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Becoming a counsellor or psychotherapist

Starting out on a counselling or psychotherapy career is a big step. It will take a great deal of time and dedication, it costs a significant amount, and it can be personally and emotionally challenging. You’ll need to think about how it will affect you and your family. 
But if it’s the right career for you, the rewards and satisfaction once you have qualified will outweigh the initial costs. 
Here are some of the things you’ll need to think about:

Personal qualities

To be a counsellor, you need to be: 

  • Able to work and communicate with people from all backgrounds
  • Warm, open and empathetic, able to gain people’s trust and help them feel relaxed
  • Patient, tolerant and sensitive with an impartial, non-judgmental attitude
  • Trustworthy and discreet, with a good sense of personal integrity and ethics
  • Resilient and self-aware with the ability to examine your own thoughts and values and understand your limitations 

Counselling is often a second or third career, and life experience is valued. 
The BACP Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions describes the personal qualities and values expected of a practitioner.


Training and qualifications

Most employers, and increasingly clients, understand the importance of using a therapist who is professionally trained and qualified, and is a member of a professional body. Our Registered Membership represents the minimum level of training and experience that we recommend a client should expect from a therapist.

You can find more information about the training you need, how to find a course and the costs involved in Training.


BACP, and most other professional bodies, requires counsellors and psychotherapists who are working with clients to receive supervision from another qualified practitioner. On BACP-accredited courses, students must have at least 1.5 hours of supervision a month.

A supervisor is not a manager but a professional mentor who helps the supervisee develop their skills and work to best practice standards, while providing personal and psychological support. 
For more information, or to find a supervisor, please see Supervision.

Personal therapy

Some courses require students to have had therapy themselves or to be in therapy during their training. This is not only so you can experience therapy from the client’s point of view but also for personal development and to help you cope with issues and emotions raised when counselling others. Personal therapy is not a requirement for BACP membership. 

You can use our Find a Therapist directory to look for registered practitioners in your area. 

Membership of a professional association

Many courses recommend that you join a recognised professional body, such as BACP.  This can benefit both your training and future career, through access to resources, knowledge and networks. It also gives you professional credibility, showing that you are committed to practising competently, ethically and safely and to continuous professional development.  Find out how to join BACP

Finding a job

While the number of opportunities for paid employment in the counselling field is increasing, there are not enough jobs for everyone who is professionally trained and many roles are part-time and/or voluntary. See Find a job for further information.