Training as a Counsellor or Psychotherapist

21st Sep, 22

Training as a Counsellor or Psychotherapist

What are the different choices?

There are many different careers in therapy, and it can be confusing and overwhelming to try and figure out the ideal one for you, let alone how to start.  Counselling and psychotherapy are very similar in many aspects, so it can be hard to pick out the differentiating factors. Here we will go through what distinguishes them from each other, and how to choose the path that’s right for you.

What is the role of a counsellor and how do I get there?

A counsellor’s job is to actively listen to clients and give them the time and space they need to open up about difficult subjects and feelings.  As a counsellor, you will be helping people through difficult periods in their life and improving their ability to cope during these periods.

Counsellors do not give out advice necessarily, rather they help the client to explore their own thoughts and emotions during sessions.  This requires a non-judgemental approach, and an impartial attitude when it comes to what the client is going through.  You can of course challenge a client’s views or beliefs, as this can be helpful to try and make them see things from another perspective.

An important aspect to think about if you are considering counselling is whether you possess empathy and communication skills that will enable you to connect effectively with clients.  Being able to understand the issues a client is going through and helping them talk their way through it are both key components of counselling.

There are several routes into counselling, and it can certainly be less time-consuming than doing other types of therapy.  That is not to say that it is any easier however, it just requires less training and often fewer years before you can call yourself a professional.

While there is no compulsory training required to begin working as a counsellor, many places would expect certain professional qualifications before you can begin working. This shows that you have met the educational requirements and understand the ethical code of conduct that counsellors should abide by.

The ideal skills required for counselling are:

  • Sensitivity and empathy
  • Great listening skills
  • The ability to communicate effectively
  • Time management and awareness
  • Open-mindedness and a non-judgemental attitude
  • The ability to work in a team as well as individually
  • Resilience and the ability to work under pressure
  • Enthusiasm to help people

Experience is a vital element when it comes to becoming a counsellor, and there are plenty of ways to fulfil this requirement.  Many so-called ‘helping’ professions, such as care work, social work, and mental health work, can provide you with a range of skills that would be hugely beneficial as a counsellor.  Volunteer jobs are also a great place to gain some experience while still exploring different vocations.  Many companies eventually recruit volunteers who show great aptitude, which is always a great incentive.

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) lays out a 3-part plan you can follow if you want to go down the more traditional route:

  1. An introduction to counselling – These are short courses, designed to give you an initial overview of what counselling entails, and what is required if you wish to go down this route.  These are normally between 8 to 12-week programmes and are there to give you a first impression of what you will be facing before you commit to a career choice.
  2. Certificate in counselling – These can come in many forms, either a college level or university diploma, or a university degree.  This is a more thorough entry into the world of counselling, giving you both the practical and academic skills necessary. Courses tend to be at least 1 year part-time, but undergraduate degrees can be 3 years.
  3. Counselling training – Here you will get practical experience in counselling and develop your real-world skills.  These often require a certain level of qualification, so the earlier steps can really help you prepare.  They can be found through private companies or through the NHS and will enable you to build up the client hours you need to practice professionally.

How much will it cost to train as a counsellor?

As with any further education, it does unfortunately come at a price.  However, there are ways of easing the costs when it comes to becoming a counsellor.  Many companies are now willing to pay the training cost of their employees, to help them progress and get the qualifications needed. This could be in a care setting, within education, or even in volunteer jobs.

A standard certificate can cost anywhere in the range of £50 to several hundred pounds, so it is important to know what you’re paying for.  There are often plenty of adverts for self-help programmes or therapy courses, so it is important to make sure they are accredited by the BACP.  BACP accredited means that they are recognised courses, and employees and companies will see these as more legitimate when you are sending in your CV.

If you’re struggling to find the right one, below is a link to some BACP-accredited courses in counselling.

How much will I earn working as a counsellor?

The all-important question is, does it pay to go into counselling?  Firstly, any vocation where you feel you can make a big difference is always worth going into, and if you are the kind of person who is inclined towards helping others, this will probably matter to you more than how much money you can make. But, everyone needs to earn a living and deserves to have their time rewarded if they have spent years training.

As with any job, there is a wide variation in pay, depending of course on the company, and your professional experience.  The standard wage for a counsellor tends to start in the region of £20,000 to £25,000 a year for those just starting out.  Experienced counsellors or those who specialise in specific areas may earn between £30,000 and £40,000, again depending on the company or the sector they work in. There is also the chance to work privately or independently and charge hourly rates for their service. This again can vary hugely, with the standard rates being between £30 and £60 an hour.


What is the role of a psychotherapist and how do they differ from counsellors?

There are quite a few similarities between the role of a counsellor and a psychotherapist. The main distinction is of course the training required.  Psychotherapy requires a postgraduate degree, with a heavier focus on the academic side, as opposed to counselling which focuses more on experience and practical skills.  Although a degree is required for this, it does not necessarily have to be in the same field, and if there is some relevance you can still go on to do psychotherapy.

Another difference is the kind of work they do with clients.  Although similar to counselling in many ways, psychotherapists tend to work with more complex clients, over longer periods of time. Psychotherapy aims to dig deep into emotional issues and discover what could be at the root of them.  This could involve many different techniques, such as exploring childhood events, subconscious thoughts, and even methods such as dream interpretation.

There are many different types of psychotherapies and people can choose to train and specialise in various therapeutic approaches which require different levels of training. Examples include but are not limited to cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT), eye-movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and psychodynamic therapy.


How do I train as a psychotherapist?

As previously stated, psychotherapists require a postgraduate degree in psychotherapy, which is a minimum one-year course, undertaken after finishing a standard university degree. This can be spread over several years, and there are now many different options available to obtain postgraduate qualifications.

Although ideal, your undergraduate degree does not have to be in a field such as psychology or counselling.  It does help if it is related, but it is not a requirement, as the training given will be specific to psychotherapy.

The ideal skills for becoming a psychotherapist are:

  • A good understanding of human behaviour
  • Enthusiasm for studying and continuous learning
  • Great communication skills
  • Resilience and maturity to deal with complex situations
  • Empathy and understanding
  • Openness to contrary viewpoints
  • The ability to work both in a team and individually

It is a longer route to get into psychotherapy, but it is of course a very specific field, which requires a lot of background knowledge to be effective as a therapist.  The process takes a minimum of 4 years, which includes an undergraduate and a postgraduate degree, as well as a certain number of hours of first-hand experience.  This clinical training consists of supervised treatment of patients, where you will need to combine your academic knowledge gained, with hands-on skills.

Many organisations also expect individuals to undergo their own personal therapy programme, in order to build a better understanding of themselves and experience the skills required.

Although it can appear overwhelming, this intensive training is required to prepare you for the career you will be facing. Below is a link for all the options and avenues that the BACP offer, as well as advice on how to gain experience.


How much will it cost to train as a psychotherapist?

University is of course an expensive endeavour, and postgraduate degrees on top of that add to the price.  The student loan system is an excellent way to fund yourself through the years of study required, but don’t forget that this is only a loan, and unfortunately now comes with a high-interest rate. A standard undergraduate degree can cost in the region of £12,000 to £30,000, with a lot of scope in between and above. A postgraduate degree can range from £6,000 to £20,000, so this is not something to be considered lightly.

Fortunately, there are many advantages to student life, and there are a lot of options that make it easier to study without having to work full-time to fund this. Maintenance loans, bursaries and tax exemptions can help you get through your studies without struggling to make ends meet. Below is a link to the list of options you have to help you finance your further education.

How much will I earn?

After all that studying and hard work, you would hope to be able to make a decent living from psychotherapy, and this is indeed the case. The starting wage would tend to be between £30,000 to £40,000 and could go up drastically depending on experience and ability. A principal psychotherapist can command up to and above £60,000 a year, which certainly makes the training seem worth it.  When you practise privately psychotherapists can charge between £40 and £120 per session depending on factors such as location and the psychotherapy being used.


So, what are the key differences between a counsellor and a psychotherapist?

It would seem then that there are in fact quite a lot of similarities between the two, and in fact, many of those who practice one may indeed be trained in the other.  There are however a couple of fundamental differences between the two, as with other therapeutic roles.  The first is of course the journey to qualification in each role. The training to be a counsellor has less focus on the academic side and leans more towards the practical skills required for effective counselling.

The fundamentals of the job are very similar, however, while counsellors deal primarily with shorter-term issues, such as getting through a period of grieving or depression, psychotherapists tend to work more with complicated mental health issues, which may require more time. This may not seem too dissimilar, but it requires a very different approach when it comes to effectively dealing with patients.

Although it can seem confusing, having so many routes into these careers is also a great thing for those wishing to get started in the process.  CBT seems to be the first-line treatment approach recommended for a wide range of mental health problems.  Many new programmes have been set up through the NHS to help train people to be able to offer CBT support to individuals, and the various routes of how to get there will be provided below:

  1. There is the option of funding the postgraduate degree yourself – This would require you to complete either a master’s degree or a Postgraduate Diploma in CBT, costing quite a few thousand pounds. There are several universities that offer this option around the country; however, they require you to have a core profession to complete the training.  Those who do not meet the criteria of having a core profession, they are able to complete a KSA portfolio which aims to evidence the knowledge and skills they have acquired based on their experiences.  It is then decided based on their application and the KSA portfolio whether they will be accepted onto a course.
  2. Improving access to psychological therapies (IAPT) – IAPT was set up in 2008 to help transform the treatment of adult mental health problems.  It aims to reach more people in need and offer individuals the choice of psychological therapies as well as medication in the treatment of their problems.  Currently, IAPT services help over 1 million people a year with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, as well as more complex mental health difficulties.  Training requires both study and practical work, and takes approximately 1 year, depending on who you do the course with.  This is a fully funded, paid course, so you will get a wage as well as training. The caveat to this is that you are unable to apply for further funded positions for at least 1 year, so if you are planning on doing the doctorate, or another course, you will, unfortunately, have to bide your time. This is because you will be required to work for the IAPT service that paid for you to train for a year or so after qualifying for the programme.

To add a little more confusion, there are also two types of IAPT practitioners: low-intensity workers (LIW) and high-intensity workers (HIW).  LIWs tend to be straight out of undergrad or with some experience in mental health.  They will be trained to see clients with moderate mental health issues and for shorter sessions than a HIW. Once qualified, LIWs will work their way up to becoming HIWs and take on more complex clients.  Depending on someone’s experience, core profession and qualifications, they could then apply to complete the high-intensity course directly without having to do the low-intensity training first.

More information and links to course applications can be found below.

  1. Education Mental Health Practitioner (EMHP) – This is a one-year training course designed to train you in helping young people with mild to moderate mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and behavioural issues. The job requires you to work under supervised conditions with young people experiencing common mental health issues and is a great choice for those wanting to take their first steps into mental health.  A degree is not required to get onto this training course, however, there is the expectation that you can prove your ability to work at the degree level.

  1. Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (PWP) – Another one-year training course, designed for those who wish to help people with the most common mental health problems. PWPs perform low-intensity interventions for patients struggling with issues such as anxiety and depression and this is a great path for those who want to work within mental health, but are unsure of what path to choose yet.

  1. Trainee Assistant Psychological Practitioner (TAPP) – This is a relatively new programme, set up in response to the growing number of the population struggling with mental health issues.  This course was set up to fill the current void in the system that is causing people issues with accessing help.  The role gives a bit more training than on the PWP course and is only available for those who have already studied psychology or a similar degree at the undergraduate level.

You can find out more about the scheme here:,primary%20care%20and%20health%20psychology.

It is therefore clear that it can be a bit of a minefield when it comes to training as a counsellor or CBT therapist as there are so many different routes to take. I would always recommend completing a basic level or cheap online diploma in counselling or CBT to see if it feels like the right training for you first.  There are many available online, but it may be worth seeing if any of them are accredited and which accrediting body they are with.  I think completing a course like this online will help you in the long run prior to you spending so much money on training to become a counsellor or psychotherapist.

Good luck on your journey ????

This blog was written by James Heaton (UCLAN Postgraduate Student) and Charlotte Lowe.


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