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, categorized 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 causes 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.
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.