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How does training to be a therapist work?

If you are considering therapist training in the UK, it is completely normal to have questions about what training is essential, how you might train, and whether training is necessary. To assist you in your journey towards becoming a licensed therapist, here are all the ins and outs of how training to be a therapist works.

What’s the difference between a counsellor and a therapist?

Before we look at the necessary training required, let us first look at the difference between a counsellor and a therapist – terms that are often used as if they were synonymous. Although the roles are arguably quite similar, there are some slight differences to what they require.

A counsellor, who might also hold the title as a therapist, is a person who is a coaching practitioner, offering life advice. Counsellors help clients to identify goals, aspirations, and potential, coming up with solutions to the problems that are causing emotional distress. Some counsellors cover a wide range of issues, whereas some will specialise in certain areas such as depression, relationships, or children.

On the other hand, therapists help to resolve emotional issues by modifying certain aspects of clients’ lives, such as with cognitive behavioural therapy. Therapists are either registered counsellors or psychologists specialising in psychotherapy. Therapists typically help clients over a longer period of time, supporting and treating illnesses such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or trauma, analysing unconscious conflicts that might trigger a larger issue.

Training to be a therapist

There are a couple of different routes that you might go down to train to be a therapist, including an academic route, vocational route, plus additional qualifications and training courses that are desirable.

Academic route

You could do a bachelor’s degree in counselling or psychotherapy, or in some cases a related subject like nursing, medicine, or social work might be acceptable. Look for courses that include training in practical skills and supervised placements.

The course you choose must be accredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). Entry requirements for a bachelor’s degree are typically two to three A levels. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in a different subject and are considering a career change, you might undertake an accredited postgraduate course instead.

Vocational route

Alternatively, instead of going to university, you could train to be a therapist at an accredited college. You can start by doing an introduction to counselling course, followed by extended training courses such as the Level 3 Certificate in Counselling, Level 4 Diploma in Counselling Skills, and Level 5 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling.

Entry requirements for these courses may vary, as each college will set their own entry requirements. However, most will typically expect you to have completed introductory and Level 3 courses to be able to progress further.

Desirable qualifications and experience

Many clients will seek out therapists that are accredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). While such accreditation is not necessarily an essential step in your training, it is ultimately very desirable to have.

When it comes to work experience, paid or unpaid experience is essential for applications to both courses and jobs. In fact, you must have practised for 450 hours to be registered as a licensed therapist by UKCP.

Many counselling bodies will offer volunteering opportunities for people who are undertaking the relevant training courses. Alternatively, some organisations offer training alongside voluntary work or work experience, which may then lead to paid opportunities.

To become a licensed therapist, you must also be able to pass enhanced background checks. This is because you may work with children and vulnerable adults, and a background check ensures you are safe to do so.

What happens next?

Once you have completed your training, you could work in a therapy clinic, GP practice, at a college, or even from home. Many therapists do a mixture of part-time, voluntary, and private work, as the full-time paid field is very competitive.

If you are competing for full-time roles, or if you want to further your training, you might like to undertake additional training courses. These seminars, workshops and conferences present the latest theories and research to therapy practitioners, allowing them to continue their professional development. Accreditation bodies such as the BACP look for at least 30 hours of CPD per year. 

And there you have it – a complete guide for people who are considering training to be a licensed therapist. To learn more about the possibilities for how we could aid you on your own professional journey, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us by phone or email.

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