6 Applications and Careers for Counsellors and Counselling Psychologists

William A. Borgen, Professor of Counselling Psychology, University of British Columbia

Roberta A. Neault, President of Life Strategies Ltd., Project Director with the Canadian Career Development Foundation, Adjunct Professor of Counselling Psychology, University of British Columbia

The purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview of the counselling profession in Canada.  Professional counselling is offered primarily by two groups in our country – counsellors and counselling psychologists.  The chapter will focus on Canadian definitions of counselling and counselling psychology and the scope of practice in each area.  Beginning with a brief history of these specializations within psychology, this chapter will also describe typical training and licensure requirements, research approaches, evidence of quality, and contexts in which each are practiced.

Overview of Counselling and Counselling Psychology

A Brief History of Counselling and Counselling Psychology in Canada

The historical and ongoing confusion around terminology, titles, and scope of practice in the broad field of “counselling” is well documented (Gazzola, 2016; Haverkamp, Robertson, Cairns, & Bedi, 2011; Neault, Shepard, Benes, & Hopkins, 2013).  In part, this is not surprising given that formal psychological counselling is a relatively new profession, beginning to establish itself as a profession in the mid-1960s. Some confusion around the term “counselling” is easy to understand: the common English understanding of the verb “to counsel” is “giving professional advice.”  This common understanding is particularly ironic given that many counsellors/psychotherapists and counselling psychologists would distance themselves today from advice-giving, preferring to work alongside their clients in finding solutions to the problems clients seek help with. Another source of confusion comes from the fact that many professionals provide advice and guidance, working under the title of “counsellor” – camp counsellors, credit counsellors, weight counsellors, counsellors at law, employment counsellors, program counsellors, and admissions counsellors are just a few examples.  Others may not use the title counsellor but may see “counselling” as within their scope of practice – an athletic coach, a lawyer, a medical doctor or a mentor may provide “counsel,” as in offering advice.  Reinforcing the broad conceptualization of counselling within the Canadian employment context, the National Occupational Classification (NOC) system in Canada identifies 86 occupations that incorporate the word “counsellor” (Government of Canada, 2018).

To distinguish psychological counselling from the myriad of other types of counselling, the five provinces that have regulated counselling have used descriptors with the word “counselling” or have used other words. For example, although in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Alberta the title “counselling therapist” has been regulated, in Quebec the regulated title is “Conseiller / conseillère d’orientation” (or “guidance counsellor”) and, in Ontario the regulated title is “registered psychotherapist.” Similarly, in 2009, the national association for counsellors was renamed as the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA, 2018a), adding “psychotherapy.”

In Ontario, the Health Professions Regulatory Advisory Council (HPRAC) distinguished between counselling and psychotherapy, stating, “Examples of activities that do not constitute the controlled act of psychotherapy include counselling, coaching, crisis management, motivational interviewing, information and knowledge transfer, and spiritual or faith guidance.” (HPRAC, 2017, p. 4).  On the other hand, CCPA (2018b) argues against such a distinction, stating:

It is not possible to make a generally accepted distinction between counselling and psychotherapy.  There are well founded traditions which use the terms interchangeably and others which distinguish between them.  If there are differences, then they relate more to the individual psychotherapist’s or counsellor’s training and interests and to the setting in which they work, rather than to any intrinsic difference in the two activities.  A psychotherapist working in a hospital is likely to be more concerned with severe psychological disorders than with the wider range of problems about which it is appropriate to consult a counsellor.

In private practice, however, a psychotherapist is more likely to accept clients whose need is less severe.  Similarly, in private practice a counsellor’s work will overlap with that of a psychotherapist.

Those counsellors, however, who work for voluntary agencies or in educational settings such as schools and colleges usually concentrate more on the “everyday” problems and difficulties of life than on the more severe psychological disorders.  Many are qualified to offer therapeutic work which in any other context would be called psychotherapy. (pp. 4-6)


Counselling and counselling psychology have grown from roots in both counselling psychology in the US and educational counselling in Canada (Bedi et al., 2011); this link to education continues today as all doctoral programs in counselling psychology are in faculties of education.  As both counselling and counselling psychology have grown as professions, much work has been done to clarify their unique identities and scope of practice (Gazzola, 2016; Gignac & Gazzola, 2018). The following sections trace the history of these distinct, but closely related, professions and provide the definitions currently used to clarify who counsellors and counselling psychologists are and what they do.

Counselling and psychotherapy. CCPA is the national association in Canada that promotes standards of practice and education for professional counsellors and psychotherapists. Established in 1965, it began as the Canadian Guidance and Counselling Association (CGCA), clearly indicating the close ties with education and career counselling. In 1999, the name change to the Canadian Counselling Association (CCA) represented movement away from its educational roots and towards a broader definition of counselling. In 2009, the most recent name change to the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA) was, as described previously, intended to help further establish “counselling” as a distinct profession within psychology and distinguishing it even more clearly from other, non-psychological uses of the word. For a concise history of CCPA’s first 50 years, see Robertson and Borgen’s (2016) introduction to the special anniversary issue of the Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy. Neault et al. (2013) also provided a concise overview of counselling in Canada in their contribution to an international handbook, Counseling Around the World. Another informative resource for those interested in further exploring counselling careers is the Handbook of Counselling and Psychotherapy in Canada, co-edited by Gazzola, Buchanan, Sutherland, and Nuttgens (2016) for the CCPA.

Within the current Canadian context of counselling and psychotherapy, an increase in statutory regulation, a greater focus on evidence-based practice, a commitment to embracing diversity and other social justice values, and, as in all fields, a wide range of technologies are impacting the professionalism and day-to-day practices of counsellors (Gazzola et al., 2016). Although technology has made counselling more accessible, it has also raised issues related to confidentiality, jurisdiction (in terms of licensing, regulation, and access to emergency supports), and insurance coverage. Gazzola and his colleagues also made an interesting link between emerging technologies and evidence-based practice, recognizing that our research has not kept up with the proliferation of such emerging technologies as virtual reality, wearable sensors, and mobile phone apps. Without such research, counsellors (and other professionals) are, in many cases, unsure about how to proceed. To help with this, CCPA has established a “Technology and Innovative Solutions” chapter (CCPA, 2018c); in other countries, such as the UK, organizations have prescreened various apps, preapproving them for client use (Gazzola et al., 2016). It is important to note that setting standards for the regulation and licensure of counsellors is a provincial and territorial responsibility; currently requirements vary from one region of the country to another. In 2018, four provinces have legislation that regulate counselling or psychotherapy and others are working towards that goal.

Counselling psychology. Prior to the recognition of Counselling Psychology as a specialization within the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) in 1986 (Bedi et al., 2011), many counselling psychologists found their professional home in the Counsellor Educators Chapter of what is now the CCPA (Bedi, Sinacore, & Christiani, 2016).  That link continues today, with many counselling psychologists holding dual registrations (i.e., as psychologists and counsellors) and memberships in both CPA and CCPA.  Those who work under the title Counselling Psychologist are registered and licensed Psychologists with their provincial governing body. However, counselling psychology is generally distinguished from clinical psychology in terms of a focus on wellness (counselling) versus disability or dysfunction (clinical). This distinction varies from one jurisdiction to the next with terminology ranging from “maladjustment” and “disability” (Alberta) to “reasonably well-adjusted people” and “normal human functioning” (Ontario, Saskatchewan; Bedi, Klubben, & Barker, 2012, p. 130).

The practice of counselling psychologists is provincially or territorially regulated. Beginning in the early 2000s the federal government sought to increase the national mobility of psychologists through requiring regulatory bodies to consider applicants from other jurisdictions, under the Agreement on Internal Trade.  Sinacore and Ginsberg’s (2015) edited book, Canadian Counselling and Counselling Psychology in the 21st Century, provides an overview of current issues, areas of focus, and training and supervision concerns for both counsellors and counselling psychologists within the Canadian context.

It is clear that counselling and counselling psychology have many shared elements.  The following sections will examine some of the essential elements that guide practice in both professions.

Canadian Definitions of Counselling and Counselling Psychology

Counselling in Canada has been described as being in its adolescent years (Neault et al., 2013); the same could be said of counselling psychology as a Canadian area of specialization. Part of the natural growth and development of adolescents is identity formation. Indeed, Robertson and Borgen (2016) identified that “a particular issue currently facing the field is that of counsellor identity and professional regulation” (p. 198). Further, Gignac and Gazzola (2018) supported this view through the examination of a specific case of counsellors’ professional identities in transition during a period of government regulation of counselling within one Canadian province. Not surprisingly, in the adolescence of any profession, discussions intensify about who those professionals are, how they do their work, and what distinguishes them from others.

Counselling. Aside from clearly defining its professional identity, an additional motivation for clearly defining the field of counselling in Canada is related to Canadian commitments to labour mobility across our provinces and territories. Specifically, if an individual is licensed to practice in one Canadian jurisdiction, it is important for that individual to be able to continue his/her profession after relocating to another part of the country.  Similar to earlier efforts regarding the work of psychologists, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) funded a Project Working Group on Labour Mobility from 2008 –2010 to research, both internationally and across Canada, questions related to titles and scope of practice in counselling. Based on the outcomes of this research, in May 2011, the CCPA Board of Directors approved and adopted the following nationally validated definition and scope of practice for counselling in Canada:

Counselling is a relational process based upon the ethical use of specific professional competencies to facilitate human change.  Counselling addresses wellness, relationships, personal growth, career development, mental health, and psychological illness or distress. The counselling process is characterized by the application of recognized cognitive, affective, expressive, somatic, spiritual, developmental, behavioural, learning, and systemic principles.  (CCPA, 2018b, p. 10)


CCPA also commented on the counselling process and the intentions of the counsellor. They described counselling as:

the skilled and principled use of relationship to facilitate self- knowledge, emotional acceptance and growth and the optimal development of personal resources. The overall aim of counsellors is to provide an opportunity for people to work towards living more satisfyingly and resourcefully. Counselling relationships will vary according to need but may be concerned with developmental issues, addressing and resolving specific problems, making decisions, coping with crisis, developing personal insights and knowledge, working through feelings of inner conflict or improving relationships with others. (CCPA, 2018b, p.3)


Counselling psychology. Similar to counselling, and also in its adolescent phase of development, the Counselling Psychology section of the CPA in June 2009, after 3 years of work by the “Executive Committee for a Canadian Understanding of Counselling Psychology” (Bedi et al., 2011), approved the following definition for counselling psychology in Canada:

Counselling psychology is a broad specialization within professional psychology concerned with using psychological principles to enhance and promote the positive growth, well-being, and mental health of individuals, families, groups, and the broader community.  Counselling psychologists bring a collaborative, developmental, multicultural, and wellness perspective to their research and practice.  They work with many types of individuals, including those experiencing distress and difficulties associated with life events and transitions, decision­ making, work/career/education, family and social relationships, and mental health and physical health concerns.  In addition to remediation, counselling psychologists engage in prevention, psycho­ education and advocacy.  The research and professional domain of counselling psychology overlaps with that of other professions such as clinical psychology, industrial/organizational psychology, and mental health counselling.

Counselling psychology adheres to an integrated set of core values: (a) counselling psychologists view individuals as agents of their own change and regard an individual’s pre-existing strengths and resourcefulness and the therapeutic relationship as central mechanisms of change; (b) the counselling psychology approach to assessment, diagnosis, and case conceptualization is holistic and client-centred; and it directs attention to social context and culture when considering internal factors, individual differences, and familial/systemic influences; and (c) the counselling process is pursued with sensitivity to diverse sociocultural factors unique  to  each individual. (CPA, 2018a, pp.1-2)


It is clear from these definitions the shared roots of counselling and counselling psychology. The following section will examine some of the similarities between both professions.

Similarities Across Counselling and Counselling Psychology

As you may have noticed, there are many important areas of overlap between counselling and counselling psychology. Gazzola (2016) identified “an overlap in the work of counsellors, clinical psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and other mental health practitioners” (p. 3). Similarly, Haverkamp et al. (2011) examined the professional identity of counsellors and counselling psychologists and identified several factors contributing to the lack of distinction between the two groups, including inconsistent role modelling by faculty, who may themselves identify as either a counsellor or counselling psychologist, both, or neither.  Even at a regulatory level, there is inconsistency across provinces and territories. For example, in Alberta, counselling and clinical psychology are combined into one area of practice whereas in Quebec counselling psychology is not specifically named by the Ordre des Psychologues du Québec (the provincial regulating body for psychologists in Québec).

Part of the cause for blurred boundaries between counselling and counselling psychology is likely due to shared aspects of their historical development. Both counselling and counselling psychology came from similar roots, in education, assessment, vocational psychology, and the mental hygiene movement (Van Hesteren, 1971).  In terms of practice, counsellors and counselling psychologists engage in therapeutic processes and utilize a variety of interventions in working with clients.

Many theoretical models that describe counselling and counselling psychology processes have three general phases.  The first phase emphasizes understanding the client’s perception of their situation and the context in which they are living.  This provides a basis for building a relationship with the client that needs to be maintained and strengthened as the counselling proceeds.  The relationship creates a foundation of trust that allows the client to begin to consider different perspectives regarding their situation.  Depending on the theoretical orientation of the counsellor or counselling psychologist, these different perspectives may focus on emotions, cognitions, or behaviours.  When the different perspectives have been sufficiently explored clients may be ready to begin to act on their problematic situation differently in their everyday work, family, friendship, or personal situations (Borgen, 1981; Egan, 1975).

Theoretical orientations.  Bedi, Christiani, and Cohen (2018) surveyed doctoral students in counselling psychology about their theoretical orientations and found that an eclectic/integrative approach was most typical as their primary theory (41.9%), with about half as many practicing primarily from a humanistic/person-centred approach (20.9%), and the rest primarily using such theories as cognitive-behavioural, psychodynamic, existential, systems, emotion-focused, acceptance and commitment, solution-focused, narrative, multicultural, and feminist.  To provide a current foundation for this chapter, we reached out to counsellor educators who serve as liaisons to the Counsellor Educators Chapter of CCPA, asking them about the theoretical foundations of their program(s), the setting and types of related work that their students have been offered post-graduation, work that their alumni are engaged in 5-10 years post-graduation, and the percentage of masters students moving on to post-doctoral studies.  Regarding theoretical orientations, only 2 of the 11 universities with counselling and counselling psychology programs responding to the survey indicated that their programs aligned to a specific theoretical perspective (i.e., 82% were training students to use diverse theoretical perspectives).  However, despite different theoretical foundations, according to Bedi et al. (2011) there are a number of shared values and the areas of intervention are remarkably similar, including a focus on client strengths, diversity and context, and client-centred assessment.

Strengths-based.  As already noted, the definitions of counselling and counselling psychology both focus on the aim to build on strengths and the capacity of individuals to live satisfying and fulfilling lives. This is reinforced by Bedi et al. (2016) and Goodyear et al. (2016).  In his study, Goodyear and his colleagues found that the most strongly supported value cluster by counselling psychologists “concerned focusing on clients’ strengths and assets, attention to issues of diversity, focusing on person–environment interactions, and maintaining a developmental focus” (p. 129).

Therapeutic alliance.  The first phase of the generic counselling process that was briefly described in an earlier section of this paper – that is paying close attention to clients and working to understand their perspective on their situations – leads to the development of a strong and trusting relationship between the client and the counsellor. This strong and trusting relationship between client and counsellor is often described as the therapeutic alliance.  Several studies over a number of years have demonstrated the therapeutic alliance as being the single most effective determinant of the counselling intervention that has been utilized (Bedi et al., 2011; Flückiger, Del Re, Wampold, & Horvath, 2018; Horvath & Greenberg, 1989).

Multiculturalism and social justice.  Early influences on counselling have sometimes been referred to as the three “forces”: (1) psycho-dynamic, (2) cognitive-behavioural, and (3) existential-humanistic.  More recently, multiculturalism and social justice have been referred to as the fourth and fifth forces (Ratts & Pedersen, as cited in Gazzola et al., 2016), indicating the widely accepted importance of these two emerging areas of attention for counsellors and counselling psychologists.  Supporting this, Gazzola and his colleagues (2016) noted that the codes of ethics and standards of practice for both CCPA and CPA stress the importance of incorporating diversity and social justice principles into all counselling.  Young and Lalande (2011) observed that:

the increasing diversity in the Canadian population brings a variety of distinct cultures to Canada and the counselling profession must provide culturally appropriate services within this context.  Counselling psychologists in Canada have the opportunity to continue to support the Canadian emphasis on equality and freedom for diverse individuals, working toward social justice by helping the underprivileged within society to improve their situations. (p. 249)


Although their comments were made within a counselling psychology context, they certainly apply to counselling in general.  Chapters on multicultural counselling (Arthur & Collins, 2016) and social justice and advocacy (Audet, 2016) provide further evidence of how seriously these topics are being treated in the current Canadian context.

Interventions. Respondents to Bedi et al.’s (2018) survey of doctoral students in counselling psychology indicated that most of their time as counsellors (63.3%) comprised direct counselling/psychotherapy activities, with only a few hours of their weekly time, on average (10.7%) spent engaging in assessment activities – primarily conducting personality and intellectual assessments. The bulk of the balance of their time was fairly evenly split between service to their university or the profession (7.2%) and consultation (6.5%). This survey also reported that most of the respondents’ work was with individual clients (77.7%), with considerably less time working with groups (12%), families (6.9%), or couples (3.8%). When asked about the purpose for their counselling interventions, most acknowledged that it was primarily remedial or rehabilitative (58.9%), with considerably less time devoted to developmental (24.5%) or preventative (16.6%) counselling interventions. This seems to indicate a shift from earlier areas of counselling focus; Bedi et al. (2011) cited several articles from the 1980s and early 1990s by counsellor educators including Hiebert and Uhlemann that highlighted more of a developmental and psychoeducational focus, concluding that “teaching clients strategies for dealing with life challenges, or to avoid potential future challenges, is a key role of counselling psychologists” (p. 132).

Differences Between Counselling and Counselling Psychology

Although there are many similarities between counselling and counselling psychology, it is important to note that differences do exist, albeit sometimes subtle ones. Gazzola (2016) noted that:

In the U.S. there is a clear demarcation between counselling psychology (whose home is Division 17 of the American Psychological Association) and counsellor education (whose national association is the American Counseling Association). In Canada, however, the distinction between the two is not as clear-cut, even though counsellors are likely to join the CCPA and counselling psychologists join the CPA.  Most Canadian counsellor training programs are in fact called counselling psychology and they are housed in faculties of education. (p. 5)


The distinction between counselling and counselling psychology is further blurred by the fact that, as already noted, in some provinces in Canada psychologists may be licensed with a master’s degree, which is the same level of training held by most counsellors.

Given their similarities how do counsellors and counselling psychologists perceive themselves? Summarizing a previous survey of counsellors conducted by CCPA (then CCA, Gazzola and Smith (as cited in Gazzola, 2016) wrote,

Counsellors did perceive themselves as having a unique role in society but . . . as a whole the professional identity of counsellors remained unclear.  What they found was that, typically, (a) counsellors in Canada described themselves as having eclectic theoretical perspectives, privileging client-centered/humanistic . . . perspectives, (b) just over 40% had a private practice, (c) about 39% worked in more than one setting, (d) they tended to engage in a wide variety of professional activities and, (e) although they were mostly unsatisfied with their income, [they] reported a high degree of career satisfaction. (p. 4)


Supporting the distinction between counselling and counselling psychology, counselling psychology programs typically require courses in the cognitive, affective, behavioural, and social bases of behavior whereas this is not as common of a requirement in counselling programs.  Some counselling psychology programs also provide much more education and training related to the assessment and diagnosis of psychopathology.  When licensed as psychologists, people with this background may also be granted permission to operate under a reserved act to diagnose psychopathology.  Most counselling psychology programs also have a strong emphasis on understanding and conducting research.  They typically subscribe to a scientist-practitioner model of education, with the intent that clinical practice is informed by research evidence (Bedi et al., 2011).  Although there is an emphasis on research in counselling programs that require a thesis, they “oftentimes embrace a scholar-practitioner training model whereby master’s-level trainees become consumers of research rather than researchers themselves” (Sinacore & Ginsberg, 2015, pp. 5-6).

Evaluating Effectiveness in Counselling and Counselling Psychology

Significant work has been done to evaluate efficacy and outcomes associated with counselling and counselling psychology. For example, Domene, Buchanan, Hiebert, and Buhr (2015) described the breadth of recent research in Canadian counselling and counselling psychology, citing published literature supplemented by a 2011 survey of counsellor educators and counselling psychologists. They reported, “In order, the most frequently endorsed research foci were in the fields of health and health counselling, counselling process research, career counselling and development, stress and related psychological disorders, and qualitative research methods” (p. 16).

Early writers in the area extensively examined what made counselling effective.  An influential pioneer was Dr. Carl Rogers.  He suggested that in order for counselling to be effective, the counsellor must bring genuineness, empathy, and positive regard for the client (Rogers, 1961).  As the professions of counselling and counselling psychology have evolved, studies focusing on the importance of the therapeutic alliance between the client and the counsellor have continued to demonstrate the importance of the counsellor in making counselling and counselling psychology interventions effective.  Research continues to demonstrate that the strength of the therapeutic relationship is important in determining the effectiveness of counselling and counselling psychology interventions (Flückiger et al., 2018; Galbraith, 2018).

Another strand that has evolved in studying the effectiveness of counselling and counselling psychology is the use of specific interventions; the terms evidence-based practice and evidence-informed practice have come into common use (Galbraith, 2018; Goodheart, Kazdin, & Sternberg, 2006).  The American Psychological Association endorses the following definition of evidence-based practice: “Evidence-based practice in psychology (EBPP) is the integration of the best available research with clinical expertise in the context of patient characteristics, culture, and preferences” (APA Presidential Task Force on Evidence-Based Practice, 2006, p. 273).  These interventions can often be characterized as helping clients to consider different perspectives on their situations.  As noted by Pare and Sutherland (2016), considerations regarding evidence of effective practice have been guided by the APA definition.  These authors cited the Canadian definition formulated by the CPA in 2012 which reflects a hierarchy of evidence and encourages psychologists to utilize:

the best possible evidence (evidence which is highest on hierarchy) which includes findings that are replicated across studies and that have used methodologies that address threats to validity (e.g., randomized controlled trials to address threats to internal validity, naturalistic studies to address threats to external validity [generalizability]). (p. 183)


Regarding research approaches utilized to assess the effectiveness of counselling psychology, within the Canadian context Hiebert, Domene, and Buchanan (2011) indicated:

As counselling psychology has grown in Canada, it has established a unique identity and set of practices that distinguish the discipline from other areas of Canadian applied psychology, as well as from counselling psychology in the United States (Bedi et al., 2011).  This is particularly evident in the research dimensions of the discipline, which has embraced a commitment to methodological diversity that accepts both qualitative and quantitative as legitimate strategies for generating knowledge.  This acceptance of methodological diversity, combined with engagement in research areas reflecting the full range of psychological development and health may explain why Canadians have contributed to the counselling psychology literature in many substantive ways.  Despite the concern . . . expressed that there has been a historical disconnection between research and practice in the discipline (Young & Domene, 2010), recent Canadian innovations in research methods, program evaluation, and the proposal of a local clinical scientist approach to practice have the potential to promote a close integration of research and practice. (p. 273)


Scholars including Magnusson and Hiebert (2016) critiqued definitions such as the ones just provided by APA and CPA as focusing too much on evaluating specific interventions for isolated defined psychological conditions.  They argue that this approach often does not reflect the complexity of client issues that are brought to counselling and does not encourage counsellors to become local clinical scientists who evaluate the effectiveness of their practice on an ongoing basis.

A Diverse Profession: Counsellors and Counselling Psychologists at Work

A common question is “what is the difference between clinical psychology and counselling?” In Lalande and Hurley’s (2015) foreword to Canadian Counselling and Counselling Psychology in the 21st Century, Lalande shared that “she used to joke with colleagues that she could distinguish counselling psychologists from other psychological professionals because of the smile lines on their faces and their openness in social interactions” (p. xi).  In recent years, several Canadian publications, as cited throughout this chapter, have helped to unpack and explain the unique culture associated with the counselling profession.

In the survey we conducted with counsellor educators regarding employment status of students and alumni, responses confirmed what has been previously published (Bedi et al., 2011; Bedi et al., 2016; Sinacore & Ginsberg, 2015): counsellors and counselling psychologists work in a wide variety of settings, supporting diverse clients who are facing many types of life challenges. In short, counselling is not a “one-size-fits-all” profession!  In the following sections, we will introduce some of the settings, client groups, and presenting problems to offer a flavour of the types of work that counsellors and counselling psychologists engage in.


Surveys conducted in both the United States and Canada indicate that counselling psychologists and counsellors work in an expanding range of settings.  These include independent practice, universities, hospitals/clinics, colleges, correctional facilities, public agencies, corporations, and human services (Bedi et al., 2016; CCPA, 2018b; Haverkamp et al., 2011).  The University of Toronto at Mississauga (2005) compiled an interesting resource on careers in counselling – although the training mentioned is exclusively in Ontario, the other information has relevance across Canada.

There are some differences, however, between counselling psychologists and counsellors in terms of their representation in different settings.  Bedi (2016) reported that, for counselling psychologists, treatment-oriented services comprise 45% of their time, with developmental services accounting for just over 34% of their time, and only 20% of their time being devoted to preventative services.  Respondents indicated that, by far, most of their time was spent with individuals; the remainder, on average, was split between couples (10%), families (7.5%), and groups (4.8%).  Although career counselling had been a cornerstone of the field historically, in recent years less than 8% of the counselling psychologists surveyed reported this as part of their practice and, of those few, very little of their overall time was devoted to career counselling or vocational assessment.  Also, some of the roles held by counselling psychologists were different from those typically held by counsellors; some counselling psychologists reported their primary role as academics (20%) and indicated secondary roles as consultants (26.3%), teachers/instructors (23.7%), researchers (16.7%), and, to a lesser extent, supervisors and administrators, alongside their roles as practitioners.

In response to the 2018 survey of Canadian counsellor educators conducted to inform this chapter, although there was overlap in the types of settings and services for counsellors and counselling psychologists, the focus for counsellors seemed to be less on treatment.   All respondents mentioned having graduates employed in school settings and most also indicated graduates in private practice (in some cases, only after several years of supervised experience).  Many graduates were working as counsellors in not-for-profit community agencies or directly for the government (e.g., in corrections). More than half of the respondents reported graduates working within university / college counselling centres and over one-third specifically mentioned addictions.  Other work settings identified through this survey included career and employment centres, mental health centres, health care (e.g., hospitals, clinics, and rehabilitation centres), and forensics.

Client Groups and Presenting Problems

Counsellors and counselling psychologists work with children, adolescents, and adults across the lifespan, individually, and in family and other groups, regarding a range of issues.  Our survey of counsellor educators revealed that their counselling and counselling psychology graduates are supporting clients with career, addictions, trauma, grief, marital, abuse, cultural, spiritual, transition, and learning challenges.  Issues related to these problems often involve clients wanting to come to a better understanding of themselves, and/or how they interact with those around them, in order to live more satisfying and productive lives.  As already stated, counsellors and many counselling psychologists do not become directly involved in diagnosing psychopathology.  However, they do see clients who have been diagnosed with a psychopathology and have been treated for it, who want assistance in moving forward with their lives in a positive way.  This broad range of involvement is reflected in the CCPA (2018c) chapters; aside from regional chapters, interest groups include animal-assisted therapy in counselling, career counselling, counsellor educators, creative arts in counselling, indigenous circle, spirituality in counselling, private practitioners, school counsellors, social justice, technology and innovative solutions, and post-secondary counsellors.

Given the diversity of settings, client groups, and presenting problems, it’s not surprising that counsellors and counselling psychologists also use a variety of job titles; in one study reported on the “Profession” page of the CCPA (2018b) website, counsellors identified more than 70 different titles!

Career Paths for Counsellors and Counselling Psychologists

The analogy of many paths in the woods leading to the same destination is very true for counsellors and counselling psychologists.  Some people pursue a straightforward path of education and work experience that strategically positions them for registration as a psychologist.  Others take a more meandering approach, with twists and turns over a lifetime of employment.  Depending on their geographic location in Canada, some graduates of master’s programs in counselling or counselling psychology can become licensed as psychologists; in other regions, graduates from the same or similar programs could work as counsellors but would need to complete doctoral studies to become psychologists.  Some of those who complete doctoral studies move on to become counsellor educators.  The following stories from Canadian counsellors and counselling psychologists illustrate some of the unique directions that career paths can take.  All names are used with permission.

My strongest subjects in high school were mathematics, physics, and chemistry.  Because I was a strong student I was often asked by friends to help them with those subjects.  At university I completed a BSc in mathematics, but realized that I was most interested in work that involved people.  This led me to complete a professional year in teacher education, and to become a high school teacher of mathematics, chemistry, and physics for 2 years.  Through that experience I realized that my real interest was in how I could effectively communicate with my students, and a colleague suggested that I should go into counselling.  I completed a master’s degree in counselling with a goal to become a high school career counsellor.  I was on leave from my school board and the job I was given was in a city centre Kindergarten to Grade 9 school.  I completed a lot of professional development to feel more competent in that setting, and it was there that I learned how to be a counsellor.  After 3 years in that job I became aware of gaps in my knowledge and applied for a doctoral program in counselling psychology.  When I graduated I was hired by a university into a 1-year term position, which was converted into a full-time tenure track position that I have held ever since.

William Borgen, PhD, CCC, RPsyc

Professor of Counselling Psychology

University of British Columbia


My first awareness of the power of counselling came from my father who, as a military Chaplain, was often called in the wee hours to support an individual or family in crisis.  Despite a vague notion that I too wanted to help people in some way, when my high school guidance counsellor suggested that I pursue a degree in Economics based on my marks, I blithely agreed to his plan.  After a year of feeling like a fish out of water studying Economics, I happened to see a flyer asking for volunteers at a local drop-in centre serving folks who had a number of life challenges.  Despite a complete lack of qualification, I was hired to work there for the summer – an experience that changed the trajectory of my career.  I switched to a Psychology major and worked there every summer as I completed my degree.  After a Master’s Degree in Educational Counselling and a post-graduate certificate focused on psychiatric rehabilitation (as it was called at the time), I worked in community-based mental health for a number of years.  I learned more about the world and myself in those years than I was ever able to repay, including an awareness of just how thin the veil is between those who are seen as “successful” and those labelled “at risk” or “broken.”  I also saw firsthand the impact on health when people were given opportunities to work.  Believing in the potential of career development to contribute positively to a significant range of mental health and life issues, I stayed connected with the Director of the Canadian Career Development Foundation until I was finally hired.  I have been there now, loving every moment of it, since 1993 and feel enormously blessed to be working in a field that can so vitally make a difference to individuals, communities, and our world today.

Sareena Hopkins

Executive Director, Canadian Career Development Foundation

Founding Executive Officer, Canadian Council for Career Development

I started my career in human resource (HR) management and business, as HR was as close as I could get to working with people without having a counselling degree.  I started my undergraduate degree in Psychology as a part-time mature student and completed it while working full-time in various HR positions.  These HR positions allowed me to deal with workers facing retirement, family, grief and loss, health, disability, downsizing, workplace safety, and other major life transitions.  I needed more counselling skills to effectively help them, so I did an MA in Counselling Psychology and became a Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCC).  A year after obtaining my MA, I ended my HR career and did a PhD in Counselling Psychology.  Since completing the PhD and becoming a Registered Psychologist, I have worked as a clinician in my private practice and in a university counselling centre, as a researcher, as an academic/Program Director for two counselling psychology master’s programs, and as a counsellor educator teaching various counselling psychology courses and providing clinical supervision to master’s and doctoral students.

Lee Butterfield, BA, MA, PhD, CCC, RPsych


I always knew I wanted to do something that “helped” people, so without too much thought or research I enrolled in a nursing program after high school.  Upon completing my nursing diploma, I focused on a career as an operating nurse.  Unfortunately, this career ended quickly when I discovered I was anaphylactic to latex, and at a time when nurses with latex allergies were not welcome in a surgical setting.  Rather than “begin again,” I felt reluctantly forced to move to the only area of nursing with limited latex: psychiatry.  To my surprise, however, this “accidental career move” began a passion for truly listening and caring for people in the midst of mental health struggles.  I never looked back, actively pursuing a Master’s in Counselling, followed by an interdisciplinary doctorate combining education, nursing, and counselling.  The knowledge I had gained around psychiatric illness, psychopharmacology, and navigating our complex mental health system was indispensable to my work as a clinical counsellor and educator of counsellors.  So while the road to get here was not one I had anticipated, I love my work and I can honestly say I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else!

Briar Schulz RN, RCC, MA, PhD


I was always interested in helping others from an early age as a peer counsellor, and even started university in Psychology stemming from that interest.  However, I had a competing career path and joined the Royal Canadian Navy before I finished my degree.  While serving my country, and seeing the world when deployed overseas, I realized that it was not my only passion.  Although I remained with the Naval Reserve in various leadership positions including commanding 2 warships, I returned to school to pursue my academic studies.  After realizing the need for psychological support for military members, I decided to complete a MA in Counselling Psychology and followed it with a PhD in the Centre for Cross Faculty Inquiry in Education with concentrations in Counselling Psychology and Educational Theory.  My research focused on helping military members transition (including Career), and work through trauma reactions from their service.  I am currently in private practice, instruct in various universities, and take contracts as a Clinical Counsellor in BC, and a Provisional Psychologist in Alberta.

Michael Sorsdahl, CD, PhD (Education), R.Psyc, CCC, RCC, GCDF-i


From early childhood, I always liked “helping” and teaching; by adolescence, I was a member of the junior teacher’s club at school and held volunteer positions as a camp “counsellor” and director.  In university, I graduated with a BEd with double majors in psychology and special education and was hired by the Canada Employment Centre to manage an office to support student summer employment.  Before summer ended, I was seconded to the main office as the employment “counsellor” for women and youth. Although my intent had been to immediately pursue a master’s degree in counselling, it was 16 years before I was able to return to school.  During those years, I worked primarily in community-based agencies facilitating workshops and counselling the unemployed, and eventually started my own training and consulting business.  After completing my MA in Counselling Psychology, I was hired to teach a career management course at a local university and, concurrently, my business was contracted to provide outplacement services to displaced managers.  Soon after, I began doctoral studies in educational psychology (the closest fit at the university where I was teaching).  After graduating with a PhD, as my business was well established, I chose not to pursue a tenure-track position; however, I’ve enjoyed consistent contracts as a counsellor educator within several universities and also served as Associate Dean for an MA in counselling psychology program.

Roberta Neault, PhD, CCC, CCDP, GCDFi


These stories are just a sampling of the myriad of educational and career pathways that practicing counsellors and counselling psychologists have taken.  As has been already mentioned, a wide range of occupations claim to involve counselling; the word has come to mean different things in different occupational contexts.  In terms of how we have described counselling in this chapter, a number of other professionals seek out counsellor training – physicians, educators, dentists, and lawyers for example.  In addition, other professionals engage in counselling work as we have defined it; examples include psychiatric nurses and social workers.

In terms of job opportunities in the field, Bedi et al.’s (2016) survey results indicated that 35% of counselling psychologists who responded would be retiring within the next 5 years; it is likely that this is also the case for counsellors.  As counsellors and counselling psychologists also have many of the personal characteristics and training that are anticipated to be in demand in the future workplace, prospects seem bright.  Pearson (2017), looking ahead to potential employment in 2030, identified counselling as one of the top 10 occupations most likely to experience increased demand; interestingly, they also listed psychology as the second highest skill anticipated to be in demand within the United States, so one might expect Canada to be similar.  In their implications section, in an era of increased automation and artificial intelligence, they recommended developing “skills that are uniquely human” (Pearson, 2017, p. 8).  As counselling and counselling psychology prepare to leave their adolescence, both seem poised to become very successful adults in the workforce of the future.

Training Paths and Licensing for Counsellors and Counselling Psychologists

This is where the inherent messiness described in the history section becomes very important.  Although the title “psychologist” can only be used by regulated members of the psychology profession (i.e., it is a reserved title), there are no restrictions on the use of the title “counsellor.” In this section, we will distinguish between paths to becoming a counsellor and a psychologist.  However, to a certain extent, some of the distinctions are arbitrary as an individual might begin his or her career as a counsellor and then pursue advanced education and supervision that will lead to qualification as a psychologist.  Further complicating this are regional differences (i.e., as previously noted, in some provinces, it is possible to register as a psychologist with a master’s degree; in others, doctoral level training is required.  However, regardless of degree, individuals who want to practice as psychologists must successfully complete the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP; PsychPrep, 2017).

Although the primary scope of this chapter is on counsellors with master’s level training and registered psychologists (with master’s or doctoral degrees, depending on their province), it seems also important to acknowledge the wide range of certificate, diploma, and undergraduate degree programs that also result in a job title with “counsellor” in it, or prepare individuals for relevant work in the field that may, in turn, lead them to further education and eventual registration as a counsellor or counselling psychologist.

As noted in Bedi et al. (2011) both counselling psychology and counsellor education programs in Canada are generally located in faculties of education.  This fits well with the developmental and growth-oriented perspectives of both disciplines, and in some cases both programs are located within the same department.

Undergraduate Training

There have been long-standing efforts by the CPA to make doctoral level training required for psychologists.  Similarly, there have been ongoing efforts by the CCPA to require master’s level training for counsellors.  That said, there are a number of colleges as well as other private and public educational institutions that offer certificates and diplomas that teach counselling skills and theories.  People who complete these programs can call themselves counsellors; however, they cannot use the protected titles of “counselling therapist” or “psychotherapist” in areas of the country that are regulated by legislation.   Even when not working in counselling-related roles, graduates of such certificate and diploma programs, as well as those with undergraduate degrees in psychology, often use their training to incorporate more effective communication and interpersonal skills into their other work settings.

Graduate Training

Master’s level training in counselling and/or counselling psychology generally prepares graduates to work as counsellors.  In most jurisdictions in Canada, training at a doctoral level is required to prepare for work as counselling psychologists.  However, there are significant exceptions to this, as noted in the following sections.

Master’s.  Applicants to master’s level programs in counselling are typically required to have completed an undergraduate degree.  Applicants most often have completed undergraduate programs in psychology or education.  In many cases, however, applicants have chosen to change occupational fields in order to become counsellors.  To accommodate these applicants, programs typically designate a number of senior undergraduate prerequisite courses that must be completed prior to admission.  Potential applicants often enroll in these courses following the completion of their undergraduate degrees.  It is important for potential applicants to access the program’s website and to contact program advisors to check on prerequisite requirements.

With the support of CCPA, the Council on Accreditation of Counsellor Education Programs (CACEP) offers accreditation to master’s level programs that meet specific requirements.  Currently master’s programs in counselling at Acadia University, Trinity Western University, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Victoria are accredited.

Accredited and non-accredited master’s level counselling programs are offered in Canada by Canadian and international universities on a full-time or part-time basis; CCPA (2018d) has a fairly comprehensive list of these graduate programs, available on its website.  Accredited programs are offered using face-to-face or blended (online and on campus) delivery.  Non-accredited programs may offer total online program delivery.

Like programs in counselling psychology, counsellor education programs comprise research, theory, and practice components.  CACEP-accredited programs must be a minimum of 48 course credits in length (the equivalent of 16 one term courses).  Current core program requirements are:  Counselling as a profession, ethical and legal issues, counselling and consultation processes, group counselling, human development and learning, diversity, lifestyle and career development, assessment processes, research methods, and program evaluation.  According to Bedi et al. (2012), there is often less focus on assessment training and practical experience, “particularly as related to diagnosis, psychopathology, and cognitive functioning” (p. 251), than in clinical psychology programs.

In addition, there are counselling practice requirements that total 500 hours.  Given the changing context in Canada regarding counsellor education, including the expanding provincial regulation of counselling and psychotherapy practice, the increasing complexity of client issues being brought to counsellors, the increasing range of diversity in our country, and the need to recognize and start to effectively address indigenous issues, CCPA has initiated a review and updating of counselling standards and processes.

In some provinces, graduates of master’s level programs may apply for registration as a psychologist.  Students with this goal in mind need to carefully compare registration requirements with the courses and practicum/internship components of the programs that they are considering; additional courses and/or hours of supervision may be required beyond the requirements for becoming registered as a counsellor.

Many master’s programs are terminal – Haverkamp et al., in 2011, identified 13 master’s programs and only 5 doctoral programs in counselling psychology, indicating that many graduates of counselling psychology programs end their formal academic studies at the master’s level.  In our previously introduced survey of Canadian counsellor educators, most respondents indicated that less than 10% of their master’s program graduates moved on to doctoral studies – many reporting as few as 2% – 5% advancing to a doctoral level.  One respondent reported that about 1/3 of their students had historically moved on to doctoral studies; however, that had recently changed due to counselling now being a regulated profession within that province, creating more opportunities for good work for counsellors with a master’s degree.

Doctoral.  Admission requirements to doctoral programs in counselling psychology typically involve the completion of a master’s degree in counselling or a closely related field.  In a study by Bedi et al. (2018), of the doctoral students who reported related master’s degrees, 74.4% were specifically in counselling psychology; others had related degrees in clinical psychology or counselling/counsellor education or had diverse educational backgrounds that included graduate education in other areas of psychology, epidemiology, education, communication studies, gender studies, and medicine.  It is important to check the program’s website and contact advisors within the program to identify required prerequisite courses that need to be completed prior to admission to the program.

The University of Alberta offered the first doctoral program in counselling psychology in Canada, beginning in 1956 (Haverkamp et al., 2011).  There are currently five doctoral-level counselling psychology training programs in Canada (McGill University, University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, and University of Toronto; Bedi et al., 2018).  All of these programs are accredited by CPA.  In terms of the content of the programs, counselling psychology programs in Canada have adopted the scientist-practitioner approach, which means that they focus on research and theory as well as practice.  What makes them distinct from a number of other graduate level university programs is that they require courses that teach and supervise students in clinical skill acquisition and practice that culminates in completion of a required 1-year internship prior to graduation.  Bedi et al. (2011) also noted:

Although all CPA-accredited programs in professional psychology (i.e., counselling, school, clinical, clinical neuropsychology) require training in the core areas of biological bases of behaviour, cognitive-affective bases of behaviour, social bases of behaviour, individual behaviour, historical and scientific foundations of psychology, scientific and professional ethics and standards, research design and methods, statistics, and psychological measurement, there is between-program variation in how curriculum requirements are addressed.  Courses beyond those needed to meet minimum accreditation requirements are at the discretion of individual programs, and training programs have tended to differ in the degree to which they mandate coursework associated with counselling psychology’s historical roots. (pp. 133-134)

Summary and Conclusion

Counselling and counselling psychology are growing unique, but related, professional identities within Canada.  As described in this chapter, they share similar roots, have significant overlap in training at the master’s level (often housed within the same faculty), and serve clients of all ages dealing with a wide range of problems in living.  Counsellors and counselling psychologists are working with increasingly complex issues, within a shifting Canadian context of regulation of the professions and, as discussed, rapidly emerging new technologies that are already impacting how clients and counsellors connect and interact.  Amidst an overall focus of building cultural competencies to support a broader conceptualization of diversity, there is also an increased awareness and mandate to inform therapeutic approaches with Indigenous perspectives and ways of knowing (Fellner, John, & Cottell, 2016; Stewart & Marshall, 2015).

Not surprisingly given this changing landscape, there is heightened awareness of the importance of access to clinical supervision throughout a counsellor’s or counselling psychologist’s professional lifespan – not just during pre-graduation practicum and internship placements (Fitzpatrick, Cairns, & Overington, 2015; Jevne, Sawatzky, & Paré, 2004; Shepard & Martin, 2016).  CCPA (2018e) has initiated certification for supervisors (Canadian Certified Counsellor-Supervisor, CCC-S), offering relevant training, publishing a textbook (Shepard, Martin, & Robinson, 2016), and officially changing the name of the Counsellor Educators Chapter to include supervisors: the Counsellor Educators and Supervisors Chapter.  Further demonstrating commitment to advancing clinical supervision, CCPA hosted the first Clinical Supervision Symposium in late 2018.

Both counselling and counselling psychology offer diverse and engaging opportunities for work, career growth, and varied career paths.  As regulation of counselling continues within Canada, there will be more shifts in professional identity, emerging arenas of practice, a need for ongoing professional development, and, perhaps for some, doctoral studies to facilitate practice as a psychologist.  We encourage counsellors and counselling psychologists to find one or more professional homes in their local, national, or international associations to support ongoing professional development, a sense of professional identity, and opportunities to actively engage in a profession that is rapidly transforming from adolescence into maturity.

Career Considerations for Counsellors and Counselling Psychologists

1: Look ahead. Do you want to become a counsellor or a counselling psychologist? Although some of the steps are similar, there are some significant differences to be aware of. These differences include, but are not limited to, different training requirements and scopes of practice. It is up to the individual practitioner to thoroughly research educational training options and career outcomes to choose the practice that best suits their specific career goal.

2: Consider location. In Canada, occupational regulation is a provincial jurisdiction. For example, there are some provinces where psychologists can be certified with a master’s degree; in other provinces a doctorate is required. Also, there are several provinces where counselling is a regulated profession and other provinces where, although it’s not yet regulated, professional associations offer opportunities for professional but not legislated certification. For example, the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association offers the Canadian Certified Counsellor designation. Regulation of professions involves legal nuances that can change, and that individuals in these fields are responsible for understanding and complying with. Whether you plan to become a counsellor or a psychologist, you will need to check requirements with the regulatory colleges and/or professional associations within the provinces that you are considering.

3: Explore graduate schools. Master’s and doctoral programs are generally most closely aligned to the requirements of the provinces they are in, but also have similarities based on their accreditation (e.g., Council on Accreditation of Counsellor Education Programs [CACEP]; Canadian Psychological Association accreditation). Ensure that the graduate program that you are considering will meet the requirements for the province(s) that you hope to work in and the designation (i.e., counsellor or psychologist) that you hope to achieve. You might consider connecting directly with your intended regulatory board and/or professional association to ensure that a program satisfies their requirements prior to attending.

4: Check prerequisites – well in advance. Each graduate program will specify pre-requisite courses. Many doctoral programs require a master’s thesis; however, many master’s-level counselling programs do not have a thesis component. Knowing prerequisites in advance will help you to make decisions regarding program streams and/or elective courses that will keep doors open for your preferred next steps. You can investigate these requirements through using program websites, or connecting directly with the graduate chair of that department. Programs and entrance requirements can change; it is prudent to connect directly with your program(s) of interest regarding admission requirements rather than to rely on past student advice.

5: Confirm admission requirements.  Aside from specifying prerequisites, many graduate programs will have other admission requirements. By exploring graduate schools early, you can ensure that your grades, volunteer or work experience, letters of reference, and other admission criteria meet or exceed the requirements and maximize your chances of being selected. Again, programs and entrance requirements can change; it is prudent to connect directly with your program(s) of interest regarding admission requirements rather than to rely on past student advice.

6: Understand employer expectations.  There will be regional differences as well as differences related to areas of specialization and places of employment for both counsellors and psychologists. Consider the type of work that you’d like to do when you graduate and ensure that your course work, field training (practicum or internship) hours, supervisors’ qualifications, professional designation, and work experience work together to prepare you well for work as a counsellor or counselling psychologist. Investigate your desired career options and clearly identify required qualifications prior to beginning a graduate program. Ensure the graduate program that you attend meets your desired career qualification requirements.


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Please reference this chapter as:

Borgen, W. A., & Neault, R. A. (2019). Applications and careers for counsellors and counselling psychologists. In M. E. Norris (Ed.), The Canadian Handbook for Careers in Psychological Science. Kingston, ON: eCampus Ontario. Licensed under CC BY NC 4.0. Retrieved from https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/psychologycareers/chapter/applications-and-careers-for-counsellors-and-counselling-psychologists/


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