BACP, and other professional associations, set their own standards for training in counselling and psychotherapy as there are no compulsory training courses or qualifications for therapists.
We recommended a three stage route which can take three or four years. As well as attending tuition, you’ll spend a lot of time on independent study, placements, supervision and, in some cases, personal therapy.
Stage 1: Introduction to counselling
Taking an introductory course will help you decide if counselling is the right career for you. This will help you gain basic counselling skills and give you an overview of what the training involves before you commit fully. These courses are usually run at local further education (FE) colleges or adult education centres and last from eight to 12 weeks.
Stage 2: Certificate in counselling skills
This will develop your counselling skills and give you a deeper understanding of counselling theories, ethics and self-awareness. This training may also be useful if your job involves advising or helping people, even if you don't plan to become a therapist. These courses run at local colleges and are generally one year part-time.
Stage 3: Core practitioner training
This will give you the skills, knowledge and competence to work as a counsellor or psychotherapist. Your core practitioner training should be at the minimum level of a diploma in counselling or psychotherapy, but could be a bachelor's degree, master's degree or doctorate. These courses usuall run at further or higher education colleges or universities.
Your training should be an in-depth professional practitioner training programme, based on internationally recognised standards of quality and competence, providing training in reflective, competent and ethical practice. To meet our membership and accreditation requirements it must include:
- knowledge based learning - for example, psychological theories and their application to practice, philosophy, human development, common medications, ethics and the law, functioning of groups and supervision
- therapeutic competences - for example, monitoring and evaluation, relationship building, communications, strategies and interventions, self-awareness, reflective practice and use of supervision
- research awareness - for example, critical awareness of research findings, methodology and application
Your course should be at least one year full-time or two years' part-time classroom-based tuition. It should also include an integral, supervised placements of at least 100 hours, allowing you to work within an organisation and practise your skills with clients under supervision.
Find a training course
There's a wide variety of counselling and psychotherapy courses and qualifications available, provided by colleges, universities and private training organisations.
- for Stage 1: Introduction and Stage 2: Certificate courses, check with your local colleges, universities and adult education centres to see what courses are running and when
- for Stage 3: Core practitioner courses you can search our accredited courses directory. These are courses that have been assessed by us as providing a high quality of training. (There are many other non-accredited courses, but we can only recommend those we have assessed.)
Check with your local colleges to see what they offer, or the UCAS website provides details of university courses across the UK.
BACP accredited courses
BACP is recognised as the leading accreditation body for training courses in counselling and psychotherapy. We build strong collaborative relationships with our accredited courses providers, working together to share knowledge and develop the highest standards of professional practice.
By choosing a BACP accredited course, you can be sure that the:
- course content, delivery and assessment meet the highest professional standards
- course is mapped to external benchmark standards and curricula (for example QAA standards, BACP core curricula)
- tutor team meets BACP teaching, experience and practice requirements
- learning environment and resources are appropriate for high-quality practitioner training
- course assessment and moderation are externally assured
- course and practice requirements satisfy BACP membership and individual accreditation training requirements
- course is subject to ongoing BACP quality assurance
Successful graduates of BACP accredited courses can apply to join the BACP Register directly without having to sit our Certificate of Proficiency.
BACP approved qualifications
We work with awarding organisations to develop and approve core practitioner qualifications that meet the professional standards of both BACP and the awarding organisation. The qualification incorporates our Certificate of Proficiency, providing a direct route onto the BACP Register when you successfully pass the course.
By choosing a BACP approved qualification, you can be sure that:
- you’ll receive a joint award from BACP and the awarding organisation
- you’ll have a direct route on to our Register
- the qualification is mapped to external benchmark standards and curricula (for example QAA standards, BACP core curricula)
- the qualification has been externally verified as meeting stringent training, practice and quality assurance criteria
- the qualification content, delivery and assessment meet our professional standards
- our partnership with the awarding organisation and qualification are reviewed and subject to ongoing quality assurance
Other awarding and validating bodies
Several other bodies can award or validate counselling and psychotherapy qualifications. For example, universities can award their own degrees or validate other training providers to teach their degrees. Further and higher education courses are written to national qualification frameworks so you can compare the level of the training course.
If you're considering a course that is not BACP-accredited or approved from a private training provider, check who awards or validates the training. Courses that are not externally validated may still provide high quality training but the level of qualification may be unclear. We'd advise checking the course against national level indicators to make sure it will provide you with a suitable qualification. You can find more information on the gov.uk website – What qualification levels mean.
Online and distance learning
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected counselling as a profession with many counsellors moving to work online or by phone. Remote counselling and psychotherapy training and placements have also become more common. From September 2021, we're adjusting our membership entry requirements to allow some online learning and remote placements - see our Membership pages for details.
Any course you take solely through online or distance learning (where you train in your own time with no tutor present), or that does not meet our requirements, will not count towards the training hours you require for BACP membership or accreditation.
Different courses have different entry requirements in terms of previous training or experience. Some have a tough application process including interviews and written assessments. Check with the individual course providers for their specific requirements and process.
Some of the main things tutors look for are:
- whether you have the right personal qualities to become a therapist
- self-awareness - your understanding of yourself, your thoughts and values and how you function internally and in relation to others, possibly gained from having personal therapy
- an understanding of the different theoretical models and approaches and how those used on a specific course suit you as an individual
- whether you can fully commit to the training at this stage in your life and relationships
If your application is rejected, ask for feedback and see what you can do to improve your application should you reapply in the future. Tutors are often impressed by applicants who listen to feedback and apply again.
Membership of a professional body
Many training courses will require you to join a professional body as a student member while undertaking the course.
To become a BACP student member, you must be currently taking a course that meets the requirements for Stage 3. Your course does not have to be BACP-accredited, but if it's not you’ll need to take our Certificate of Proficiency before you can progress to become a registered member or be eligible for our accreditation scheme.
The demand for placements is usually far greater than the number available. Your course provider may be able to give you a list of organisations who have offered placements in the past. You could also contact local agencies who offer a counselling service to see if they will accept you.
BACP student members can use our Jobs board to search and apply for suitable placements.
Your placement hours must be:
- carried out with genuine clients, rather than peers from your course, for example
- in an appropriate setting with appropriate clients. Your placement hours should be with clients who have been pre-assessed as suitable for your level of competence and the way the therapy will be delivered, so not with clients with complex mental health needs or in private practice. Counselling services are an ideal setting.
- assessed (or marked) as an integral part of your training
- supervised. Supervision is important at all stages of seeing clients. For trainees, we recommend a ratio of one hour's supervision to eight hours counselling. We also recommend you see your supervisor fortnightly.
Your training provider should have clear procedures for practice placements and you should get their approval before starting a placement. They should check the placement matches the aims, orientation, rationale and philosophy of your course, is suitable for your current level of training and experience, and is safe.
We can't accept any private work towards your supervised placement hours for BACP membership. This is because you should only see clients that have been pre-assessed as suitable and, as a student, you may lack the experience and competence required to work in private practice. There may be exceptions to this if you've already undertaken and passed core training.
Training fees and expenses
The cost of your training depends on where you train, what courses you take and how long they last. Currently, diploma courses range from £2,200 to £3,000 a year. Foundation degrees can be up to £6,000 a year and master's degrees between £12,000 and £15,000, depending upon the course provider.
You'll also need to allow for all the other related expenses:
- supervision - when you start seeing clients you’ll need regular and ongoing supervision. Individual supervision costs vary from around £30 to £80 an hour, while group supervision is around £20 an hour.
- personal therapy - some courses expect students to be in therapy themselves. Personal therapy can cost between £40 and £80 per session.
- insurance - if you're seeing clients, you should be covered by personal indemnity insurance. Some placement providers will cover you under their insurance but you should always check. Insurance can cost around £50 to £80 a year - some insurers offer discounts for BACP members.
- BACP membership - your course tutors may recommend that you join BACP, or you may decide for yourself you want access to our support and resources. See Student membership for further information and current costs
- books and stationery
- conferences and events
- travel and parking
- childcare - as counselling or psychotherapy is often a second career, you may have a family to look after whilst you train
Help with fees
Here are some organisations that may be able to help you with grants or loans to help fund your training.
- Family Action educational grants programme
Family Action distributes grants of up to £300 to pay for ‘additional’ costs associated with a further education course. The programme helps people over the age of 14 begin their studies as well as supporting existing students.
- Student Loans Company
The Student Loans Company is a non-profit making, government-owned, organisation which provides loans and grants to students in universities and colleges in the UK. The types and amounts of student finance you’ll receive will depend on where you live. See also:
- University and college hardship funds
You may be able to get extra money from your university or college if you’re experiencing financial hardship. Contact your student service department or see the gov.uk website Extra money to pay for university.
Finding employment as a counsellor after training cannot be guaranteed. So if you will have to fund your training through loans it may be safer to consider taking a part time course that allows you to continue working while you are training.
Continuing professional development (CPD)
Once you’ve completed your core training, you may wish to specialise in a specific area. This may require additional training, for example courses in addiction or bereavement counselling. Or you may wish to go into private practice and want training in setting up and running a business.
Even if you don’t need specific new skills, as a professional practitioner you should continually seek learning experiences to maintain, improve and broaden your competence and knowledge. Under our Ethical Framework we expect all BACP members to keep their skills and knowledge up-to-date through regular CPD.
CPD is not just about formal training. It can take place through a wide range of activities in various contexts, and may include both personal and professional development. You are in charge of your own learning and set your own development goals according to your needs, situation and goals.
CPD activities can include:
- formal education lectures, seminars and courses
- e-learning CPD modules
- in-service training, work shadowing or mentoring
- attending or presenting at conferences and workshops
- committee work or participation in special interest groups
- updating your knowledge through books, articles, TV, radio, internet