Having been a Counsellor for many years, I tend to get friends and family being sent my way to ask about how to become a Counsellor.

It is one of those things, like many, from the inside, with some experience and clarity, it’s a little clearer to see the path. However, from the outside, it can seem daunting, overwhelming and confusing.

In the next few hundred words, I am going to try and give you the clearest, easiest outline of the path to becoming a counsellor (in the UK). An interesting fact about this post is that it is largely the email that I sent to a good cousin of mine, so you know that I am sharing the best I can with you!!

I will write many more articles about how to become a counsellor and the different stages, but this is a quick outline for those who just want a general idea of what is involved.

As always, any questions, please leave a comment below and I will respond ASAP.

An Example Progression Route (Not the only option!)

The Start…

The full training to become a counsellor usually takes just over 4 years from start to finish and there are a number of different routes to take. However, you do not need to commit to the whole 4 years from the off.

A good starting point (to find out if it feels the right path and also in terms of necessary qualifications) is to do an Introduction to Counselling or listening skills which is usually a 10-week course, of 3-hour classes, once a week (30 taught hours). This can often be found in local colleges, universities or private training groups in your area. Try looking for places that provide adult education/evening classes and ask if they do anything like this. Alternatively, you can check the CPCAB website to find your nearest centre – http://www.cpcab.co.uk/find-a-centre/ (N.b. CPCAB is not the only organisation that offer these courses – this searchable aspect may just make your life easier!) There are also no entry requirements for this course so you don’t need to worry about previous experience or qualifications.

Stage 2

If you find that the introductory course was appealing and you want to learn more, then you can continue your journey with a Level 2 Certificate in Counselling Skills. The Level 2 Certificate in Counselling skills is a full academic year (September – June/July) of 3 hours a week (90 taught hours). It will be a step up from the Introductory course and will continue to focus on listening skills, whilst also introducing some Counselling theory and approaches. There is also often the introduction of an exam at this stage and a step up in the amount of written work expected.

This is then followed by the Level 3 Certificate in Counselling Skills, which is another academic year (September – June/July) of 3 hours a week (90 taught hours) focusing on similar areas to Level 2 but just in a bit more depth and complexity. Even if you do not want to become a Counsellor, these first three steps can be very helpful in developing your listening and relational skills with others to support your work and/or personal life in day-to-day life.

Your chosen approach

An important aspect to consider at some point during your training is what approach you would like to specialise in. Level 1-3 is probably worth doing regardless, but tend to not be attached to a specific Counselling approach.

Whereas when you are choosing your next step, it will be good to have an idea of what approach you would like to train in and find a course that meets this e.g. CBT, Person-Centred, Integrative etc.

The BIG Step Up!!!

This is then a point where you can make a decision about which route you would like to take (both in terms of academia and approach). It would be rare to go beyond Level 3 if you did not want to practice as a Counsellor in some capacity. There are two main options here:

  1. Level 4 Diploma (approximately 6 hours a week for 2 academic years [420 taught hours], but also includes having to get a placement, supervision, your own counselling etc so actually equates to 1-2 days a week commitment.)
  2. Degree, which is similar in terms of time commitment but requires a higher academic ability and is a Level 5/6 qualification.

Both these routes are more than acceptable to be classed as a qualified counsellor. Sometimes, degrees will accept Level 2 as a good enough entry requirement, which would, in turn, save you a year.

The degrees are quite specific to each individual institution and self-designed courses, whereas the diploma (and initial courses) tend to be done by CPCAB or NCFE and therefore have a more uniform syllabus. I teach on the CPCAB courses and believe that they tend to be better quality than the NCFE (just from word of mouth, I have not had direct experience of NCFE.) But if you go down the Level 4 Diploma route, it is likely to be with one of these establishments.

In Conclusion…

The journey usually takes about 4 years and will probably cost over £10,000 in total. It is clearly not a light commitment, but I would recommend dipping your toe in the water for the first level and then make a decision at the end of each course. My experience, as a tutor, is that most people are quite clear about whether they want to continue the journey or not at the end of each level, with the diploma/degree stage being the most pivotal.

It is, without doubt, a very difficult, but rewarding journey and can set you up for a career or option to practice as a Counsellor in the UK.

My aim was to give you a brief outline of how to become a Counsellor in the UK. There are many more intricacies to each of these steps, which will be addressed through the many articles every week on this site. If you would like to know any more information or have any questions about becoming a counsellor, please comment below and I will get back to you ASAP.

The BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) has also written a very good and comprehensive article on becoming a counsellor in the UK. You can access that here – https://www.bacp.co.uk/careers/careers-in-counselling/training/

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