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Diploma of Higher Education in Counselling

The value of counselling to improve wellbeing and quality of life is increasingly recognised. From everyday worries to serious mental health issues like chronic anxiety and depression, counsellors and psychotherapists are helping us cope. This diploma, developed in partnership with the Counselling and Psychotherapy Central Awarding Body (CPCAB), will prepare you to become a professional counsellor – equipping you with the theoretical understanding and practical skills required to work in this field.

Key features of the course

  • Enables you to qualify as a professional counsellor
  • Combines OU knowledge-based modules with work-based learning at a local college or other learning provider
  • If you already have the required CPCAB qualifications, you can top up to the diploma by studying just the OU theory modules
  • Builds a solid foundation for further study.

The same programme of study is also offered as the Foundation Degree in Counselling (X09) (if recognised in your country).

Course Summary

+Shortlist Course



  • Widely recognised qualification.
  • Equivalent to the first two thirds of an honours degree.
  • Enhance your professional and technical skills or extend your knowledge and understanding of a subject.
  • Study for interest or career development.
  • Top up to a full honours degree in just two years.
Course 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.
120 or 150 (CPCAB study) + 120 or 90 (OU study) = 240
How long it takes
Part time – 4 years
Full time – 3 years
Time limit – 7 years
Study method
Classroom based (CPCAB courses) +
Distance learning (OU study)

Course details

This qualification has two stages, each comprising 120 credits.

  • You’ll gain the 120 credits required for Stage 1 from successful completion of the CPCAB Level 4 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling. 
  • Next, in Stage 2, you can complete your diploma with 30 credits of further CPCAB Level 5 study plus 90 credits of OU study or, alternatively, complete the diploma with 120 credits gained entirely from OU modules.

Stage 1 (120 credits)

We recommend you study the CPCAB Level 4 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling on a part-time basis over two years before registering for this OU diploma. 

The CPCAB diploma provides the basic theory and practice of counselling. You’ll explore different counselling approaches; and ethical, safe work with a diversity of clients. You’ll gain practical counselling experience as a trainee in a supervised placement; and undertake required personal therapy (or alternative personal development). For further information about this CPCAB course and where you can study it, see Entry requirements.

You’ll study the following CPCAB course:
CPCAB Level 4 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling120

Stage 2 (120 credits)

In Stage 2 there are two routes to completing this diploma. The first route requires studying a Level 5 CPCAB Diploma and an OU module that looks at mental health by focusing on the brain’s functions. In the second route you'll choose one from a range of our psychology and mental health modules.
With both routes you’ll study an OU module that combines counselling approaches and theory with a critical approach to controversial debates around mental health and illness.

You can choose the order of study but note:

  • we recommend that you only take the Level 4 CPCAB Diploma alongside the knowledge-based OU modules if you are able to study full time
  • if you choose to move on to a Level 5 CPCAB Diploma you must have completed the Level 4 CPCAB qualification.
Route 1
You’ll choose one CPCAB course:
CPCAB Level 5 Diploma in Psychotherapeutic Counselling30
CPCAB Level 5 Diploma in Cognitive Behavioural Therapeutic Skills and Theory30
CPCAB Level 5 Diploma in Counselling Children and Young People30
You'll also study the following OU modules:
Brain, mind and mental health (SK298)30
Exploring mental health and counselling (D241)60
Route 2
You’ll choose one of the following OU modules:
Death, dying and bereavement (K220)60
Living psychology: from the everyday to the extraordinary (DD210)60
Mental health and community (K240)60
Psychology of childhood and youth (E219)60
You'll also study the following OU module:
Exploring mental health and counselling (D241)60

We regularly review our curriculum; therefore, the qualification described on this page – including its availability, its structure, and available modules – may change over time. If we make changes to this qualification, we’ll update this page as soon as possible. Once you’ve registered or are studying this qualification, where practicable, we’ll inform you in good time of any upcoming changes. If you’d like to know more about the circumstances in which the University might make changes to the curriculum, see our Academic Regulations or contact us. This description was last updated on 15 March 2022.


We make all our qualifications as accessible as possible and have a comprehensive range of services to support all our students. The Diploma of Higher Education in Counselling uses a variety of study materials and has the following elements:

  • studying a mixture of printed and online material – online learning resources may include websites, audio/video media clips, and interactive activities such as online quizzes
  • undertaking practical work
  • working in a group with other students
  • continuous and end-of-module assessment in the form of essays and reports.

For more detailed information, see the Accessibility Statements on individual module descriptions. If you feel you may need additional support, visit Disability support to find more about what we offer.

Learning outcomes, teaching and assessment

This qualification develops your learning in four main areas:

  • Knowledge and understanding
  • Cognitive skills
  • Practical and professional skills
  • Key skills

The level and depth of your learning gradually increases as you work through the qualification. You’ll be supported throughout by the OU’s unique style of teaching and assessment – which includes a personal tutor to guide and comment on your work; top quality course texts; elearning resources like podcasts, interactive media and online materials; tutorial groups and community forums.

Read the detailed learning outcomes here

Credit transfer

You cannot count credit for study you have already completed elsewhere towards this qualification other than the specified CPCAB courses required for this qualification.

Please download and complete this application form to have your CPCAB study linked to your Open University record.

On completion

On successfully completing this course, we’ll award you our Diploma of Higher Education in Counselling.

International recognition

If you intend to use your Open University qualifications to seek work or undertake further study outside the UK, we recommend checking whether your intended qualification will meet local requirements for your chosen career. Find out more about international recognition of Open University qualifications.


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

Entry requirements

Although you can begin the Diploma of Higher Education in Counselling without prior qualifications, we recommend that you complete the CPCAB Level 4 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling before registering for this qualification as this covers the Stage 1 element of this Diploma of Higher Education.

Once you have completed your CPCAB Level 4 Diploma at a participating CPCAB Centre, you can transfer the 120 credits from the CPCAB Diploma when you register for this OU qualification.

If you have not already completed the CPCAB Level 4 Diploma, you need to make sure that it is delivered by a centre in your area, as otherwise you cannot complete the Diploma of Higher Education. Entry to the CPCAB Level 4 course requires the completion of

  • the CPCAB Level 2 Certificate in Counselling Skills or its equivalent, plus
  • the CPCAB Level 3 Certificate in Counselling Studies or its equivalent, such as the OU module, Introduction to counselling (D171) (now discontinued),
  • a successful interview with the training provider.

The 'Find a Centre' link on the CPCAB website can help you find where your closest CPCAB Centre is located to complete these three qualifications. You should then contact the centre direct to check it is offering the qualifications in the year you are planning to start studying.

How much time do I need?

  • Most of our students study part time, completing 60 credits a year.
  • This will usually mean studying for 16–18 hours a week.

Find out if you have enough time to study with our time planner

How much will it cost?

We believe cost shouldn’t be a barrier to achieving your potential. That’s why we work hard to keep the cost of study as low as possible and have a wide range of flexible ways to pay to help spread the cost.

  • This qualification is comprised of CPCAB study and OU modules, each with an individual fee. 
  • Fees are paid on a module-by-module basis – you won't have to pay for the whole of your qualification up front.
  • The fees for your CPCAB study are not included in the cost of your OU modules.
  • At current prices*, the total cost would depend on the route you choose to gain the qualification:
    - Route 1: 90 credits from OU modules, which costs £4,842, plus the cost of 150 credits from CPCAB training.
    - Route 2: 120 credits from OU modules, which costs £6,456, plus the cost of 120 credits from CPCAB training.
  • The cost of the CPCAB training can vary depending on the provider. The Centre Finder on the CPCAB website can help you locate your nearest training centre. 

*The fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2023. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University’s strategic approach to fees.

Additional costs

Study costs

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

If your income is not more than £25,000 or you are in receipt of a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after you start studying.

Ways to pay for your qualification and other support

Visit our Fees and funding page for a summary of the funding options available.

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.

How will I study this course?

With our unique approach to distance learning, you can study from home, work, or on the move.

You’ll have some assessment deadlines to meet, but otherwise you’ll be free to study at the times that suit you, fitting your learning around work, family, and social life.

For each of your modules, you’ll use either just online resources or a mix of online and printed materials.

Each module you study will have a module website, with:

  • a week-by-week study planner, giving you a step-by-step guide through your studies
  • course materials such as reading, videos, recordings, and self-assessed activities
  • module forums for discussions and collaborative activities with other students
  • details of each assignment and their due dates
  • a tutorial booking system, online tutorial rooms, and your tutor’s contact details
  • online versions of some printed module materials and resources.

If you have additional needs, we can also provide most module materials in alternative formats. Find out more about materials on our accessibility webpage.

Tutor support

You’ll have a tutor for each module, who will introduce themselves before the module begins.

Throughout the module, they will:

  • mark your assignments and give feedback to help you improve
  • guide you to learning resources
  • support you, whether with general study skills or help with a specific topic.


Tutorials throughout the course could be online, face-to-face or a mixture of the two, and they’re always optional.

Online tutorials are live presentations with module tutors in dedicated online tutorial rooms, and are sometimes recorded.


Our assessments are all designed to reinforce your learning and help you show your understanding of the topics. The mix of assessment methods will vary between modules.

Computer-Marked Assignments

  • Usually a series of online, multiple-choice questions.

Tutor-Marked Assignments

  • You’ll have a number of these throughout each module, each with a submission deadline.
  • They can be made up of essays, questions, experiments or something else to test your understanding of what you have learned.
  • Your tutor will mark and return them to you with detailed feedback.

End-of-Module Assessments

  • The final, marked piece of work on most modules.
  • Modules with an end of module assessment won’t usually have an exam.


  • Some modules end with an exam. You’ll be given time to revise and prepare.
  • You’ll be given your exam date at least 5 months in advance.
  • Most exams take place remotely, and you will complete them at home or at an alternative location.
  • If a module requires you to take a face-to-face exam, this will be made clear in the module description, and you will be required to take your exam in person at one of our exam centres.

Progressing to a point where I felt more comfortable writing my assignments, and having my scores reflecting that, made me quite happy because it showed the hard work was being rewarded.

Patrick ‘Ricky’ Skene, BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching

Other support and resources

Throughout your studies, you’ll have access to our subject-specific Student Support Teams.

They’ll help you with any general questions about your study and updates to your OU account.

To help with your studies, you’ll also have access to:

  • our online library, with high-quality online resources to support your study
  • other university libraries in the UK and Ireland
  • the online Help Centre, which has general information about OU study and support, along with study skills advice
  • free Microsoft Office 365 software
  • IT and computing support from our Computing Helpdesk.

Find out more about student support and being a part of the OU community.

Skills for career development

This diploma course will provide you with knowledge and understanding of the major theoretical perspectives employed within counselling; the historical and cultural context of this profession; and the appropriate professional principles required for effective counselling practice. You’ll also acquire professional skills that are transferable to many other roles in health, social care and education – including the ability to:

  • practise safely and effectively in a recognised model of counselling
  • act in accordance with the relevant legal, ethical and procedural boundaries
  • make professional judgements and interventions
  • reflect on, review and audit your professional practice.

Career relevance

This diploma of higher education in counselling allows you to:

  • practise as a professional counsellor in a wide range of settings, from the statutory to voluntary sector
  • work with a diverse range of people and issues such as mental health problems, relationship problems, physical illness and trauma.

It also provides the required hours of specified learning which – with appropriate practice, supervision and personal development – will enable you to apply for individual accreditation with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). You can also use it as a staging post for further professional development, including the possibility of topping up to an honours degree.

Exploring your options

Once you register with us (and for up to three years after you finish your studies), you’ll have full access to our careers service for a wide range of information and advice. This includes online forums, website, interview simulation, vacancy service as well as the option to email or speak to a careers adviser. Some areas of the careers service website are available for you to see now, including help with looking for and applying for jobs. You can also read more general information about how OU study enhances your career.

In the meantime if you want to do some research around this qualification and where it might take you, we’ve put together a list of relevant job titles as a starting point. Some careers may require further study, training and/or work experience):

  • professional counsellor
  • counselling psychologist
  • clinical psychologist
  • educational psychologist
  • health psychologist
  • occupational psychologist
  • sports and exercise psychologist
  • psychotherapist
  • social worker
  • advice worker
  • lecturer
  • careers adviser
  • retail manager
  • adult guidance worker
  • human resources officer.

Thinking of studying this course?

Registration will open in March. If you would like to be kept updated, register your interest.

Request your Psychology and Counselling prospectus

Our prospectuses help you choose your course, understand what it's like to be an OU student and register for study.

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