How to become a Counsellor or Psychotherapist in the UK - CCCG
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How to become a Counsellor or Psychotherapist in the UK

Discover the steps to becoming a certified Counsellor or Psychotherapist in the UK, including qualifications, training, experience, and career specialisms.

If you’re the kind of person who is drawn to supporting people as they face life’s challenges, then you may, at some point, have wondered how to become a therapist. This rewarding role offers the opportunity to make a significant impact on the lives of others, fostering emotional well-being and personal growth.

The demand for qualified Counsellors and psychotherapists in the UK continues to grow, driven by increasing awareness of mental health issues and the desire for accessible support. But where should you begin? Our comprehensive guide explores everything you need to know, from the skills and qualifications needed, the recommended counselling courses and psychotherapy courses to take to start your career, to the expected salary and further training opportunities.

How to become a Counsellor or Psychotherapist in the UK

What is the difference between a Counsellor and a Psychotherapist?

Counsellors provide support for people facing emotional and relationship issues such as bereavement, divorce, work-related problems, health conditions and anxiety. Usually, counselling will consist of formal, regular sessions over a number of weeks or months where the therapist and client discuss the client’s feelings and issues. Counsellors don’t give advice or opinions but work with their clients to gain a better understanding of themselves and find solutions to help them cope with their specific situation.

Psychotherapists tend to work with their clients over a longer period of time in order to delve deeper and explore the root causes of emotional distress. 

The roles, responsibilities and essential skills

Counsellors and Psychotherapists require strong interpersonal skills, empathy, and the ability to develop a rapport with clients.

People who intend to become a Therapist need to be:

  • Able to communicate with people from all walks of life
  • Active listeners
  • Non-judgemental, sensitive and understanding
  • Patient and able to stay calm in emotionally charged situations
  • Trustworthy, ethical and able to maintain confidentiality
  • Organised and skilled at keeping detailed and accurate notes and records

When training and working as a Counsellor or Psychologist, you’ll often be supervised so it’s important to be open to constructive criticism from a supervisor or mentor. People working in this field also need to self-reflect and have a deep understanding of their own emotional issues and triggers.

Both counselling and psychotherapy are second or third careers for many practitioners. Any relevant experience in working with adults and children in professions such as nursing, social work or teaching will undoubtedly be useful.

What qualifications do you need to be a Counsellor or Psychotherapist?

In order to work as a Counsellor, you won’t necessarily need a degree. However, most employers will expect you to have completed a counselling course and to be registered with a professional body such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). This demonstrates that you have met specific educational standards and have agreed to abide by a code of ethics.

So how can you train to become a Counsellor? The BACP recommends the following training route, which consists of three stages:

  1. Introduction to Counselling Skills – Level 2 Award – A basic course available at further education (FE) colleges or adult education centres that lasts 8-12 weeks. Capital City College Group (CCCG) runs a free Counselling Skills Course as part of its selection of Free Short Courses which can help you decide whether you wish to pursue a career in counselling.
  2. Counselling Studies – Level 3 Certificate – This one-year course is usually delivered part-time at FE colleges like CCCG. It offers a more in-depth understanding of counselling theories while allowing you to develop your skills and helps you prepare for the next step.
  3. Core Practitioner Training (Level 4+) – This level of training allows you to gain the knowledge, skills and abilities to start working as a counsellor. These courses could come in the shape of a Level 4 Diploma, a foundation course, an undergraduate degree or a postgraduate qualification. Core training follows strict quality standards and takes at least one year to complete, requiring a minimum of 100 supervised placement hours. Take a look at the range of HE Counselling courses CCCG has to offer.

Many Psychotherapists already have a medical background, and the role often attracts professionals from a range of backgrounds including mental health, education, and social work. If you’re wondering how to become a Psychotherapist, it’s a slightly different route. It’s recommended that you complete a postgraduate psychotherapy training programme that has been accredited by The UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). These courses are usually delivered part-time and take between three and six years to complete. It can then take up to two more years to meet accreditation requirements, which include 450 hours of practice as well as evidence of skills and theoretical knowledge. During the course, you’ll also attend therapy sessions yourself and complete supervision.

Psychotherapy is divided into different strands, often called ‘modalities’ so it’s important to choose an approach that you feel reflects your skills and interests. 

How long does it take to become a Counsellor or Psychotherapist?

This depends entirely on your chosen path. For Counsellors, the training required to register with the BACP takes a minimum of two years. The training route recommended by the UKCP usually takes three to six years.

Honing your skills and gaining practical experience is key to becoming a Counsellor or Psychotherapist. It’s a good idea to seek out courses that include supervised placements in diverse settings like the NHS, charities, or private practices.

How to become a Counsellor or Psychotherapist in the UK

Gaining experience while training

Many organisations use volunteer practitioners, so volunteering is a great way to gain experience. Some organisations provide basic training and working as a volunteer can lead to further training and job opportunities.

Most professional bodies require counsellors and psychotherapists to receive a certain number of supervised hours while training. This is often given as a ratio of one hour of supervision for every six to eight hours of client sessions.

The supervisor’s role is much like that of a professional mentor. They help therapists improve their skills and work towards recommended standards while also offering both personal and psychological support. Supervision can take place one-to-one or as part of a group and can be completed in many different ways, both in-person and remotely, using written or verbal communication.

How much do Counsellors and Psychotherapists get paid?

Counsellors can earn between £20,000 to £26,000 when starting out. Some experienced counsellors earn between £30,000 and £40,000, with specialist Counsellors commanding higher salaries. NHS counselling jobs start at around £28,400 and rise to around £50,000 depending on qualifications or experience.

Trainee Psychotherapists working in the NHS can earn around £32,500 (Band 6), with salaries rising to between £43,500 and £50,000 once qualified. Principal and Consultant Psychologist roles attract higher salaries.

In private practice, hourly fees can vary from £40 to £100 for a 50-minute session, but this can vary depending on location, practitioner experience, therapist qualifications and client circumstances. 

Specialisms and further training for Counsellors and Psychotherapists

Once you’ve worked out how to become a Counsellor or Psychotherapist and completed the relevant therapy qualifications, you should register with a professional body such as the UKCP or BACP. These organisations offer a range of opportunities for continuing professional development through events, forums, courses and special interest groups. 

It’s important to keep building on your knowledge and stay up-to-date with new developments in your field. You should undertake Continuing Professional Development (CPD) throughout your career and build on your psychotherapy and counselling qualifications where possible. Training providers such as CCCG also offer postgraduate courses such as Counselling: Therapeutic Supervision, which supports professionals looking to become supervisors.

If you decide to set up a private practice, then you may want to take courses that will help you build and run your practice in areas such as marketing, finance and administration.

How to become a Counsellor or Psychotherapist in the UK

Building a career in Counselling or Psychotherapy

Although the demand for Counsellors and Psychotherapists continues to grow, you may find that the majority of roles on offer are either part-time or voluntary. That said, if there is a demand for your specialist area, you may find more opportunities available to you.

Counsellor roles can be found in a variety of settings, including:

  • Schools, colleges, and universities
  • Statutory and voluntary sector care agencies working with people with disabilities or on a range of specific issues (e.g. substance abuse, bereavement, rehabilitation of offenders)
  • Hospitals, GP surgeries, community healthcare settings, mental and occupational health teams and other health sector settings
  • Youth services and agencies as well as children’s centres
  • Citizens Advice services
  • HR departments within organisations/companies
  • General counselling services
  • Telephone helplines
  • Faith-based organisations

Psychotherapists can find employment in a range of places, including:

  • Hospitals, community-based clinics and health services
  • GP surgeries
  • Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services (England)
  • Psychiatric units
  • Residential children’s homes
  • Special educational needs schools
  • Student health services
  • Social services departments
  • Businesses
  • Prisons

Many Therapists choose to set up a private practice once they have more experience, working on a self-employed basis and building their own client base over time. This offers less security but can provide greater flexibility than other roles.

Next Steps

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) says that “Counsellors and Psychotherapists play a crucial role in improving the health and wellbeing of our society.” 

If you think you could help people to talk about their feelings and create positive change in their lives, then why not take a look at the wide range of counselling courses that we offer?

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