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Developing your career: Counselling

Counselling can help us cope with the stresses and strains of life, from everyday worries to serious mental health issues like chronic anxiety and depression, relationship problems, physical illness and trauma.

The therapeutic value of counselling is increasingly recognised, with practitioners employed in private practice and in settings such as:

  • education
  • health and social care services
  • agencies dealing with specific issues such as bereavement, family relationships or homelessness
  • advisory organisations and helplines
  • human resource departments in organisations across all employment sectors
  • churches and other faith-based organisations. 

Training as a counsellor involves a combination of theoretical study and practical experience and you don't need a degree to become a counsellor. Courses accredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) are the most widely recognised in the profession. They range from introductory courses that teach basic counselling skills mainly delivered via FE (further education) colleges or training centres, to qualifications at higher levels that provide theoretical understanding of counselling at a deeper level. Usually, you need a qualification at foundation degree/diploma level or above to join a professional body or to become accredited. The Open University’s Foundation Degree in Counselling (X09) (or the Diploma of Higher Education in Counselling (W09) in Scotland) provides the theoretical understanding and practical skills needed to practise as a professional counsellor in a wide range of statutory and voluntary settings.  

If you are considering degree level study then a psychology degree could be useful, especially if you’re considering postgraduate study in counselling and psychotherapy. Other degree disciplines which may be of interest include education, nursing and health-related subjects, sociology, social work, or theology/religious studies.

BACP, and most other professional bodies, requires counsellors and psychotherapists who are working with clients to receive supervision from another qualified practitioner. Some courses require students to have had therapy themselves or to be in therapy during their training. This is not only so you can experience therapy from the client’s point of view but also for personal development and to help you cope with issues and emotions raised when counselling others.

There is more information on how to get into counselling on the BACP website. The BACP also has a jobs page.

COSCA is the national, professional organisation for Counselling and Psychotherapy in Scotland and awards and accredits courses in counselling skills at both certificate and diploma level for professional practice. Details of these courses can be found on the COSCA website. The OU offers the Foundation Degree in Counselling (Diploma in Higher Education (DipHE) in Scotland) through partner organisations and awarding body CPCAB, which requires completion of a level 4 CPCAB course. There are currently two centres in Fife offering CPCAB level 4 courses, with plans to extend their provision to CPCAB level 5. Those choosing to complete the CPCAB courses, with a view to gaining the OU Diploma of  Higher Education in Counselling, should however still contact COSCA for professional recognition and registration as the Scottish accreditation and professional practice body.

The OU diploma of higher education has been approved by COSCA as a sufficient qualification for individual COSCA membership (Counsellor and Practitioner). This level of membership entitles individuals to be listed on the COSCA Register of Counsellors and Psychotherapists, which is accredited by the Professional Standards Authority.  

To get detailed information about jobs in counselling – including day-to-day activities, the qualifications you need and what you might expect to earn – visit the Prospects careers website or Skills Development Scotland website.

For students living in Ireland, please refer to the GradIreland website for careers related information relevant to counselling.

How the OU can help

Study for a degree in psychology

We offer six degree courses that can help you acquire the knowledge and understanding that underpins effective counselling practice. They are:

1 Accredited by The British Psychological Society (BPS)

Train as a counsellor

The Open University’s Foundation Degree in Counselling (X09) (or the Diploma of Higher Education in Counselling (W09) in Scotland) provides the theoretical understanding and practical skills needed to practise as a professional counsellor in a wide range of statutory and voluntary settings. There are pre-entry requirements for X09 and W09 included in the ‘Course details’ and ‘Entry requirements’ tabs via the links above. 

By the end of your studies, you should be able you to apply for individual accreditation with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). You can also use this qualification as a staging post for further professional development, including the possibility of topping up to an honours degree.

Study a standalone module

Counselling: exploring fear and sadness (D240) – covers historical developments in understanding fear and sadness; key individual counselling approaches; approaches that consider relationships and cultural aspects of human suffering; and the practice and evaluation of counselling. While this module is primarily academic, you’ll develop awareness of counselling skills, processes and techniques.

Getting started

If you’re not quite ready for degree-level study, our People, work and society Access module (Y032) could be exactly what you’re looking for. It’s designed to build your confidence and study skills while introducing ideas and debates about children and young people, health, law, management, psychology and social science. By the end of the module, you’ll be well prepared to begin your first full OU course.

More about Access modules

Work experience

For entry onto many study pathways, particularly those at postgraduate level, you’ll need to demonstrate an interest in, and some prior experience of, counselling. This is usually gained as a volunteer, after completing some basic counselling training. Check Do-it, the national volunteering database, for opportunities in your area and Volunteer Ireland. The opportunity to contextualise your knowledge and skills will also greatly enhance your learning – and for some courses, it will be a requirement. Note that you’ll need to apply for a police check to work directly with children, young people and/or vulnerable adults.

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