Counselling is a very popular and interesting profession. As a Counsellor, you will provide assistance to clients in resolving personal, psychological issues. This is therefore a profession in which you can help a great number of people.
Additionally, because as a Counsellor, you would be working with a wide range of people, no 2 cases are the same, which keeps the job varied and interesting, from day to day.
There are a number of different ways which will enable you to get into a Counselling career, and this article is here to guide you through them, so that you can make an informed judgement about which of these pathways is the best fit for you.
Overall, in order to become a Counsellor following a degree pathway, you will need:
- 5 GCSE passes, including Maths, Science and English
- 2-3 A-Levels, potentially including Psychology, Sociology, Biology, Maths and a MFL
- Any Undergraduate degree, though those in Counselling and Psychotherapy, or Psychology, Sociology or Criminology with Counselling are best-suited
- Experience working as a trainee Counsellor
- An optional master’s degree in Counselling
- Continuing Professional Development, Supervision Sessions, and personal Therapy or Counselling
If you want to pursue the career without a degree, you can take a different approach to training. The steps for this include:
- Researching the GCSE and A-Level requirements of courses (they all vary)
- Completing a Certificate in Counselling Skills
- Completing a Diploma in Counselling
- Potentially studying for an additional Diploma in either Counselling and Psychotherapy, or CBT Skills to further your training.
Table of Contents
1. What GCSEs Do You Need to Become a Counsellor?
GCSEs are an important part of the foundation of any career, and this is of course true for Counselling too. You need GCSEs to get into University, as well as to be able to get on to the A-Level courses which interest you at Sixth Form. Overall, you will usually need a minimum of 5 GCSEs at pass grades and above, including GCSEs in English, Maths and Science. Obviously this can vary depending on the A-Levels which you wish to study, but this is the usual requirement.
What GCSEs Do You Need to Study Counselling Related A-Levels at Sixth Form?
If you would like to study the subjects which are recommended for anyone interested in Counselling in the section below of this article, there are a few GCSEs which you will need.
Firstly, when it comes to GCSEs, you always need to pass the core subjects, which include Maths, English and Science. If you want to take Psychology or Sociology at A-Level, you should have pass grades in all 3 of these subjects. Whether or not you take Triple Science at GCSE is unlikely to have an impact on your ability to apply for these subjects. Clearly, to take Biology, you must have a pass or above in Science, and Maths A-Level requires a Maths GCSE.
If your school offers GCSE courses in Psychology or Sociology, you should also consider studying these to gain an understanding of them before you potentially study them at Sixth Form.
Additionally, if you are interested in taking a language at Sixth Form, it goes without saying that you should have a GCSE in the language which you would like to study at A-Level. If you don’t have a GCSE in the language which you are interested in, but are able to speak almost fluently, and have good reading and writing skills in the language, you should contact your Sixth Form to check if you will be able to complete their course.
Which GCSEs Will Help You Develop The Skills You Need To Become a Counsellor?
If you want to be a Counsellor, communication skills are vital. You can learn and develop communication skills all the way through your school life, using a number of different subjects to help you. For example, English is a great way to improve written communication, but also applying rules about grammar and other ideas to your spoken communication skills may also be beneficial in enabling you to communicate in an effective (and eventually professional!) way.
Another way to develop communication skills is to take a second language GCSE, as mentioned before. This will give you the opportunity to broaden your knowledge of world culture and provide you with a basic understanding of a language, allowing you to communicate with a wider range of people.
Another key skill which Counsellors need is the ability to show compassion and empathy. Although there is not a GCSE subject which will directly help you with this, working with and being around other students can be used as an opportunity to develop your emotional intelligence.
What GCSEs Do You Need to Study Counselling at University?
Most University courses will require you to have at least 5 GCSE passes, including the core subjects of Maths, English, and Science. Other requirements may vary depending on the course which you study, but this is the general rule.
Courses at University vary, and more information can be found out about degrees further on in this article, however it is vital that you do your own research about what GCSEs are needed or accepted by Universities.
That being said, if you work as hard as you can in your GSCEs and achieve the highest grades you are capable of, your University options are likely to be slightly more open.
GCSE grades have an impact on University applications in a number of ways, including the fact that they influence which A-Levels you can study, but also that they are sent off with your University application, and are often used by your Sixth Form to calculate A-Level predicted grades. Therefore it is important that you work hard to achieve your best when you start your GCSEs.
What GCSE Grades Do You Need to Pursue a Counselling Career?
In order to pursue a career in Counselling, you will need to have this baseline of 5 GCSEs at pass grades and above, including English, Maths and Science. The grades which are required by Universities are usually the grades needed for the career. You may find different requirements for different non-University Counselling courses, but it is beneficial to at least have this baseline of achievement at GSCE.
However, you should also remember that GCSEs will not be the most important qualification that you have when it comes to actually getting work as a Counsellor. Because you will have much more recent, subject specific qualifications by the time you start working, it is really unlikely that your GCSEs will have an impact on your career after the point where they have enabled you to progress onto appropriate University and A-Level courses.
2. What A-Levels Do You Need to Become a Counsellor?
The A-Levels which you should study at Sixth Form always depend entirely on the subject which you would like to study at University. If you want to be a Counsellor, you don’t need a ‘Counselling degree’ though there are courses which will be related to the field. If you would like to study subjects which are related to Counselling at A-Level, then the subjects which I would suggest include: A-Level Psychology, Sociology, Maths, Biology and Modern Foreign Languages (e.g. Spanish, French or German).
Required A-Level: Psychology
If you are interested in becoming a counsellor, Psychology A-level is likely to be a subject that really appeals to you. Understanding the brain and why people behave the way that they do is something that is very related to Counselling.
It give you an opportunity to learn about what people’s actions can be influenced by, as well as providing you with an overview of many different therapies, which may give you some basis for research on therapeutic techniques.
Psychology may also be incredibly useful for your degree programme, especially if you would like to a degree in Psychology with Counselling (the most straightforward route into and a very related degree to Counselling). The basic understanding of important concepts and approaches in Psychology would be very useful in making your transition to an undergraduate degree at University much smoother.
If you are interested in studying Psychology, but are concerned about how difficult it is, or what it includes, take a look at this useful article, which talks about how hard A-Level Psychology is. If you are already studying Psychology, or you would like to know how to achieve high grades right from the start of the course, have a look at this helpful guide on how to get an A* in A-Level Psychology.
Psychology is an incredibly varied and interesting subject and studying it at A-Level will give you a chance to see if related careers (such as Counselling), are of interest to you. This is important before you commit to doing a degree, and there would be no need to worry if you decided that it isn’t for you – Psychology is a widely applicable and valuable subject, so it wouldn’t be a wasted A-level!
Required A-Level: Sociology
Like Psychology, Sociology is a subject which can give you a great insight into people. It is the study of society, and the groups within it. You can gain an incredible understanding of the environment, and how different societal influences impact an individual’s behaviour.
This subject has some overlap with Psychology, as they are both social sciences. Therefore, Sociology is a subject which could really have a positive influence on the way that you interact with clients. If you have an understanding of the influence of culture and background on a person, you may be able to work with them in a more efficient way. Sociology will allow you to broaden you knowledge, and the links that you can make between it and Psychology will give you a basic, balanced view of the individual.
You may also be interested in doing a Sociology with Counselling degree, and in this case, the subject will of course be very useful to have a background knowledge of. Obviously, this is not essential, but a basic knowledge of Sociology will be useful in making your progression to University more comfortable.
Required A-Level: Biology
A-Level Biology is a subject which complements both Psychology and Sociology very well. Biopsychology is very important and allows us to look into the specific biological mechanisms which have influences on behaviour.
Although an understanding of Biology is by no means essential for a career in Counselling, you may find it useful to study an A-Level subject which is so related to your areas of interest at Sixth Form. It can bring an extra level of understanding to your courses, and this is something which is very valuable. If you want to find out how hard A-Level Biology is, take a look at this useful article.
You may also want to consider Biology as an A-Level subject, because it is often valued by Universities when you are looking to study a Psychology or Sociology-related subject. Entry requirements obviously vary, and this is not essential, but if you have an interest in Biology, it is certainly something to think about!
Helpful A-Level: Maths
Maths is another subject which may be useful for you alongside either Psychology or Sociology. If this is not a subject which you feel confident in, don’t worry! The maths involved in Psychology and Sociology is nowhere near the standard of A-Level Maths, but it can still be a very useful subject to have.
Maths is a very applicable and valued subject, by both Universities and employers, and if you feel confident about taking it, could be a useful subject to have a qualification in. If you would like to know more about how hard A-Level Maths actually is, take a look at this useful article.
Helpful A-Level: Modern Foreign Language
Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) are useful in the majority of careers – but this is especially true in a career where communication is such an important factor.
You may want to work abroad, or possibly work with clients who have English as a second language but would feel more comfortable with talking in their native language. A second language will therefore allow you to work with a broader range of people.
You may also find that a MFL A-Level allows you to gain a deeper insight into different cultures. This in itself is something that can massively improve your ability to work with someone – culture is often a very big part of who someone is.
Although a MFL A-Level can be very challenging, it is something which has the potential to be hugely rewarding and could make a really positive contribution to your career. Making people feel comfortable by understanding what they are saying is so important in a career in Counselling.
What A-Level Grades Do You Need to Pursue a Counselling Career?
In any person’s career plan, their goal should always be to achieve to the best of their ability. However, it is still important to know what the minimum requirements are for progression into your dream career as a Counsellor.
The A-Level grades that you need to become a Counsellor are entirely dependent on the course which you take at University, and which University it is that you study at. Because there is such a variation in courses which you may be interested in taking to pursue a career in Counselling, it is absolutely vital that you do your own research about courses and their entry requirements.
You will usually need 2-3 A-levels, and they should be at as high grades as you can achieve, however, there are courses available that give offers to students achieving C grades and above in their A-Level subjects.
If you would like you have look at entry requirements for Counselling-related degrees, take a look at this helpful website, which lists degrees which have a relation to Counselling, and allows you to explore individual Universities’ entry requirements for the courses.
3. What Degree Do You Need to Become a Counsellor?
If you are interested in becoming a Counsellor, you don’t necessarily need a specific degree (other training is often more important), and in fact you don’t technically need a degree at all! However, there are still some degree programmes which are directly related to Counselling, which could be of interest to you. These include degrees in Counselling and Psychotherapy, as well as degrees in Psychology, Criminology or Sociology with Counselling. Although degrees are not necessary for this profession, you may find it useful to have the extra knowledge and qualification. It will make you more employable, and more capable of providing the best service possible.
What University Degree Do You Need to Acquire to Become a Counsellor?
Training to become a Counsellor has a heavy focus on training after a degree, but there are some career-related degrees which will give you a good grounding in the basic ideas of Counselling. You can do degrees which are only Counselling based, and more information about your study options can be found here.
One of the benefits of a course such as either Psychology, Sociology or Criminology with Counselling is that you not only get to study a degree which is related to the profession that you are pursuing, but you are also able to study a broader subject which will keep career options open for you if you decide that actually, Counselling isn’t for you.
The great thing about the degrees that are available with Counselling is the fact that they are subjects which are closely related to the field. Psychology is all about understanding individuals and their behaviour, Sociology allows you to look into the ways that society influences people, and Criminology is an incredibly interesting subject to study if you think that working in places like prisons would be something that you would like to pursue.
Keeping your options open is great in terms of your degree and what careers it can lead you to, but taking a more broad degree which incorporates Counselling skills is something that will also be incredibly useful to you when you progress into the profession. Understanding psychological and sociological concepts is something that will enable you to gain a broader understanding of clients, and therefore will potentially make you a much more successful and effective Counsellor.
Are There Additional Post-University Courses Which Can Be Completed To Become A Counsellor?
If you want to become a Counsellor, the right degree will enable you to go directly into the profession. However, if you are interested in completing further study, this is also an option. Postgraduate Counselling degrees are available at many different Universities, and can broaden your knowledge of Counselling techniques and their applications, as well as more specific issues which you may encounter as a Counsellor.
Details of some of the courses which are available can be found on this useful website. Entry requirements between courses do vary, and so it is important that you do your own research about the courses which you are eligible for. You could also consider doing your master’s degree part-time so that you can work and gain experience alongside your studies.
4. What Courses Can You Complete to Become a Counsellor Without a Degree?
As mentioned before, a degree is not essential for a Counselling career, though it would be useful to you. If you would like to become a Counsellor after your degree, it is important that you have either done lots of client hours, or that you do them. If, alternatively, you don’t want to do a degree, you can complete a Certificate in Counselling skills, and then a Diploma in Counselling. These courses are often part-time so that they can be completed alongside work.
Required Course: Certificate in Counselling Skills
This is the first step to introducing yourself to the principles of Counselling in a professional setting, and can be used to develop your ability to use Counselling skills in a safe and ethical way. These courses take around 170 hours, and can be flexible in the teaching that is provided.
This course does require you to complete some practical elements, but will consist mostly of guided teaching, and it will allow you to progress on to the next stage of training.
Courses such as these don’t only have to be used to get into Counselling. You may find that people use them to increase their general employability skills. This shows you just how widely applicable the skills that you learn are, and may encourage you to think about how the skills can be applied in such a variety of contexts.
Required Course: Diploma in Counselling
A Diploma in Counselling is the next step in becoming a Counsellor without a degree. This may take you 2-3 years, and will build on your skills and the way that they are applied in a therapeutic setting. This is generally the point at which you must start having your own personal Counselling or Therapy (more information about his can be found in the section below).
You will be able to further your skills, and find out more about specific approaches to Counselling, as well as how to apply them. The final part of the training will require you to do a placement as a trainee Counsellor to increase your experience. This can be with a number of different organisations, and you will be guided through finding placements on the course which you have taken.
Assessment of your work in this course will be done in several different ways. For example, you will be expected to complete written work in the form of essays. You will also have to complete an exam, which takes place at the end of your course.
Optional Courses: Diploma in Psychotherapeutic Counselling or CBT Skills and Theory
If you would like to further your Counselling skills after you have completed your initial Diploma, you can complete a more specific course. These courses give you the tools to work in more depth with clients. For example, you may gain additional insight into ethical practice, as well as more knowledge of the theory and practical elements of Counselling.
These courses are not compulsory, and will take a total of around 450 hours to complete, but they could be incredibly useful to you, and potentially improve the Counselling service that you provide in a huge way. More knowledge of a subject is always something which is beneficial to you in a career.
5. What On-Going Training Are Counsellors Required to Complete?
While working as a Counsellor, there are a number of different on-going aspects which you must continue to do, in order to be in line with the guidelines of groups such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). These include things like keeping up to date on supervision with a qualified practitioner, as well as potentially needing to go to therapy throughout your career (or at least throughout the training course) and completing Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
Required: Supervision With Another Qualified Practitioner
Supervision is an ongoing activity which all Counsellors must be involved in. It gives you the chance to reflect on the work which you have done with clients in a confidential manner, as well as to raise any problems where you are perhaps unsure about how to approach a specific issue, or need some guidance from an individual who is not involved in the patient-therapist relationship which you have with your clients.
This is intended to avoid any lapses in judgement, or failures to recognise some serious issues. Often, having someone else there to identify mistakes and potential problems can be incredibly helpful, as sometimes when you are the person involved in the professional relationship with the client, it is hard to perceive these things.
Supervision is an incredibly useful opportunity to use. Even though it is required, you should be treating is as something which you get the chance to be part of – it can only be useful if it is taken advantage of and taken seriously!
Additionally, because of the need for supervisors as long as there are Counsellors, you may see this as a form of career progression. You do need experience and training if you want to take on a Supervisor role, but if you can, this would be a great way to increase the variation of your work life!
Therapy is another potentially on-going thing. Most training will require you to have a regular therapist during the programme, and it is recommended that you continue to go to therapy once you have qualified and are working.
This is not directly to do with your clients (like supervision is), but is actually a way to make sure that as a Counsellor, you can remain stable and supportive when talking about any problem which a client may bring to you. Therapy can help you identify and manage your triggers and allow you to be completely focused on your client while they are working with you.
Therapy can also help Counsellors manage the issues that they hear about with their clients. Although they would not share patient information with personal therapists, it is important that heavy issues such as trauma, addiction, and abuse can be discussed and worked through by the Counsellor. This means that as a Counsellor, you will be able to provide the best service possible, without putting a huge strain on your own mental health.
Required: Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is an important part of any professional career. In a role where you are responsible for people and aspects of their wellbeing, it is important that you are aware of the new development in treatments, as well as techniques for dealing with specific issues which people may bring to you.
How to do CPD depends on what your goals are, and how you would like to advance your knowledge, and there are often a wide range of seminars, conferences and workshops available for Counsellors, covering a broad range of topics. You may also be interested in doing your own independent reading and learning to further your skills.