What I Wish I’d Known About Counselling & Psychotherapy Training… (Part 1)

I’ve recently finally qualified as a therapist, and the relief is astronomical. As I stare at my certificate, unsure if it is even real, I’m hit with the realisation that the past 5 years has been rough. I have worked through my own personal challenges (from disability to relationship issues) to experiencing discrimination on courses, as well as the various issues that every student goes through.

Training to be a counsellor/psychotherapist is hard. No one said it was easy, but there are many things that I wish I’d known before I started. In this series of articles I will look a variety of topics, from what routes you can take into training, to what it’s like to be a trainee therapist (warts and all!). I will conclude with some discussions on the issues you should be aware of within the profession, as well as career prospects and options.

Part 1 looks at Training Routes.

  1. Where To Even Start?
  2. Which Training Route Do I Pick?
  3. The Diploma Route
  4. The Top-Up Route
  5. The Degree Route
  6. Extra Costs
  7. Final Guidance

Training Routes

Where To Even Start!?

Let’s start off by being incredibly clear – anyone can call themselves a counsellor, psychotherapist or therapist. That is because the profession is not “regulated” or “protected” which is different to the following related professions:

  • Arts Therapist (Protected Profession)
    • Art psychotherapist
    • Art therapist
    • Dramatherapist
    • Music therapist
  • Practitioner Psychologist (Regulated Profession)
    • Practitioner psychologist
    • Registered psychologist
    • Clinical psychologist
    • Forensic psychologist
    • Counselling psychologist
    • Health psychologist
    • Educational psychologist
    • Occupational psychologist
    • Sport and exercise psychologist

Unless you complete an appropriate course, and register with the appropriate body (such as the HCPC), then you legally cannot use any of these titles. To do so could see you prosecuted under the Health Professions Order 2001.

As you can see, “Therapist”, “Counsellor” and “Psychotherapist” are not one of those protected titles. I’m not encouraging people to go and set up as a therapist – I believe in accountability, safe & ethical working and therapists receiving appropriate training first. I do however want to emphasise that you are good enough: whether you complete a Diploma or work your way up to a PhD (with client practice/work), you are good enough. That’s likely to be the theme of much of what I write in this series.

Which Training Route Do I Pick?

There are numerous training routes to becoming a therapist. The key questions you should really consider is:

  • Where do you want to work after you qualify?
  • Do you hope to become self-employed?
  • Are you hoping to reach “BACP Accredited” status (or similar)?

I wonder if those questions have actually created more questions in your mind. Or maybe you read it and went “Becki, I haven’t even started yet, why are you asking about future work?” Well, reader, it’s because so much depends on those answers.

If you want to work in the NHS, or become employed by one of the major counselling organisations in the UK, you’re likely to need to meet a certain minimum standard. Organisations often look for a minimum of 100 to 450 client hours. My first bit of guidance is as follows:

Research counselling roles that you would be interested in – and see what the common minimum standards are.

These minimum standards can range from a certain qualification to an expectation of being part of specific membership bodies. I will later share some information about SCoPEd which is a proposed shared framework that “sets out the core training, practice and competence requirements for counsellors and psychotherapists working with adults.” Whilst not implemented yet, there is evidence that it is already shaping training and employment practices.

The Diploma Route

Year 1: Level 2 Certificate in Counselling Skills
Year 2: Level 3 Certificate in Counselling Studies
Year 3: Begin Level 4 Diploma (1st Year)
Year 4: Complete Level 4 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling

Probably the most common route to training as a therapist is that of completing a Diploma in Counselling and/or Psychotherapy. In the UK there are several examining bodies that accredit courses, such as SEG Awards ABC (who I completed my diploma with) and the largest being CPCAB.

During your diploma studies, you are eligible to join a professional membership body such as the BACP or NCS as a student member. At the end of your diploma you are deemed “qualified” and may become a member of a professional membership body1.

What’s useful about the diploma route is that it is usually part-time, and so most students do it alongside their jobs or other responsibilities. It is more common for people to come to counselling as a second or third career, and so students may have already been to university and therefore be ineligible for financial support. Life priorities such as work and family may also impact on your decision.

  • Level 2 course costs roughly £600-£1000
  • Level 3 courses tend to be around £800-£1200
  • Level 4 course takes place over 2 years, and costs on average £2500-£3200 (per year)

(1) Be aware that if you don’t complete your studies with a BACP Approved organisation, you will have to take the Certificate of Proficiency (CoP) post qualification to become a full member of the BACP.

Top-Up Route

If you have completed a Diploma, you are qualified enough to start working with clients – either in Private Practice or employment. However, many people choose to expand their knowledge first. One option is to do the CPCAB Level 5 Diploma in Psychotherapeutic Counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapeutic Skills & Theory or Counselling Children & Young People. This is a sort of specialisation for a practitioner, that requires a further placement.

The CPCAB has long pushed the narrative that you should do a Level 5 before working as a self-employed therapist in private practice. This is not true. It should ultimately come down to how prepared an individual is. Once you have a Level 5 Diploma in Psychotherapeutic Counselling you can transfer the credits to the Open University’s Foundation Degree in Counselling.

The Level 5 Diploma in Cognitive Behavioural Therapeutic Skills & Theory could set you up to work within the NHS (particularly the IAPT service) as CBT is the favoured modality. The Level 5 Diploma in Counselling Children & Young People is a further specialism, as up until this point you would have been trained to work with adults. You can transfer either of these course credits to allow you to complete the Open University Foundation Degree. Again, you can work in private practice (and within an organisation) with a Level 4, these are optional top-ups.

An alternative option is to apply to do the Open University’s Foundation Degree in Counselling straight after your Level 4 (as long as it was completed with the CPCAB awarding body. You would then transfer the 120 credits and bypass the first year, and move directly into “Stage 2” of the course. This allows you to pick one of the three Level 5 courses as listed above which accounts for 30 credits and 2 additional OU modules (which total 90 credits). You can also complete this without a Level A second option allows you to complete the course with 120 credits not including the CPCAB Level 5, choosing all OU modules.2

  • Level 5 Courses cost on average £2000-£3000
  • Open University Year 1: £4500 (Level 4 Diploma)
  • Open University Year 2: £6500 (Level 5 Diploma OR OU Route)

(2) Thank you to the Counselling Directory community for pointing out the alternative routes around the Open University.

The University Route

BA Hons in Counselling

Year 1: A Levels, Foundation Year or Level 2/3 Counselling Course
Year 2: 1st Year of a BA Hons Degree in Counselling
Year 3: Continue BA Hons Degree in Counselling
Year 4: Complete the BA Hons Degree in Counselling (counts as a Level 6)

An alternative is the more traditionally ‘academic’ route. This tends to be by studying for a BA Honours Full-Time degree in Counselling, which will take 3 years to complete.

A common entry requirement is for students to be 21 or over. The reasoning is usually that they are looking for students to have more life experience and resilience. I’ll talk more on this later.

If you have not already been to university, or didn’t take out a student loan, you may be eligible for financial support from the Student Loans Company. Without this loan, you are looking at over £9000 a year for tuition alone.

Postgraduate Diploma in Counselling

If you already have a degree in an unrelated subject you may wish to apply for a PGDip that works similarly to the Level 4 – this will include a 100 hour placement, and usually takes 2 years to complete. This will allow you to be a member of the BACP or similar (but not UKCP). You will need to complete 120 credits worth of modules to complete this course.

  • Misleadingly, the courses I’ve found have stated that it costs around £2300. Then in small print it states that this cost is per 30 credits so be really careful when you look into this route.
  • PGDipl in Counselling will cost on average £8000-£9200 (split over 2 years)
  • Quite often, this is not eligible for funding

There are also courses that allow you to register with the UKCP. These courses usually require a placement of 450 hours.

MA or MSc in Counselling

Upon completing a PGDip in Counselling you can be automatically enrolled, or move to another university, to complete a final year – an MA/MSc in Counselling. This requires students to complete a further 60 credits around research, which includes a Dissertation.

  • This will be a further cost on average of £4600-£5500
  • Some places do offer funding from Student Finance

Extra Costs

I will have a much more detailed description of this in my article about the experience on the course, but I think it’s important to note things here. There are many ‘hidden’ costs to training as a therapist. As would be expected, you are likely to need to buy books to support your learning, but additional things might include:

  • Professional Membership(s) (for example, BACP, UKCP or NCS)
  • Personal Therapy
  • Supervision
  • Further Training (to support your placement)
  • Some placements require a fee
  • DBS check (your criminal record check)

Final Guidance

It is important that you check with the membership organisations themselves which route you need to take. For example, UKCP membership often requires students to be on very specific courses, whilst the BACP is more inclusive of the diploma route.

Every membership body works differently. The most widely known organisation is the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), and their minimum standards are fairly universal. Alternatives include:

  • Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP)
  • Association of Christians in Counselling and Linked Professions (ACC)
  • British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT)
  • British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC)
  • British Psychological Society (BPS)
  • Counselling & Psychotherapy in Scotland (COSCA)
  • Human Givens Institute (HGI)
  • National Counselling Society (NCS)
  • National Hypnotherapy Society (NHS)
  • Play Therapy UK (PTUK)
  • UK Association for Humanistic Psychology Practitioners (AHPP)
  • UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)

If in doubt, join a counselling and psychotherapy social media group, contact the examining boards or the membership bodies themselves. You’re also welcome to comment or drop me an email with your thoughts and questions.


Published by Budding Therapy

Person-Centred Counsellor

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