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Foundation Degree 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 foundation degree, 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 prior work-based learning at a local college with OU knowledge-based modules
  • If you already have the required CPCAB qualifications, you can top up to the foundation degree by studying just the OU theory modules
  • Builds a solid foundation for further study.

This programme of study is also offered as the Diploma of Higher Education in Counselling (W09),which might be of particular interest to those living and working in Scotland.

Course Summary

+Shortlist Course

Foundation Degree

Foundation Degree

  • Widely recognised qualification.
  • Enhance your professional and technical knowledge and skills.
  • Equivalent to the first two thirds of an honours degree.
  • Use it to support your current role or progress your career.
  • Combine work-based learning with academic study – you need to be employed or volunteering in a relevant work setting.
  • Top up to an honours degree in just two years.

We offer most of our foundation degrees as diplomas of higher education for students living or working in Scotland.

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 foundation degree with 30 credits of further CPCAB Level 5 study plus 90 credits of OU study or, alternatively, complete the foundation degree with 120 credits gained entirely from OU modules.

Stage 1 (120 credits)

We recommend that you study Stage 1 – the CPCAB Level 4 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling – part-time over two years, at a local college before registering for this OU foundation degree.

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 to study, 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 foundation degree. 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 19 July 2021.


We make all our qualifications as accessible as possible and have a comprehensive range of services to support all our students. The Foundation Degree 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.

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. Please contact us as soon as possible to discuss your individual requirements, so we can put arrangements in place before you start.

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 Foundation Degree in Counselling.


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 Foundation Degree in Counselling without prior qualifications, we recommend that you complete the CPCAB Level 4 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling before registering for this qualification. You can transfer the 120 credits from the CPCAB diploma when you register for this OU qualification.

There are also entry requirements for the CPCAB level 4 course. You need to have:

  • completed the CPCAB Level 2 Certificate in Counselling Skills or its equivalent, plus
  • completed 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.

This qualification is limited to areas where the CPCAB courses are delivered. The 'Find a Centre' link on the CPCAB website can help you find where your closest learning provider is located.

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.
  • 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 £4,752, plus the cost of 150 credits from CPCAB training.
    - Route 2: 120 credits from OU modules, which costs £6,336, 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 2022. 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.

Skills for career development

This foundation degree 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 foundation degree 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 website are available to see at any time, 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?

It is not possible to register for this qualification at the moment. We expect to open for registrations in March 2022. If you would like to be kept updated, register your interest.

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