What training do I need to be recognised as a counsellor in the UK?

22 Feb 2011 |  for trainees | by Bill, writer at UK & Ireland Counsellor Directory

Meeting regulatory standards

At the time of writing this, the terms counsellor and psychotherapist are not protected by UK law, so anyone can call themselves a counsellor without any training at all. (A few related terms are protected - for instance people using the title Arts Therapist and Practitioner Psychologist must register with the Health and Care Professions Council - and you must also be legally registered to provide counselling related to adoption).

Instead, the Department of Health has set up a voluntary scheme, whereby registers of psychological therapists are officially accredited.

In the UK, BACP, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, is the biggest such organisation, so a good rule-of-thumb is to make sure that whatever path you take, your training is adequate to allow you to be recognised as qualified by this organisation. (If you plan to train as a psychotherapist, which typically takes longer, then aiming for a UKCP-accredited course is a good starting point).

Aiming for Recognition

In terms of choosing a training that supports your being recognised as a qualified counsellor, there are two main levels of recognition that you need to think about in relation to BACP:

MBACP level membership This requires that "you have successfully completed and graduated from a minimum of a one year full time or two year part time counselling/psychotherapy qualification that included a supervised placement".  The condition of supervised placement means that the course required that you worked in an agency or similar setting as a counsellor, and that you had regular supervision of your case work during that time.  MBACP-level membership is the bare-minimum level of recognition by BACP of your being qualified to practice, and being eligible for this level of membership can help clients or potential employers confirm easily that you have the qualifications associated with competent practice.

Be careful to distinguish between accredited BACP membership (which applies to you as a practitioner) and BACP-accredited courses (which accredits only the course, not the practitioners on it). Completing a BACP-Accredited training course has the advantage that the processes of your own Accreditation with BACP, and the process of registration in the BACP Register, tend to be more straightforward.

Accredited Membership (MBACP Accred) Members who reach a certain level of qualification and experience can apply for accreditation with BACP.   Meeting the criteria for eligibility for this level membership is sometimes a pre-requisite for some employers such as Employee Assistance Programmes, and so can open the door to applying for those opportunities.

There are several criteria to be met to achieve accreditation, including post-qualification experience and standards of practice, but the important part to consider in relation to choosing a training course is that BACP ask that you have either:

(a) been awarded a qualification from a BACP accredited training course; or

(b) successfully completed a counselling qualification which included at least 450 hours of tutor contact hours carried out over at least two years (part-time) or one year (full-time), had a supervised placement as an integral part, and covered theory, skills, professional issues and personal development.

At the moment BACP are just bringing in their Certificate of Proficiency assessment, so it remains to be seen whether prospective employers will view BACP Registration as more or less valuable for job applicants than BACP Accreditation.

Accredited members can apply for Senior Accreditation.  This level is dependent on your being Accredited, rather than being directly dependent on your initial training. You can find more about Senior Accreditation on the BACP website.

What do I need next? Most stages of counselling training (except, perhaps, the very first) will have prerequisites - in relation to previous training or practice - for candidates to the course. These prerequisites can vary greatly from course to course, so to know which courses your current training would qualify you to enrol on, you really need to enquire of the organisation who provide that next course, not your current course provider. Your trainers can only have a partial knowledge of which further trainings your current course would make you eligible for, so asking your current trainer what courses you are eligible for next could give you an at best patchy and at worst erroneous overview of your options. If you are in any doubt, be sure to ask the provider of the prospective course, so that you can double-check your understanding before investing the time, cost and effort involved in the training in question.

Most programmes of study for counselling are listed on the website of the organisation providing them. For Further Education qualifications (eg. college-level Diploma courses) you will usually find information on the college website or courses literature. For Higher Education (first degree-level) qualifications, you should be able to search comprehensively on the UCAS website.

What types of training and qualification are available? A typical training path would involve a first level of qualification in counselling skills, or skills and theory. At this level, awards are typically termed "certificate", although there is no standardisation in what this means, and the term certificate can be used in a range of ways, from evidence that you turned-up for a half day course, to evidence that you have spent a whole year in training, with assessment and evaluation. Certificates which are validated by an external body such as NCFE, ABC or CPCAB are useful in helping determine that your training has met their standards.

Take care when you choose your training course that it is indeed a stepping stone to where you want to go. For example, distance trainings, where you work in isolation, although they may meet the requirement in terms of hours of study for a subsequent stage, are unlikely to be acceptable as a prerequisite for further reputable courses, due to the strong stress on relationship and relating skills in counselling training.

Courses which qualify you for MBACP-level membership can have a variety of names, such as Diploma, Advanced Diploma, Foundation Degree, Degree and Postgraduate qualification, so again the type of qualification is less important in this respect - the key thing is whether or not the course meets the requirements as stated on the BACP website. At Diploma level, as with certificate level, there is no standardisation in terminology, and a Diploma could be awarded for a short, one-week course, at one extreme, and for a three-year full time course at the other extreme, so be very careful to check whether the course you have in mind meets the letter of the requirement of BACP (or of an equivalent body if you are looking for recognition with another organisation such as the National Counselling Society or UKCP).

How do I choose which model of counselling to train in?

If you are unsure which model or models of counselling you would like to train in, check the posting listing a range of those. In practice, there may also be strong constraints on you in relation to the practical availability of courses, such as what time of day, or day of the week, they run on, whether they are part-time or full-time, how much they cost, and where they run. Checking on the practical availability of courses in your area can help you identify the range of models that are available to you to train in, and may help making that choice easier.

Information in this post is believed to be accurate at the time of posting but may change over time - do be sure to check with up-to-date sources if you plan to make any major decisions in relation to the above.

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