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How to become a counselling psychologist

To enter a counselling psychology training programme, you'll need an accredited undergraduate or postgraduate degree and graduate membership of the British Psychological Society (BPS). You'll also need experience working with adults or children.

What is a counselling psychologist?

Counselling psychologists support people experiencing mental health problems concerning life issues, including:

  • bereavement
  • domestic violence
  • sexual abuse
  • traumas
  • relationship issues

Starting your career as counselling psychologist

Choosing subjects at school

To become a counselling psychologist, you need a good standard of education. Useful subjects include:

  • Psychology
  • Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies
  • English
  • Human Biology
  • Maths

Workplacements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to university, college or a new job with NHSScotland.

College and university

To enter a counselling psychology training programme, you will need an undergraduate or postgraduate degree accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS) and leads to graduate membership. As well as this, you will need some experience working with adults or children.

Widening access

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you could get into higher education through the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need.

Course search

Search for college or university programmes on My World of Work.

Get to know the role

Counselling psychologists are a relatively new type of applied psychologists concerned with combining theory and research with therapeutic practice.

Tasks include:

  • use a person’s experience to explore underlying issues
  • use psychological and psychotherapeutic theory and research
  • work to reduce psychological distress and to promote the well-being of individuals, groups and families
  • build a relationship between you and your client, to understand psychological difficulties and how they apply to them

You’ll need these skills:

  • active listening
  • compassion
  • empathy
  • persuasion
  • planning
  • teamwork
  • relationship-building

Counselling psychologists work with a range of people, including:

  • individuals
  • couples
  • families
  • groups
  • at an organisational and community level
  • doctors
  • nurses
  • allied health professionals
  • other psychological and mental health professionals

You could work in:

  • hospitals, including acute admissions, psychiatric intensive care, and rehabilitation
  • health centres
  • community mental health teams
  • child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS)
  • forensic settings
  • education
  • research

Learning and development

To help recognise the relationship between personal development and professional practice, you will be required to have personal therapy as a client as part of your training and continued professional development.

Once you have qualified as a counselling psychologist, there is a wide range of opportunities:

  • with further experience you could qualify for the Register of Psychologists Specialising in Psychotherapy or become a clinical supervisor
  • you could apply for more senior positions, for example head of a psychology service or consultant psychologist
  • you could contribute to the development of the profession through research work and teaching

Professional bodies

British Psychological Society (BPS)

The BPS is the professional body for psychologists in the UK. They offer 3 levels of membership:

  1. Student membership is open to everyone studying on a BPS accredited undergraduate degree or conversion course.
  2. Graduate membership of the society is the starting point to your career as a psychologist. It is a prerequisite for many accredited post-graduate and doctoral programmes.
  3. Chartered membership reflects the highest level of psychological knowledge and expertise.

Visit the BPS website to find out more.

Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)

The HCPC is an independent, UK-wide regulatory body responsible for setting and maintaining standards for health, psychological and, in England, social work professionals. It maintains a public register of qualified professionals and works to improve industry standards and education.

Find out more on the HCPC website.

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