You'll need an accredited psychology qualification, as well as further training at doctoral level, to work as a counselling psychologist

As a counselling psychologist you'll use psychological theory and research in therapeutic work to help clients with a range of difficult life issues and/or mental health conditions. Clients can include children, adults, families, couples and groups.

Life issues that people struggle to deal with may include:

  • bereavement
  • domestic violence
  • relationship difficulties
  • sexual abuse
  • traumas.

Mental health conditions include:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • eating disorders
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • psychosis.

You'll work collaboratively with the client in a holistic and insightful way to enable them to consider change and take control of their recovery.

Practising as a counselling psychologist requires a high level of training and self-awareness, achieved through personal therapy.

Counselling psychologists are based in:

  • consultancy
  • education and research
  • health and care services
  • hospitals
  • prisons and probation services
  • private practice.

Responsibilities

As a counselling psychologist, you'll need to:

  • undertake assessments, including assessment of mental health needs, risk assessment and psychometric testing
  • formulate a psychological explanation of the client's issues
  • establish a collaborative working relationship with the client based on trust and respect
  • plan and implement specialist psychological treatments
  • monitor and evaluate the outcome of treatments
  • collaborate with - and provide advice to - colleagues, the broader multidisciplinary team and referrers in the planning of treatment and provision of services to meet the client's needs
  • communicate complex, technical and/or clinically sensitive information clearly, both orally and in writing, to clients, their families and carers
  • contribute to research, service evaluation and audit, either individually or as part of a team
  • receive regular clinical and professional supervision from a more senior psychologist
  • carry out continuing personal and professional development to keep your knowledge and skills up to date.

With experience, you may also need to:

  • train and mentor trainee psychologists
  • provide clinical and professional supervision for trainees and more junior psychologists
  • manage a team including other psychologists, assistant psychologists and other health staff
  • manage, audit and develop counselling psychology services.

Salary

  • Counselling psychologists starting as a trainee within the NHS will typically be on band 6 of the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates, which ranges from £26,565 to £35,577.
  • Once qualified, salaries typically range from £31,696 to £41,787 (band 7). Senior psychologist roles can rise to £40,428 to £48,514 (band 8a).
  • Counselling psychologists with significant experience and responsibility in the roles of principal or consultant psychologist can reach salaries of up to around £83,258 (Band 8d).

Counselling psychologists working in private practice should expect similar salaries to those in the public sector.

Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are usually Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5pm, for jobs in the NHS. Many counselling psychologists are self-employed, or work partly for the NHS and partly for themselves. If you're self-employed you may work evenings or weekends to suit client requirements.

There are good opportunities for part-time work, career breaks and job-sharing.

What to expect

  • You'll usually work as part of a multidisciplinary team that includes other health service workers such as clinical psychologists, health psychologists, wellbeing practitioners, social workers and medical and paramedical professionals.
  • Jobs are available throughout the UK. More varied opportunities may be available in larger cities. Some health authorities prioritise psychological therapy, making more jobs available.
  • The work can be challenging as it involves contact with many different types of people who are often distressed, but can also be rewarding.
  • If you work for more than one employer, or are self-employed, you may need to travel locally to meet clients.

Qualifications

To practise as a counselling psychologist in the UK you must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC), which involves training at postgraduate level.

To begin training you'll normally need Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC), which is achieved by completing a psychology degree or conversion course accredited by The British Psychological Society (BPS). For a full list of GBC qualifying courses see the BPS Accredited Psychology Courses.

You’ll then need to complete either a BPS-accredited Doctorate in Counselling Psychology or the BPS Qualification in Counselling Psychology (QCoP), which is the independent route to training as a counselling psychologist.

Entry on to an accredited Doctorate course is becoming increasingly competitive and requires a good first degree, usually a 2:1 or higher, as well as relevant work experience, evidence of research skills and basic counselling/therapeutic training. Information on counselling courses can be found at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

You'll also need to undergo an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.

To get a place on the QCoP, you'll need to be working in a trainee role, either paid or voluntary, and must engage a coordinating supervisor, who must be on the BPS Register of Applied Psychology Practice Supervisors, to support you during the training.

On successful completion of either the Doctorate in Counselling Psychology or the QCoP, you're entitled to chartered status and full membership of the BPS Division of Counselling Psychology. You'll also be eligible for entry onto the HCPC register, which entitles you to use the title of counselling psychologist.

Postgraduate training is usually self-financed. As part of the training you'll also usually pay for your own personal therapy. In certain cases, you'll also have to pay for your required supervision.

Some trainees secure posts as assistant psychologists first and negotiate part or total funding towards their training from their employer. You could also approach psychology departments to see if there are any funding opportunities (for example, scholarships or bursaries) available.

Skills

You'll need to show:

  • interpersonal and psychotherapeutic skills
  • excellent communication skills
  • counselling skills
  • an open-minded and sensitive approach when dealing with clients
  • the ability to explore emotional issues with clients
  • a healthy curiosity and research-minded approach to work
  • analytical skills
  • the ability to work as part of a team
  • the capacity to look at how and why things are working, or not, with clients
  • independence and self-motivation
  • self-awareness, self-knowledge, security and self-belief
  • capability of working under pressure
  • time management skills to be able to manage a caseload
  • IT skills
  • understanding of cultural and religious diversity.

Work experience

Course providers usually ask for a minimum of one year's relevant work experience in a mental health or counselling role. Experience as a psychological wellbeing practitioner, health or social care support worker is useful, as is work as a healthcare assistant in a ward or community setting.

You could also find work in a mental health charity or victim support unit or in a role such as bereavement or relationship counselling. Any experience you get should be more than befriending and should be face-to-face. Contact course providers to check on what kind of experience they will accept.

Employers

Many counselling psychologists provide clinical services in health and social care settings. Employers include:

  • NHS general hospitals (in areas such as acute admissions, psychiatric care and rehabilitation) and psychiatric hospitals
  • private hospitals
  • health centres
  • GP surgeries
  • Improving Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT) services
  • specialist child and family services, such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and community mental health teams.

Opportunities are also available in the prison service, voluntary sector, educational settings, such as schools, colleges and universities, research, forensic settings and industry.

Alternatively you can work independently, either alone or in a group practice, or as an organisational consultant in the public or private sector, where you may be involved in training, development or conflict resolution.

There are also some opportunities for experienced counselling psychologists to work abroad, with organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières and the World Health Organization.

Look for job vacancies at:

Local press and hospital websites also advertise vacancies.

Professional development

Once qualified, continuing professional development (CPD) will be an integral part of your career and is an essential requirement of retaining your HCPC registration and chartered membership of the BPS.

Most counselling psychologists have a supervisor or mentor who can provide advice and guidance for dealing with challenging situations, clients or groups.

Further study and specialist development are usually encouraged and your ongoing development should include a mixture of directed and self-directed activities. These can include:

  • post-qualification courses, which help to develop your knowledge of different theoretical approaches
  • professional supervision
  • lecturing, teaching or giving presentations
  • attending workshops or conferences
  • topical research, writing articles or papers
  • mentoring, supervising or assessing trainees
  • development of expertise with a particular client group.

You'll need to keep an up-to-date and accurate record of your professional development activities, showing that your CPD contributes to the quality of your practice and service delivery and is beneficial to your clients.

More information can be found at the BPS Professional Development Centre.

Career prospects

Clearly defined career paths are available with certain employers including the:

  • Civil Service
  • Her Majesty's Prison & Probation Service (HMPPS)
  • local authorities
  • NHS.

With the right combination of skills and experience, you can move through the grades, taking on more management responsibility for both staff and counselling psychology services. There are also opportunities to move into specialist areas and work with specific client groups such as children or the elderly.

With experience you can become self-employed, or combine self-employment with part-time work for an employer such as the NHS.

As your career progresses you may become involved in consultancy or the teaching, supervision and training of other counselling psychologists. A senior counselling psychologist may have a portfolio of work that includes working for the NHS, while also practising privately and teaching at a university.