Counselors come from a great variety of backgrounds, often with roots in a range of helping professions.
Every counselor needs to keep abreast of the latest developments in theory and practice to ensure they are offering evidence-based interventions that meet the needs of specific client groups.
Once qualified, all counselors will also need to renew their professional memberships and licensure through participation in continuing professional education.
In this article, we expand on why developing your counseling skills as a licensed practitioner is important before exploring the best courses for counselors, both in person and online.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.
Counseling skills are an asset for any helping professional. Meanwhile, licensed professional counselors may be drawn from a range of prior backgrounds, including health professions, social services, and education (McLeod, 2019).
Once qualified, there are a wide variety of continuing education options given the range of counseling qualifications and specialties available, which can always be extended and developed (Hiebert et al., 1992).
Whatever your specialty and competence in counseling, the importance of developing your skills cannot be overstated. In today’s era of evidence-based practice, research findings are continuously updating counselors’ understanding of the effectiveness of different types of counseling interventions (Erford, 2019).
Once properly qualified, registered, and licensed, practicing counselors are required to participate in continuous professional development by their national professional associations and licensing bodies to ensure they possess evidence-based skills based on the latest research (Chwalisz, 2003). Continuing professional education ensures that counselors continue to develop more refined and targeted skill sets throughout their careers.
Take a look at this video from an American Counseling Association-accredited professional development provider explaining why continuing education is important.
Continuing education for counselors with Raymond Barrett
In short, from a regulatory perspective, keeping abreast of the latest developments in counseling also helps safeguard clients by maintaining professional standards and ensuring that practitioners’ competencies are regularly assessed and updated (Gazzola & Smith, 2007). The following sections review a range of continuing education courses for counselors on a regional basis.
Best Courses for Counselors
With a range of counseling qualifications and specialties available worldwide, this section outlines continuing education options provided by national regulatory bodies and their requirements of licensed counselors.
Some countries have more than one professional association for counselors, so the following have been curated to offer a representative cross-section of course options for counselors.
Each professional body stipulates a range of courses and/or learning activities that are formally recognized in terms of continuing education credits required to renew a counselor’s license to practice.
However, the limited scope of this article means it is not a definitive guide. When choosing courses, counselors need to consider their specialty, professional goals, and whether their choice is recognized by the relevant professional bodies and/or licensing boards in their specific field before signing up (Hiebert et al., 1992).
1. United States: The American Counseling Association’s Professional Development Center
Most licensed counselors in the United States are regulated by the American Counseling Association (ACA). The ACA offers a range of courses for counselors at its online professional development center, which will probably be accepted in many other countries as accredited continuing education (CE) units.
You can learn in a variety of formats, including short video courses, webinars, and text-based options like journal articles.
Counselors can also earn CE credits by attending the ACA Conference & Expo — their flagship professional development event. The conference includes educational sessions and workshops on self-care for practitioners, best practice, and the latest tools and resources to support your clients.
You can browse the course catalog of 224 options, covering topics as wide ranging as working with addictions, couple counseling, suicide prevention, and ethics in counseling practice. Each counselor course offers 1 or 1.5 credits, so you can mix and match courses to build a unique continuing education portfolio according to your professional interests.
2. United Kingdom: The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy CPD Hub
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) is a UK-based regulatory and licensing body, and it is also one of the largest counseling associations in Europe. Its continuing professional development (CPD) hub offers over 300 hours of accredited online resources on a variety of counseling topics.
The advantages of BACP’s online CPD are that it’s self-paced, can be completed at home, and fits in around other commitments. The learning content is recorded at live BACP events and includes presentations from internationally recognized counseling experts. Video and audio course content is updated monthly. All resources include a downloadable CPD certificate.
BACP also organizes various live (online and in-person) workshops, seminars, and training events throughout the year. These events cover diverse topics such as therapeutic techniques, ethical considerations, working with specific client populations, and trauma-informed care.
3. Australia: The Australian Counselling Association’s OPD events
Practicing members of the Australian Counselling Association are required to complete 25 points of ongoing professional development (OPD) a year.
These can be earned through subscribing to their journal; making professional presentations; publishing in peer-reviewed journals; and participating in conferences, local chapter meetings, training workshops, and courses for counselors.
You can read more about the Australian requirements and what qualifies as OPD in their online policy document here.
4. Canada: The Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association’s CEC program
The Canadian Certified Counselling and Psychotherapy Association’s (CCPA) Canadian-certified counsellor status grants membership for a three-year period.
Certification must then be renewed through a formal application process, which includes submitting evidence of 36 continuing education credits (CECs).
The CCPA’s CEC program includes a range of workshops, conferences, webinars, and counselor courses, which are evaluated via two pathways: the general continuing education credits program and the Indigenous continuing education credits program.
While the general program focuses on the development of specialties based on core counseling skills and competencies, the Indigenous program includes traditional teachings and healing ceremonies that assist CCPA members in providing culturally appropriate services to First Nations, Métis, and/or Inuit clients, families, and communities.
You can find out more by visiting their General Professional Development events timetable here and by downloading the Indigenous CE Credit Program brochure here.
5. EU-wide organizations
In Europe, counselors are regulated by a range of professional bodies, each with its own set of standards, certifications, and guidelines. These tend to be nation specific. However, there are two notable European counseling organizations that are aiming to standardize professional practice guidelines EU-wide.
European Association for Counseling (EAC)
The EAC promotes counseling as a profession in Europe and provides a networking platform for counseling professionals. While it doesn’t directly issue certifications, it sets guidelines for ethical practice and professional development.
European Board of Certified Counselors (EBCC)
The EBCC is the European arm of the US National Board for Certified Counselors. It aims to promote the government recognition of counseling as a stand-alone profession, to destigmatize the use of mental health services by expanding the availability of counseling, and to provide professional education for counselors.
When looking for courses for counselors working in Europe, it’s essential to understand that certifications, standards, and regulatory bodies vary significantly across European nations because of the different legal and professional frameworks in each country.
The Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association mentioned above offers both live and recorded continuing education webinars for licensed counselors through their general program that earn you approved CE credits.
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy has an online course hub for counselors who are active members. It contains hundreds of hours of continuing education courses delivered by experts in the field.
For an annual fee, BACP members can access approved counselor courses according to their professional interests and training needs. The downside is that these courses are not available to non-members.
This is an educational tool that Dr. Alberts developed to teach positive psychology to his university students, which he then used in his coaching practice to support his clients.
The sailboat metaphor: An educational tool
The sailboat metaphor systematizes the main pillars of positive psychology into a visual metaphor, the sailboat, which symbolizes the client’s journey through life. The client is represented by the captain of the sailboat, while the coach, counselor, or therapist are the lighthouse, illuminating the way ahead and highlighting obstacles on the journey.
Dr. Alberts explains how the sailboat metaphor works as both an educational and practice tool in the video below.
The sailboat metaphor - PositivePsychology.com
Given the scope of this article, I’ve chosen to outline two stand-alone masterclasses from the Life Navigation course that may be beneficial to counselors of different specialties.
With the current global epidemic of depression, substance misuse, suicide, relationship breakdown, and burnout, feelings of isolation and meaninglessness are commonly expressed in counseling sessions. There is a widespread experience of a lack of meaning in life in our consumer-driven culture in the West.
As an antidote, Seph Pennock contributes his refreshing study of the philosophy of meaning and its application to life experience from a positive psychology perspective. His modules focus on definitions of meaning, different types of meaning, and practical tips on how to find meaning in life.
Dr. Hugo Alberts follows up by focusing on the inherent link between values and meaning. Various definitions of values are discussed alongside an exploration of how our clients’ attention to their values as the steering wheel of their sailboat directs their life path. Next, beliefs about values and the difference between the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations of personal values are explored.
Finally, methods for promoting value-congruent action are examined. This masterclass includes thought-provoking exchanges between the cofounders of PositivePsychology.com and the attending class members that will entertain you while you learn!
Masterclass learning resources
All masterclasses include multiple learning resources, including videos of in-person classes and resulting discussions, slide presentations that go deeper with accompanying visual aids, a handbook of additional learning content supported by referenced scientific research, and a workbook packed with useful exercises for your clients.
If the masterclasses tempt you, but you would like more of an introduction to how positive psychology can benefit your counseling practice, review the following articles with their links to free worksheets and exercises.
Counselors have a profound responsibility to their clients, as they are entrusted with another human being’s personal development and mental health.
This means that adhering to professional standards and maintaining professional boundaries are of the utmost importance. Continuing education courses for counselors safeguard the counselor and their clients by ensuring that counselors’ competencies are regularly assessed and updated.
Learning about the application of positive psychology to help clients focus on their strengths or merely find more meaning in their lives is always a great way to build out your skill set.
Organizational counseling, which is geared toward optimizing productivity in the workplace, is currently the fastest growing field in counseling, followed closely by its companion, career counseling.
What degree do most school counselors have?
Most school counselors have a degree in counseling, psychology, or a related field like education.
Can anyone be a counselor?
Yes, anyone can become a counselor by taking short courses in counseling skills and building competencies over time. This can take longer than getting a bachelor’s or graduate degree, but it means that you can take your time discovering if counseling is the right career move for you.
Is a counselor better than a therapist?
There are overlaps between some forms of counseling and psychotherapy, but some forms of counseling are not focused on a client’s mental health as such. For example, career counseling specifically focuses on a client’s working life, while psychotherapy is never focused on a specific life domain but is concerned with a client’s mental health overall (McLeod, 2019).
Chwalisz, K. (2003). Evidence-based practice: A framework for twenty-first-century scientist-practitioner training. Counseling Psychologist, 31(5), 497–528.
Erford, B. (2019). 45 techniques every counselor should know. Pearson.
Gazzola, N., David Smith, J. (2007). Who do we think we are? A survey of counsellors in Canada. International Journal for the Advancement ofCounselling, 29, 97–110.
Hiebert, B., Simpson, L., & Uhlemann, M. R. (1992). Professional identity and counsellor education. Canadian Journal of Counselling, 26(3), 201–207.
McLeod, J. (2019). An Introduction to counselling and psychotherapy: Theory, research and practice. Open University Press.
About the author
Jo Nash, Ph.D., is a writer, editor, and writing coach. Jo obtained her Ph.D. in Psychotherapy Studies from the University of Sheffield, where she was a Lecturer in Mental Health at the Faculty of Medicine for over a decade.
Today, Jo combines her passion for language with mindfulness skills when coaching writers to help them cultivate flow and optimize productivity. She is the creator of the ‘focused flow’ approach to writing coaching.