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. 

You don’t need a degree to become a counsellor, so you could consider taking a course that focuses specifically on counselling. However, 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 relevant disciplines include education, nursing and health-related subjects, sociology, social work, and theology/religious studies. Training as a counsellor involves a combination of theoretical study and practical experience. 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 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.

There is more information on how to get into counselling on the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) website. The BACP also has a jobs page.

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, gradireland website, or Skills Development Scotland website.

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 does offer a Foundation Degree in Counselling (Diploma in Higher Education (DipHE) in Scotland) through partner organisation 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 DipHE in Counselling should however still contact COSCA for professional recognition and registration as the Scottish accreditation and professional practice body.

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.

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.

  • Developed in partnership with the Counselling and Psychotherapy Central Awarding Body (CPCAB)
  • Theoretical knowledge and understanding provided through Open University modules, designed to equip you to work to the highest professional standards
  • Practice learning provided by CPCAB practitioner qualifications at level 4 and 5, delivered in a local further education college or other approved training centre.

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. 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 with children and young people.

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