Qualifications to Become a Counsellor

Qualifications to become a counsellor

Counsellors play a very important role in helping people overcome problems they may be having with their mental health and well-being. They help people to talk openly about their feelings and issues, and aid them in making changes to their behavioural patterns or life choices in order to improve their general daily lives.

People seek therapy via a counsellor when they have feelings of anxiety, depression, or have difficult events in their lives like the loss of a loved one, divorce or money/job problems. Some people feel isolated and unable to reach out for help, which is when speaking to a professional counsellor can help. You need formal qualifications to become a counsellor, which is where we can help at Oxford Learning College.

What does a counsellor do?

According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in eight people receives mental health treatment at some stage in their lives, with women more likely than men to receive treatment for mental health conditions.[1] A counsellor helps clients talk about issues they are having with their health or their lives. Often, these problems are interlinked.

A counsellor organises a series of meetings in which the client talks about how they are feeling and the problems they are experiencing. The most common types of mental health problems that are reported are anxiety disorder, depression, phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).[2] The number of sessions required varies, depending on client needs, but most therapy sessions include between 6-12 meetings.

How counselling sessions work

Meetings with a counsellor take place in a safe and open space, usually the counsellor’s own office, or a place at the client’s home, school or university, where the conversations will not be heard, and what is said can be said in total privacy and confidence. The counsellor will listen to what the client has to say, empathise, and then find ways to help the client see their problems, life choices and challenges from different angles.

Counselling is not about a client finding a ‘quick fix’ for a problem, or a right or wrong answer. A counsellor helps clients to understand their problems and life choices better, and encourages them to find their own resolutions to their problems so that they learn to cope with them.

What qualifications do I need to become a counsellor?

You can train to be a counsellor online with our variety of counselling and psychology courses at Oxford Learning College. Taking a counselling or psychology course is a significant decision to make, as being a counsellor (though rewarding), can be emotionally challenging. You will need to think about your ability to mentally separate your career from your everyday life, in order to maintain a healthy distance from others’ issues.

If it is the right career for you, it can be highly rewarding, and there are plenty of distance learning counselling courses to choose from, depending on your interests. Our range of Level 3 diplomas in counselling, coaching and psychology can give you the head-start you need in your new career.

Many counselling professionals study psychology, sociology or have some form of experience in coaching. It is not uncommon for counsellors to have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in their field. This is something our range of Level 3 diplomas can become a foundation for if you want to pursue a career as a counsellor at a higher level.

Personal qualities of a counsellor

Along with professional qualifications, to become a counsellor, you also need several personal qualities in order to keep a healthy distance between your own personal life and the needs of your job. You should be able to exercise empathy, be open, patient, sensitive and tolerant in your character.

You should be a trustworthy person who is easy to talk to, with a non-judgmental attitude. The ability to assess your thoughts and know your limits is also highly-valuable in this line of work. General life experience of receiving counselling is valued highly.

Can I become a counsellor online?

You can train to be a counsellor online with an accredited Level 3 diploma in counselling. If you are already in the counselling profession or have core qualifications in psychology at GCSE level, for example, our professional Level 3 Diplomas endorsed by the Quality Licence Scheme are a great way to boost your CV.

Alternatively, if you are looking to study something more specialist like becoming a bereavement counsellor, child psychology, or cognitive behavioural science at a higher level, our diplomas can help you on your way to secure a place on a further degree course at university. Many of the qualifications needed to be a counsellor are accredited by a professional body like the The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), or CIE Global – this is to ensure that the ethical and professional framework for counsellors is followed.

Do I need a degree to become a counsellor?

You’ll need some kind of professional training under your belt to become a counsellor – along with a counselling qualification at diploma level or foundation degree level. You’ll also need to be accredited by an organisation like the BACP.

Many professional bodies like the BACP need counsellors working with clients to have previous experience of working as a counsellor, or therapy experience of their own, so they have an awareness of therapy from a client’s perspective. This is so that you can cope and deal with issues and emotions raised with clients.

The qualification you choose will also need to be backed up by relevant practical experience and theory study. In essence – no, you don’t need a degree to become a counsellor. There are plenty of ways to train to be a counsellor online without needing a degree.

Distance learning counselling courses

There are many distance learning counselling courses to choose from, depending on what you’d like to specialise in and your interests. Some people prefer to take a general Level 3 accredited diploma in counselling, as it covers many subject areas of health and social care. Others want a diploma that is more specialised, and may opt to study one of the following:

Where does a counsellor work?

A counsellor might offer their services in person in a building like their own office, a college or university, a school, a hospital or a GP surgery, or over the phone or online. They might work with single individuals, couples, or full families or groups of people (in the case of addiction services).

A counsellor may specialise in specific areas like helping people improve their relationships, addiction issues with drugs and alcohol, child mental health or cognitive behavioural therapy.

Career opportunities for a counsellor

There are plenty of career opportunities you can have as a counsellor with a diploma in counselling or psychology under your belt.

Job options you may want to consider include:

  • Mental health nurse
  • Clinical psychologist
  • Forensic psychologist
  • Counselling psychologist
  • Psychotherapist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Family support worker
  • Social care

It is important that newly qualified counsellors receive peer support in order to progress their careers. In time, as experience develops, it is possible to become a self-employed counsellor and work for yourself.

Specialisms in counselling

Having a specialism can help your skill set to stand out from the thousands of counsellors that are currently working in the UK. A specialism helps you to make connections with the right clients, and can make you more passionate about your work if the subject is something you are highly interested in.

Your specialism may also be tied to previous life experiences, or a cause you are passionate about. It can be helpful to talk to those closest to you or a career advisor about topics you’d like to specialise in. You can also switch specialism at any time, which is what makes counselling such a flexible career.

Some of the specialisms within counselling and therapy include:

  • Family therapy
  • Child counselling
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Addiction counselling
  • Relationship counselling

By becoming more specialised, you can more easily attract clients to what you offer as a counsellor. Also, one client may have more than one issue – so while their initial appointment with you may be to talk about their depression, they may bring other issues with them such as bereavement, stress or a phobia.

Very often in counselling, there are multiple underlying issues that need to be addressed in order to help a client, and being a specialist in a certain area helps a client to choose you as their counsellor.

If you think counselling or psychotherapy may be the right career path for you, check out the full range of courses available at Oxford Learning College, or contact us for more details.


  1. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/mental-health-statistics/people-seeking-help-statistics
  2. https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/2958/statistics-facts-2017.pdf