Registered Counsellors are psychological professionals who are registered with the Health Professional Council of South Africa (HPCSA). They are qualified individuals who aim to improve the psychosocial well-being of individuals, families, and communities. They are trained to be frontline mental health professionals, making psychological services more widely and easily accessible to all South Africans. Despite the enormous need for broader access to mental health resources, few people know of the crucial role Registered Counsellors play in addressing the mental health needs of South Africa.
What do Registered Counsellors do?
Registered Counsellors work in a variety of settings, working at a primary level with communities, families, and individuals. This means that they have a strong focus on preventing illness and promoting overall well-being, as well as being the first level of care someone receives if they have mental health concerns or needs. Registered Counsellors can then provide a range of psychological services such as assessments and short-term, supportive counselling. They refer clients on to other professionals such as social workers, psychologists, or psychiatrists for specialised care, when necessary.
Scope of Practice
Registered Counsellors are trained to provide a variety of psychosocial interventions to individuals, groups, and communities. These may include:
- Prevention and health promotion initiatives.
- Short-term, supportive counselling.
- Psychological assessments, such as screening for mental health issues, aptitude tests, personality profiling, career advisory and placements, and psychoeducational assessments.
As frontline mental health professionals, Registered Counsellors are an exceedingly valuable resource in a variety of settings such as:
- Correctional services.
- District hospitals and hospices.
- Consumer organisations.
- Crisis and trauma centres.
- Self-employment as a counsellor.
- Schools and educational institutions.
- Community programmes and support facilities.
- Rehabilitation and addiction treatment programmes.
- Support services for the South African Police Service.
How do you become a Registered Counsellor?
Counselling courses need to equip graduates with a robust understanding and knowledge of psychology. They need to build counselling and communication skills as well as have a strong ethical base to build from. All accredited will also have a practical component as part of their counselling qualification. There are two paths to becoming a Registered Counsellor, both requiring at least four years of study at a university or college. Because these programmes are specialised and rigorous, only the top candidates are chosen to train as Registered Counsellors. This means competition is tough and many candidates apply more than once before being considered.
BPsych and BPsych Equivalent Options
The first way to become a Registered Counsellor is to study a Bachelor of Psychology (BPsych) degree. A BPsych is a four-year programme that combines three years of an undergraduate degree with a final honours year and a six-month internship. To study a BPsych, you need a National Senior Certificate (or Equivalent.
The second way to become a registered counsellor is to study a BPsych Equivalent degree. This is an 18-month, honours level qualification that combines academic study and a six-month internship. To study a BPsych Equivalent, you need to have already completed a bachelor’s degree with a psychology major.
After successful completion of either of these programmes, you can take the board examination with the HPCSA to practice as a Registered Counsellor.
Which Route is Better?
It depends on where you are in your education and how sure you are you want to enter the field of professional psychology. Taking the BPsych route is advantageous because it includes your honours year. This means that you will not have to struggle with the very stringent selection process to enter psychology honours or BPsych Equivalent.
The potential downside to the BPsych programme is that it is a four-year programme and it only includes psychology subjects. This is a big commitment to make for someone who has just finished school and is likely still exploring options for the future. If you find that you don‘t really enjoy psychology, you won’t have a second major as backup, as you would have in a regular undergraduate degree.
As a Registered Counsellor is a professional, it requires a formal higher education. This means that there are minimum requirements in order to be considered for admittance into a counselling qualification.
Minimum Study Requirements
- A National Senior Certificate (or equivalent).
- Requirements as stipulated by Higher Learning Institutions.
Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL)
Those who have work experience can apply for admission to an accredited course, even if they do not meet the minimum course requirements. SACAP’s Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) policy requires a prospective student to be 24 years or older. They also need a portfolio of evidence showing formal/informal training or life-long learning to support their application.
Registering as a Counsellor in South Africa
Those who want to register as a counsellor are expected to have acquired both practical and theoretical skills during their studies. The practical component of a counsellor qualification assists in building a graduate’s everyday working skill set. And through the study portion, their knowledge and understanding of psychosocial frameworks, methodology, and approaches.
Required Minimum Competencies
In addition to completing a formal qualification, Registered Counsellors are required to complete an approved face-to-face practicum of 6 months (720 hours). Through this, they are required to have gained competencies [Exit-Level Outcomes (ELO)] in these areas:
- Psychological Assessments: Ability to perform screenings for various psychological functions and basic mental status assessments. As well as accurately assess clients for appropriate referrals and further testing.
- Psychological Interventions: Able to conceptualise the client’s problems within suitable frameworks. Protect and promote psychological well-being, select, and provide appropriate preventative and developmental interventions. And assist in restoring functionality.
- Professional Practice: Contextual knowledge and insight, understanding of the relevant South African prescripts, being able to show knowledge of, understand and apply theoretical perspectives and psychological intervention models. Run workshops and presentations. Exercise effective interpersonal skills to enhance therapeutic and professional relationships.
- Research: The ability to evaluate, design and apply methodology and analysis. Demonstrated through a community-based research project, keeping records and a track record of working ethically.
- Ethics and Legislation: Be able to recognise and keep moral and ethical principles and legal responsibilities, guidelines, and frameworks. While understanding and having a working knowledge of the Professional Board of Psychology, HPCSA and International Best Practices’ Code of Professional Ethics. Additionally, understand limits and boundaries regarding professional competence.
HPCSA Registration Requirements:
- A 4-year Bachelor of Psychology professional degree approved by the HPCSA, including a 720-hour practicum. Or A recognised BPsych Equivalent Programme approved by the HPCSA, including a 720-hour practicum.
- Successful completion of the National Examination of the Professional Board for Psychology in the Registered Counsellor category.
Studying at SACAP
SACAP offers a wide choice of vocational, academic, and professional studies in psychology that combine theory and practice-based learning.
The SACAP range of psychology courses are designed to enable students to match their aptitude, study motivations and career aspirations with a suitable qualification. A range of SACAP courses include Work Integrated Learning (WIL) modules, which ensure that students are practically equipped for their careers.