Specialist Award in Counselling

Learn at home skills to work as a counsellor, social worker or in allied or mental health support services; studying psychology and counselling by distance education

Course Code: VPS014
Fee Code: PA
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 500 hours
Qualification Specialist Award
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Counselling Distance Education Course
  • Extend Your Skills as a Counsellor
  • Develop Specialist knowledge in areas of counselling you have not previously studied.
A specialist award a course of study designed for people who already hold qualifications and/or experience in the discipline. While assuming that you already have a broad understanding of psychology, it acknowledges that you may have areas of weakness that you need to strengthen; whether that be in certain areas of counselling or the broader field of counselling. The course is designed to allow you to concentrate your studies on the areas you need to strengthen, without needing to revisit the other areas of psychology and counselling which you have already mastered.


Core ModulesThese modules provide foundation knowledge for the Specialist Award in Counselling.
 Industry Project I BIP000
 Industry Project II BIP001
Elective ModulesIn addition to the core modules, students study any 3 of the following 19 modules.
 Counselling Skills I BPS109
 Counselling Skills II BPS110
 Anxiety Management BPS224
 Conflict Management BPS201
 Counselling Techniques BPS206
 Creative Therapies BPS219
 Ecotherapy Practice BPS220
 Family Counselling BPS213
 Grief Counselling BPS209
 Nutrition for Weight Loss BRE210
 Pet Therapy BPS221
 Professional Practice in Counselling BPS207
 Relationships & Communication Counselling BPS208
 Business Coaching BBS304
 Crisis Counselling BPS304
 Horticultural Therapy BHT341
 Professional Supervision BPS301
 Psychological Assessment BPS308
 Psychopharmacology (Drugs & Psychology) BPS302

Note that each module in the Specialist Award in Counselling is a short course in its own right, and may be studied separately.

There are differences between formal counselling and the use of counselling skills.

As we said in the introduction, a professional counsellor fulfills a different role to someone using counselling skills or techniques.

To summarise:

  • Formal counselling tends to occur for a shorter or longer term.

  • Formal counsellors will tend to base their counselling on a particular theory or theories.

  • They will receive supervision at regular intervals during their counselling.

  • They should abide by ethical guidelines and standards.

  • They should have a formal contract with their clients. 

Formal counselling is undertaken by a counsellor within a professional setting, but many different professionals use counselling skills e.g. psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists. This chapter will consider:

  • What are counselling skills?

  • Who uses them?


There are a wide range of counselling skills and techniques that counsellors use.  These can also be used by other professionals within their daily role. Counselling skills fall into three main areas: attending skills, listening skills, and influencing skills. We will now consider important counselling skills.


Many people will experience distressing or painful situations that they find hard to talk about. Active listening skills can encourage people to talk.  Active listening helps people to talk through their problems by helping them to find a way to put into words what is troubling them.  It may sound odd to consider “active” listening. I am listening, what needs to be active about it? Think about how you listen. How often have you been having a conversation with someone where you have been listening to them talk but whilst you are listening, you are thinking about what you want to say next, planning what to eat for lunch, interrupting them and so on. This isn’t really listening or paying attention. You are not REALLY listening to what they have to say, but thinking about what you are thinking about. Active listening means that you are really paying attention. So what is active listening?

With active listening, you may do some talking, but mainly you are acting as a sounding board for the person to discuss their difficult issue.  Active listening should just encourage the person to talk, not influence what they have to say. 

Think about this, someone is telling you something distressing and you say:

  • “I know, I had the same experience when.......”

  • “I know how you feel.”

  • “Try not to worry about, it will get better soon.”

  • “That doesn’t sound so bad, last week, this happened to me........”

All of these statements may be well-intentioned, but they could lead to the person stopping what they are saying, changing the subject or ending the conversation because they feel you don’t understand. With active listening this can be avoided. By listening actively you demonstrate to the person or client that you are interested in what they have to say. It is one of the chief skills in building rapport and trust in a client-counsellor relationship.  Active listening is part of the repertoire of listening and attending skills a trained counsellor uses to help client’s to discuss their issues. The following skills are all part of the listening techniques.


The use of open questions is one method of active listening.  Try to use questions that do not require a yes or no answer. This encourages the person you are speaking to, to open up more. So rather than say “Does this really bother you?” you could try “This sounds like it really bothers you. Tell me why?”  The first question could be answered “yes” or “no” and that could be the end of the question. The second question requires the person to speak more, to expand on why the situation bothers them. This encourages the person to keep talking.  So, if you want to encourage the client to talk more freely you should avoid questions like “Are you okay?” or “Does that help?” or “Do you want to talk more about this?” as this can shut down a conversation. Try instead to use questions like:

  • Do you want to tell me more about how you feel?

  • What would help you now?

  • Can you tell me more about this?

  • How did you feel when that happened?

All of these questions encourage conversation. They encourage the person to express their feelings, say how they feel. If you are not experienced in counselling skills, you may find this a little awkward at first. It may be artificial, but the more you do this the easier it becomes.  Try asking open questions in your general conversation. You will be amazed at how much more people will open up, when it looks like you are really interested in what THEY have to say. It doesn’t just have to be when someone has a problem. You can also use open questions and active listening when people are talking to you about anything.

Often, open questions begin with the words: can, could, why, how or what.


Closed questions do sometimes have their place. Sometimes you want a person to make a definite decision or choice.  So closed questions can be used to clarify something. For example, “So let me see if I’ve got this right, you are annoyed with your boss because he wouldn’t let you have last Friday off?”  The client can then answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ This tells you that you are on the right track, you have understood what the person is saying. This also tells the person you are listening to that you have understood as well.
As we said above, open questions allow conversations to flow more freely and encourage conversation and debate, so are more useful in exploring client issues. But closed questions are more useful for obtaining brief factual information. They are also useful for bringing focus to an interview situation, though the onus is on the counsellor to guide the interview.

Often, closed questions begin with the words: do, is or are.  

Whether asking open or closed questions, they should not be overused. Too many questions may make a client feel as though they are being interrogated. Alternatively, they may feel overcome with anger or guilt. Also, the guiding nature of questions may be too authoritarian for some. Indeed for some non-Western cultures questions are deemed inappropriate.


Another element of active listening is paraphrasing. It is a way that the counsellor can say back to the client what they have heard using some of the client’s own words. It is not merely repeating back parrot-fashion what the client has said, rather it is an abbreviation of the client’s statements using several of the client’s key words along with a few of the counsellor’s own words.

For example, a client might say: “I’ve had a terrible week - my car broke down, my cat has run away, I’ve got a cold, work is stressful, and my neighbour is pissing me off.”

To paraphrase, the counsellor might say: “You’ve had a terrible week because lots of things have gone wrong.”

Again, paraphrasing demonstrates to the client that they have been heard and understood. Done properly, a paraphrase will stop the client from feeling that they have to keep repeating the same information and can go on to discuss and explore other issues.


Sometimes we want to avoid difficult things. We can avoid saying them. A person you are speaking to might do this. They may avoid saying something, but their body language tells you it is a difficult thing. So you can use statements such as:

  • “This sounds like it is a difficult thing for you?”

  • “Tell me more about ............”

Then encouraging them more with statements, such as “Go on”, “Tell me more”, or “Yes.” This may sound obvious, but it is so easy to forget to make these sorts of comments when we are thinking about our issues and what we have to say next.

One way of clarifying is to repeat keywords used by the client. The key word selected will influence the direction of the interview.

Another method is to restate certain parts of what the client has said through the use of short statements. These restatements can again influence the direction of the interview like minimal encouragers.


Another way to show that you are listening is by using minimal encouragers. Minimal encouragers help to put the speaker at ease, and encourage them to continue talking with minimal interruption or influence. You probably use minimal encouragers subconsciously in your conversations already. Some examples include “mmm hmmmm”, “uh-huh”, “I see”, “tell me more”, or nodding your head. Even a silence accompanied by appropriate body language can serve as a minimal encourager.

Counselling skills can sound quite simple. I am sure many of you reading this will think, I do that all the time.  The next few times you have a conversation with someone, try to use these different skills and techniques. Consider if you DO actually use them. 


Summarising is another technique used in active listening. It shows that you have listened to the person and understood what they have said. An example might be:
“So you love your job, but you don’t like your new boss, so you are not sure whether to find another job.”  This just briefly summarises the main points of what the person has said.

Although similar to paraphrasing and encouraging, summarising is used to sum up a longer period of the interview. It is used to check that the counsellor has understood the gist of a whole section of an interview, or even to review an entire session or several sessions. It is best done with a check at the end to see if what the client has portrayed through thoughts and feelings has been correctly understood. For example, you might ask “Does that sound about right?”, “Have I understood you?”, or “Does that sound like a fair summary?”


You are listening to a person talking. They are telling you about how difficult things have been for them. They don’t want you to sit/stand there and be totally neutral, so it is important to show sympathy and understanding without cutting short the conversation. Statements such as “You sound like you’ve had a terrible time” or “That must have been so difficult for you” show that you are being understanding of how difficult it has been for them.


Another technique that can be used is reflecting.  There are two types of reflection used by counsellors:

  1. Reflection of feeling

  2. Reflection of meaning

Reflection of feeling is considered part of the listening sequence. It involves repeating a word or phrase back to the person to encourage them to talk.  For example, if the person says “I’ve been really stressed lately”. You can repeat back to them – “So you’ve been stressed lately?” This is different to paraphrasing which focuses on reflecting back content. Instead, the emphasis is clearly on reflecting back feeling.

Or, you can simply say something like “Stressed?” as a question, which can keep the conversation flowing and help to maintain the topic of the conversation.

The idea behind reflection of feeling is that there are underlying emotions and feelings beneath the thoughts, behaviours and words expressed by an individual.  Reflection of feeling helps to clarify these feelings to the client by making them more explicit.

Reflection of meaning is a higher end skill than reflection of feeling. It is part of what might be considered influencing skills rather than listening skills and is discussed later.

We have just summarised active listening, but an important part of counselling skills and techniques is the use and identification of body language.


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Who This Course Is Designed For?

This course is ideal for people who have industry experience and want to amalgamate that experience into a qualification. It is also suited to people who have access to a workplace but limited qualifications and who want to earn a qualification whilst working.  Students can use this course of study to enhance their current skills and knowledge through personal development or use it to reinforce areas they are familiar with.  The focus here is on counselling and related skills.    

This course is most likely to appeal to people working in the following fields:

  • Counselling

  • Caring roles

  • Alternative therapy

  • Aged care

  • Nursing

  • Health professions

ACS is an Organisational Member of the Association for Coaching (UK).
ACS is an Organisational Member of the Association for Coaching (UK).
Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.
Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.

How can I start this course?

You can enrol at anytime and start the course when you are ready. Enrolments are accepted all year - students can commence study at any time. All study is self paced and ACS does not set assignment deadlines.

Please note that if a student is being assisted by someone else (e.g. an employer or government subsidy), the body offering the assistance may set deadlines. Students in such situations are advised to check with their sponsor prior to enrolling. The nominal duration of a course is approximately how long a course takes to complete. A course with a nominal duration of 100 hours is expected to take roughly 100 hours of study time to complete. However, this will vary from student to student. Short courses (eg. 100 hrs duration) should be completed within 12 months of enrolment. Certificates, Advanced Certificates and Awards (eg. over 500 hours duration) would normally be completed within 3 -5 years of enrolment. Additional fees may apply if a student requires an extended period to complete.
If a student cannot submit their assignments for 6 months to ACS, they should advise the school to avoid cancellation of their student
registration. Recommencement fees may apply.

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What do I need to know before I enrol?

There are no entry requirements that you need to meet to enrol in our courses, our courses are for everyone.
If you are under 18, we need written permission from your parent/ guardian for your enrolment to continue, we can arrange that after you have enrolled.

You don’t need to purchase any additional resources to complete our courses.

We aim to teach you the essentials without you having to purchase any specific computer program.
We recommend that you have access to a word processing program, such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs, so that you can easily complete and submit your assignments.

You sure can. We are here to help you learn whatever your abilities.

Yes, if you are enrolling in a Certificate or Advanced Certificate, you might be eligible for credits if you have evidence of your previous studies or relevant experience. More information is here.

We recommend that you are able to browse websites, send emails and conduct online research. You will need to be able to type and submit your assignments.
If you have limited computer skills, we can make special arrangements for you.

This is possible, it depends on the institution. We recommend that if you would like to use our courses that you contact the institution first. Our Course Handbook is a good resource for this.

Our courses are written in English and we only have English speaking academic staff. If you can read and complete your assignments in English, our courses are ideal for you.

Our courses are designed to build knowledge, hands on skills and industry connections to help prepare you to work in the area, running your own business, professional development or as a base for further study.

This course is aimed at providing you with a solid understanding in your selected discipline. It has been designed to take 600 hours, which includes your course reading, assignment work, research, practical tasks, watching videos and more. When you complete the course, will have a good understanding of the area/ industry you want to work in.

It’s up to you. The study hours listed in the course are a rough guide, however if you were to study a short course (100 hours) at 10 hours per week, you could finish the course in 10 weeks (just an example). Our courses are self-paced, so you can work through the courses in your own time. We recommend that you wait for your tutor to mark and return your assignment before your start your next one, so you get the benefits of their feedback.

The course consists of course notes, videos, set tasks for your practical work, online quizzes, an assignment for each lesson (that you receive feedback from your tutor from) and ends in an exam (which is optional, if would like to receive the formal award at the end), using our custom built Learning Management System - Login.Training.

Our courses are designed for adults to gain professional development and skills to further their careers and start businesses.

Our custom online learning portal allows you to conduct your learning online. There may be practical tasks that you can do offline. You have the option of downloading your course notes or print them to read later.

There is also the option to pay an additional fee for printed course notes and or USB (availability limited to location and deliverability).

Yes, if you don’t have access to the internet, you can receive the course as paper notes or on a USB stick for an additional fee. We can also make alternative arrangements for you to send your assignments to us.

We offer printed notes for an additional fee. Also, you can request your course notes on a USB stick for an additional fee.

Yes, your tutor is here to help you. Simply post any questions you have in your login.training portal or contact the office and we can pass on a message to your tutor.

We are more learning focussed, rather than assessment focussed. You have online quizzes to test your learning, written assignments and can complete an exam at the end of the course (if you want to receive your certificate). You will not receive a pass/ fail on your course work. If you need to add more details on your assignment, we will ask you to resubmit and direct you where you need to focus. If you need help, you can ask your tutor for advice in the student room.

Each module (short course) is completed with one exam.

Exams are optional, however you must sit an exam if you would like to receive a formal award. You will need to find someone who can supervise that you are sitting the exams under exams conditions. There is an additional cost of $60 incl. GST for each exam.
More information is here

There are practical components built into the course that have been designed to be achieved by anyone, anywhere. If you are unable to complete a task for any reason, you can ask your tutor for an alternative.

When you complete the course work and the exams (6 exams) and you will be able receive your course certificate- a Certificate. Otherwise, you can receive a Letter of Completion.

You can bundle the short courses to create your own customised learning bundle, Certificates or Advanced Certificates. More information is on this page.

Yes, our courses are built to be applicable for people living anywhere in any situation. We provide the fundamentals, and each student can apply their own unique flair for their own interests, region and circumstances with the one-on-one guidance of a tutor. There is also a bit of student directed research involved.

Employers value candidates with industry skills, knowledge, practical skills and formal learning. Our courses arm you with all of these things to help prepare you for a job or start your own business. The longer you study the more you will learn.

ACS has an arrangement with OAMPS (formerly AMP) who can arrange Professional Indemnity from Australian and New Zealand graduates across all disciplines. Ph: 1800 222 012 or email acs@oamps.com.au.

Who are ACS Distance Education?

ACS Distance Education have been educating people for over 40 years.

We are established and safe- we have been in education for over 40 years.
We are focused on developing innovative courses that are relevant to you now and what you will need to know in the future.
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You can enrol at any time, you can work on your course when it suits you and at your own pace.
We are connected to many industry bodies and our staff participate in continuous improvement and learning activities to ensure that we are ahead of what learning is needed for the future.

Our courses are not accredited by the Australian Government. However many of our courses are recognised and held in high regard by many industry bodies.

Our courses are written by our staff, who all have many years experience and have qualifications in their speciality area. We have lots of academic staff who write and update our courses regularly.

How do I enrol my staff/ sponsored students?

Yes, you can do a request for a bulk enrolment and request an invoice on our Invoice Request Form

We can prepare an invoice, quote or proforma invoice. Simply complete your details on our Invoice Request form

We can arrange bulk discounts for your course enrolment, please get in touch with us to discuss your needs.

Yes, we have many students who are in locked facilities, such as prisons or hospitals. We can cater by also offering paper notes at an additional cost.

What if I have any more questions or need more information?

We can assist you to find the right course for your needs. Get in touch with us via email (admin@acs.edu.au) call on +61 7 5562 1088 or complete our course advice form.

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Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Tracey Jones (Psychologist)

B.Sc. (Psych), M.Soc.Sc., Dip.Social Work, P.G.Dip Learning Disability, Cert Editing, Cert Creative Writing, PGCE.
Member British Psychological Society, Member Assoc. for Coaching, Member British Learning Assoc.
25 years industry experience in writing, editing, education, psychology, and business. Tracey has several books and hundreds of articles published; in both fiction and non fiction.

Lyn Quirk

M.Prof.Ed.; Adv.Dip.Compl.Med (Naturopathy); Adv.Dip.Sports Therapy
Over 30 years as Health Club Manager, Fitness Professional, Teacher, Coach and Business manager in health, fitness and leisure industries. As business owner and former department head for TAFE, she brings a wealth of skills and experience to her role as a tutor for ACS.

Jacinda Cole (Psychologist)

Psychologist, Educator, Author, Psychotherapist.
B.Sc., Psych.Cert., M. Psych. Cert.Garden Design, MACA
Jacinda has over 25 years of experience in psychology, in both Australia and England. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Psychology and a Masters in Psychology (Clinical) and also trained in psychoanalytic psychotherapy at the London Centre for Psychotherapy. She has co-authored several psychology text books and many courses including diploma and degree level courses in psychology and counselling. Jacinda has worked for ACS for over 10 years.

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