part of the session is to, first of all,
find out what they know about counselling or if they've got had any experience
of counselling. It's really helpful to know what that was like for them.
Was it helpful for them?
Because that can help to know what might be beneficial for that particular
client. If someone comes and doesn't have any idea about what counselling is,
it's crucial that we actually tell them. For example,
they need to know it is completely confidential.
It's a non-judgmental place. There's quite a lot that we have to report on
as counsellors in order to keep ourselves safe and keep
our clients safe as well.
So we do write quite detailed notes and they are made on each
session that we have. So there are 2 main pathways into counselling.
The first is that you do a Bachelor of Counselling,
and that is a 3-year degree.
The other pathway is that you would do an undergrad degree,
perhaps a teaching degree or a nursing degree,
and then you would finish that,
and then you would go on and do a postgraduate diploma and Master's in
counselling. As a counsellor,
you have to be authentic trying to ask yourself like,
"Do I really enjoy talking to people?"
I chose to become a counsellor because I wanted to
make a real difference in the lives of young people.
I truly think it's a privilege that I get to do that every day
To become a counsellor you usually need to:
- have a Bachelor's degree, or higher qualification, in counselling
- be registered with one of the professional organisations for counsellors.
The New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC) requires new members to have a minimum of a Bachelor's degree in counselling.
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
NCEA Level 3 is required to enter tertiary training. Useful subjects include English, psychology, health education, social studies and languages.
Counsellors need to be:
- mature and professional
- caring, empathetic and positive
- good listeners and communicators
- patient and persistent
- able to keep information private
- able to relate to people from a range of cultures and backgrounds.
Useful experience for counsellors includes:
- volunteer work with organisations such as Lifeline and Youthline
- social or community work
- work that involves helping or caring for people
- research or study in fields such as psychology
- life experience.
Counsellors can apply to become members of a professional organisation such as the:
- New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC)
- New Zealand Christian Counsellors Association (NZCCA).
Professional organisations require members to meet quality standards, including qualifications and practical counselling experience. For example, NZAC and NZCCA require:
- at least a Bachelor's degree in counselling
- 200 hours' relevant work experience for provisional membership, and further counselling practice for full membership.
- NZ Association of Counsellors website - information on becoming a member
- NZ Christian Counsellors Association website - information on becoming a member
Find out more about training
- New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC)
- (04) 471 0307- firstname.lastname@example.org - www.nzac.org.nz
- New Zealand Christian Counsellors Association (NZCCA)
- (09) 361 4183 - email@example.com - www.nzcca.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Chances of getting a job as a counsellor are good due to demand for their services.
However, turnover among counsellors is low, so vacancies don't occur often and entry-level opportunities can be hard to find.
As a result, some graduates struggle to achieve the number of counselling hours required to qualify for membership with a professional body.
Counsellor appears on Immigration New Zealand's Green List. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled counsellors from overseas to work in New Zealand.
According to the Census, 5,223 counsellors worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Qualifications and professional membership recommended
Qualified counsellors with experience and a professional counselling organisation membership have the best chance of finding work.
Good employment opportunities for Māori counsellors
The New Zealand Association of Counsellors reports a shortage of qualified Māori counsellors.
Increasing the chances of finding your first job
You can increase your chances of work as a new graduate by:
- getting a successful report from a training placement that demonstrates your work-readiness
- working as a volunteer to build up your experience
- developing skills in alcohol and drugs counselling, or group counselling.
Self-employment and private practice work common
Forty percent of counsellors are in private practice. The remainder may work for:
- health and welfare services
- schools, universities and polytechnics
- government agencies such as ACC
- human resources departments
- job and recruitment agencies.
Nearly 40% of counsellors work part-time. The exception is drug and alcohol counsellors, 90% of whom are full-time employees.
- Auckland Region District Health Board, 'Allied, Public Health & Technical Collective Agreement (MECA)' accessed March 2021, (www.careers.adhb.govt.nz).
- Immigration New Zealand, Green List, April 2023, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Ministry of Education, '$199 Million Education Wellbeing Package Now Complete', 31 July 2020, (www.education.govt.nz).
- New Zealand Association of Counsellors website, accessed March 2021, (www.nzac.org.nz).
- New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists website, accessed March 2021, (nzap.org.nz).
- New Zealand Christian Counsellors Association website, accessed March 2021, (www.nzcca.org.nz).
- New Zealand Government, ‘Increased Counselling Support For All Students’ (media release), 31 July 2020.
- New Zealand Post Primary Teachers' Association, 'Secondary Teachers' Collective Agreement (STCA)', accessed March 2021, (www.ppta.org.nz).
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Experienced counsellors may progress to set up their own private practice, or move into management roles.
Counsellors may specialise in:
- drug and alcohol counselling
- family counselling
- sexual abuse counselling.
Last updated 15 September 2023