It may shock you to learn that in the UK anyone can legally claim to be a counsellor, even if they are not actually qualified. Terms like counsellor, cognitive behavioural therapist and psychotherapist aren’t on the list of protected titles so anyone can call themselves one. It also means there is no official definition of any of them! Similar titles like counselling psychologist, arts therapist and sports and exercise psychologist are all legally protected and require specific qualifications.
If you want to become a counsellor or similar hopefully you’ll want to do so ethically and get some legitimate qualifications. This means spending around three years getting qualified and gaining suitable experience so that you’ll be safe and effective when you start counselling clients.
Most (but not all) safe and ethical counsellors get themselves registered with a professional body. Each body sets its own standards which counsellors are expected to adhere to. This generally includes a requirement for continuing professional development (CPD), so even when you’re qualified you’ll still be learning.
There are lots of different ways to become a counsellor, so none of this is gospel, but this is one of the most common routes. Depending on your circumstances, the best place to start is probably with the CPCAB‘s Level 2 Certificate in Counselling Skills. You’ll need to take this even if you already have other Level 2 qualifications (such as GCSEs) or above, because the important thing here is learning the basic skills, not the academic level. It’s a short course which I’d actually recommend to pretty much anyone, whether you want to become a counsellor or not. It will teach you useful skills and empathic ways of communicating which can enhance your everyday relationships, and it should give you a good idea as to whether it’s the right career for you. The Level 2 certificate is available at colleges and private providers all over the UK. I took mine with Devon and Cornwall Counselling Hub which offers the course as a weekly evening class in various locations including Plymouth, Exeter and Saltash. It only lasts a few months, coming in at 90 hours in total.
The next step is the Level 3 Certificate in Counselling Studies which introduces a lot more theory. You may already know which type of counsellor you’d like to become – in which case you’ll want to pick a provider focusing on that modality. If you don’t know, or if you already know you want to be integrative, then it may be best to choose somewhere offering training in integrative counsellors. Integrative does what it says on the tin – you literally integrate concepts from different modes of working and schools of thought. This recognises that different clients will have different problems and different preferences, so different approaches will be needed. At Devon and Cornwall Counselling Hub, we focused mainly on person-centred, gestalt and CBT but we also touched on transpersonal and psychoanalysis. The course is another 90 hours, again usually taken as an evening class. Once you’ve completed it you should be prepared for the Level 4 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling which is the level where you actually qualify as a counsellor.
Level 4 is a much bigger commitment, taking place one day a week for two years. At Devon and Cornwall Counselling Hub we work with the connections model which integrates person-centred, gestalt, CBT and transpersonal theories. You’ll also be required to do 100 hours of one-to-one work with clients, undertake supervision, and have your own personal counselling. It’s perfectly possible to do it while working and having other demands in your life, but you will need to be prepared to spend a lot of time and money. When you come out the other end you will be able to take a certificate of proficiency and join the BACP as a full registered member and work as a counsellor in a counselling agency. Alternatively you might light to look at the other professional bodies and choose the one that suits you.
Level 4 is really just the start. The diploma also forms part of the Open University’s Foundation Degree in Counselling, so you can do more modules and gain that qualification too through distance learning if you like. You might then choose to top up to a full bachelor’s degree with another institution. You can go on to complete higher level qualifications with the CPCAB, and/or you may wish to go down the psychology and mental health route and look for work in the NHS. In the UK, the British Psychological Society (BPS) charters individuals and accredits qualifications. If you don’t have a degree then you’ll need to do one of their accredited psychology degrees which are available across the country or via distance learning. If you already have an undergraduate degree in a different subject, or you have a non-accredited psychology degree, then you can do a conversion course at master’s level. Again, these are available at universities across the country or via distance learning. I am completing my MSc Psychology online with Manchester Met over two years alongside my diploma.
With a Level 4 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling and an MSc in Psychology you’ve got a huge range of options available to you and it would be impossible to run through every choice in one blog post. Two of the most popular are likely to be applying for a professional doctorate, either in clinical psychology or counselling psychology, and gaining chartered membership of the BPS. Click on the links to find out more about what they involve.
Level 2 Certificate in Counselling Skills + Level 3 Certificate in Counselling Studies + Level 4 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling = Qualified to work as a counsellor in an agency. But that’s only the start of the journey!
Good luck, and please comment below if you have any questions. If you found this useful you can subscribe to my channel.