What is counselling and how is a typical day in the life of a Counsellor?

A Counsellor is someone who is trained and licensed to practice counselling.

Counselling is a specialty within professional psychology that maintains a focus on facilitating personal and interpersonal functioning across the life span. Counselling is done with specialized skills gained through training in the science of human behaviour and it is empowering in nature rather than of advice-giving or coercion.

Counselling may be of very brief or long duration and takes place in an organisational or private practice setting. Some of the settings include academic institutions, hospitals and medical centres, prisons, church, schools, job placement centres, crisis response services, community and rehabilitation centres just to mention a few. The practitioners help people as individuals and groups, to improve their well-being, alleviate their distress, resolve their crises/conflict/issues/concerns, make adjustments and increase their ability to solve problems and make decisions.

Counsellors are licensed by the body established by ACT 857 of 2013 known as the Ghana Psychology Council (GPC for short). Act 857 (2013) designates counselling as both a “psychological service” and a “field of psychology.” It classifies practitioners who have a PhD or Psych. D. or an M.Phil; MA or MSc as “psychologists.” Therefore, a Counsellor who has any of these qualifications is a Counselling Psychologist. There are other practitioners who have obtained certification in the field of counselling at Diploma, undergraduate degree, or lower levels. These are known as Lay practitioners or “Paraprofessionals.”

Counsellor training is done in accredited institutions from certificate level (one-year programmes) to Masters or PhD levels (6 to 7 years).

A typical working day of a Counsellor looks like this:

Arrives at place of work, for example, a school, hospital, rehabilitation centre or private office by 8:00am and goes through files/itinerary or appointments for the day. Confirms schedule for the day, make calls to be sure that referrals, if there are any, from other practitioners or institutions, will be honouring their appointments.

Sorts out appropriate psychological tests and other assessment tools that will be used that day. Refreshes memory by going through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) and other documentations on dysfunctions and disorders.

The first client arrives at the counselling centre from 8:30am onwards. The client is welcomed and escorted to the counselling room. A typical counselling room is serene, well lit, not a thoroughfare, free from distractions like TVs, radios etc and is secure, offering peace and tranquillity.

The counsellor, after engaging in “small talk” with the client, introduces him/herself to client and asks client to do same, explains the counselling process (administrative procedures), discusses limits of confidentiality and allows client to read and sign the consent for counselling and confidentiality forms. Counsellor then does a thorough assessment which may include some tests, and/or collection of crucial background information that informs the diagnosis and treatment. The counsellee is also given the opportunity to talk about what really brings him/her for counselling. The counsellor uses professional skills to explore the issues with the client. At the end, the counsellor conceptualizes and diagnoses client’s case appropriately. This informs treatment planning. The counsellor also determines if he/she has the expertise to resolve the case or refer to other specialists. He/she then starts working with the client to find a solution to the issue. However, depending on the nature of the issue, all the  concerns may not be resolved that day. An average of between 8 – 12 sessions may be required to resolve client’s issues.

The counsellor and client summarise the session, assigns homework, and discuss next appointment. The Counsellor bids goodbye and leads client to the door.  

Counselling usually takes between 45 minutes to an hour if it is individual counselling. In group counselling, family counselling or crisis counselling, the duration is one and half hours.

Counsellors do not always sit in an office waiting for clients. They engage in preventive/ awareness creation activities as well as research work. Counsellors write case notes, review client notes, write reports on assessments; they also teach/lecture and supervise counselees. Follow-up, advocacy and consultancy services are also part of professional counsellors’ practice. Other counsellor activities include group, crisis, bereavement, and tele-counselling.

A Counsellor is a wonderful person to interact with. Apart from client loads, counsellors also engage in self-development, belong to professional bodies and strive to be current, have a social life and practice self-care to stay healthy in order to be useful to their clients and family.


Written by Albright Asiwome Banibensu, Lecturer and immediate past National Vice President of the Ghana Psychological Association (GPA).