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Exploring mental health and counselling

This module locates counselling within the broader field of mental health and provides a comprehensive and engaging introduction to the often controversial debates around mental health/illness and the main theories and practices in counselling. The module will critically examine the definitions and understandings of mental health issues and the ways they are treated in the related fields of practice, especially in counselling and psychotherapy. You'll be presented with recent theoretical debates and contemporary international research to inform and help you develop a critical understanding of the themes and issues related to mental health and counselling.

Modules count towards OU qualifications

OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code




  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.

Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study
2 8 5

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

This module provides a comprehensive introduction to the controversial debates around mental health/illness and the main theories and practices in counselling. You'll learn about the main themes that are central to the understanding of the intersection of mental health and counselling, and the role that mental health services play in society. These are taught in five blocks, and you'll study a new topic each week.

Block 1: Understanding mental health
You'll begin with an introduction to the fundamental debates around the contested nature of mental ‘illness’ and the changing ways people with mental health problems are perceived, categorised and treated today and in the past. You'll learn about the history of psychiatry and how psychological treatments and ‘talking cures’ have developed. You'll take a critical look at systems of diagnosis and categorisation of mental health problems and the forces that have shaped them. This block will also introduce the difficulties that have often faced those people who have been subject to various forms of diagnosis and treatment – including the stigma of labelling as well as confinement and cruel and coercive treatments.

Block 2: Presenting problems
In this block, you'll explore the main issues that cause people to seek counselling or other forms of help and the way they are experienced and diagnosed or formulated in practice. You'll take a critical look at depression and anxiety, which are commonly understood to be the most common presenting issues, and the feelings of ‘sadness’ and ‘worry’ are labelled as mental health difficulties. You'll learn what is meant by trauma and crisis, as well as some of the presenting issues most commonly associated with the trauma response, including self-injury and suicide risk. The block will then turn from a focus on the individual to look at relationships and intimacy and how they influence our mental health and vice versa. At the end of this block, you'll be introduced to formulation, which is presented as an alternative to diagnostic classification.

Block 3: Models of working
This block presents an overview of the most common approaches that inform counsellors and psychotherapists, allowing therapy practitioners to make sense of and work with the issues presented to them by clients. You will learn about psychodynamic approaches and their notion of the dynamic unconscious and its impact on our feelings and behaviour. You'll examine how concepts and techniques from cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can be employed to work with mental health difficulties. You’ll study humanistic approaches and their focus on the therapeutic relationship between client-counsellor in providing conditions for growth. You’ll also explore pluralistic and integrative approaches the efforts to put different orientations to mental health and counselling in dialogue with each other.

Block 4: Counselling in practice
You'll be introduced to the ways in which counselling and psychotherapy are practised, and mental health problems are treated in different practice settings, including settings beyond the individual client and the traditional face-to-face encounter. You will learn about role and importance of the therapeutic relationship between client and therapist and the ways it is understood and employed in different therapeutic traditions. You'll be introduced to counselling approaches ‘beyond the individual’ especially systemic and group therapy - and how they are applied in family, group and community settings. You'll take a critical look at different forms of technology-based counselling and the ways these are employed as alternative and/or supplement to face-to-face services. The block will also introduce specific professional and ethical issues and challenges in counselling in practice, including the way contracts and boundaries are negotiated. 

Block 5: Contemporary issues: mental health and society
The final block looks at the social, political and economic forces that inform and shape contemporary understandings of mental health and practices in the field, including the ways the current ‘therapeutic culture’ might impact on the way we see and experience mental health issues and treatment. You'll critically examine how research agendas and practices in mental health and counselling are often informed and shaped by social, political and economic influences. You’ll explore the fascinating and contested relationship between ideas about mental health difficulties and criminal justice. You'll also be invited to consider mental distress not from an individual (biological or psychological) perspective but how particular difficulties may be caused by social factors and related to the socio-political environment. 

Throughout the module there will be a focus on client/service user voices and experiences, and the discussion of research evidence and diversity issues. You'll also be introduced to three fictional service-user/client narratives which will unfold across the module (e.g. through videos and podcasts) to illustrate the module content. 

Some of the real-world topics covered in the module involve issues that some people may find personally emotive or currently sensitive. Individual content warnings will be given before such material is presented, outlining the issues to be covered and suggesting ways in which you might engage with it if it is personally relevant to you. Before signing up, we invite you to look through the topics covered (as described above) and to consider whether this is the right time to undertake this module.

Vocational relevance

Although this module does not qualify you to practise in counselling and/or mental health, it provides key knowledge and skills for those seeking careers in all areas of applied psychology. You'll also gain academic and practical learning of relevance to many other careers where 'people skills' are particularly important – for instance, in social work, nursing, teaching, the police/probation service or other professions –  if you're seeking further knowledge and training in mental health and counselling theory and skills.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will be assigned a tutor who will give you advice and guidance throughout the module. They will help you with the study materials, as well as mark and comment on your written assignments. Your tutor will offer online group tutorials in which you are encouraged to participate.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

Future availability

Exploring mental health and counselling (D241) starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2027.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 2 module. Prior to studying this module, you should have obtained the necessary study skills to study at OU level 2, for example by completing relevant OU level 1 study, but you are not expected to have any special knowledge of psychology or counselling and mental health.

Due to some aspects of the module content and activities, entry is only open to students over the age of 18 at the module start date.

Please note, this module gives underpinning knowledge on counselling and mental health but does not qualify you to work as a counsellor.

Although we support students in the learning of this subject, please note that your tutor is not there to help with your own life or personal difficulties. This is not a function that this module can fulfil.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £3636.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2029.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

If your income is not more than £25,000 or you receive a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Joint loan applications

If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and, therefore, the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2025. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

This information was provided on 19/05/2024.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of less than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

Module textbook, and the module website which will include audio-visual material and the online study guide. The module textbook is available in hard copy and also electronically through VitalSource. To view the ebook you will need to download the free VitalSource Bookshelf desktop app.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying D241 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.